What is Career Planning? – Overview of Five Basic Steps to Career Planning

Career Steps

The following is a simple and brief overview of a purposeful career planning model. The steps mainly come from what I learned in graduate school and from practicing what I learned while working as a university career counselor. I’ve been able to continue to teach these steps in my current job as a college instructor and counselor – teaching college career self-assessment and career exploration classes as well as meeting with students one-on-one.

Note: The following steps outline what many in the career development field refer to as the career planning stages or career planning and development model.

The basic steps to active career planning include:

  1. Self Assessment
  2. Exploration and Research
  3. Decision Making
  4. Taking Action
  5. Evaluation

Self Assessment

Self assessment revolves around the thoughtful consideration, reflection, and evaluation of your interests, personality characteristics, values, and skills through a variety of methods, such as the use of a whole host of career-related tools and instruments. This stage seeks to uncover and confirm what makes you tick, what drives, what are your top priorities, and so forth.

Exploration and Research

The career planning component consisting of exploration and research is all about being in information gathering mode. This is the time to explore, collect, and organize all available (and pursue not-so-available) resources to eventually begin analyzing them to see what top career-related options (e.g., college major, occupation, career path, etc.) starting rising to the top of the list. Whereas the self-assessment stage was all about learning about you to the fullest, this stage is all about identifying and contemplating all the possible choices and then doing research to begin filtering and narrowing down all the alternatives.

Decision Making

The decision-making step of the career planning process is when you analyze and reflect on all the pieces of information about yourself and your carefully collected career options together as best as possible, all in order to generate realistic short-term and long-term career-related goals and the steps to reach them. The range of possible general outcomes can range from deciding on a college major, deciding on a career to pursue, to deciding that what you really need is to extend your career planning timeline.

Taking Action

This stage is about being proactive with your career plans and being confident enough to begin following through with what you’ve decided. Taking action is one of those things that’s easier said than done. It’s a stage where having a mentor and/or a solid support system is especially important.


After you have made your career-related decision(s) and identified your goals and the steps to achieve them, keep in mind that many of the folks who achieve career success are the ones who continually evaluate and assess their status. In fact, they keep track of their career progress throughout their lifetime, making adjustments and taking calculated risks throughout their career journey.

Sounds Simple, Right?

Does this sound simple to any of you? Sort of like figuring out what kind of car to buy where you think about what make and model satisfies (and perhaps represents?) you and your needs the best and then you do the research to figure out how to get the best price? If making such decisions is typically straightforward and simple for you, then that’s great. But for others of us, making decisions – like figuring out what car to buy – can be very stressful, just as trying to figure out a college major or a career path. This is when engaging in purposeful career planning can be particularly helpful.

By the way, if you’re interested in trying out something like these career planning steps in a more structured or supportive environment, you might consider enrolling in a career planning course or hiring a career counselor.

Stay Tuned

Stay tuned for my next post on the topic of purposeful career planning, which will focus on the keys to these career planning steps. FYI, we tweet on Twitter; our handle is @careerplanning.

Now for some questions: In planning your career, would you prefer going at it alone, taking a career planning class, or working one-on-one with a career counselor?


1 comment for “What is Career Planning? – Overview of Five Basic Steps to Career Planning

  1. Khurram Shahzad Awan
    June 15, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    Very helpful material.

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