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5 Steps for Developing Your Career Plan

This is a guest post from Thomas Kochan, Professor of Management at MIT Sloan School of Management and one of the professors teaching Shaping the Future of Work


Are you unsure about what career you’d like to pursue, about what you’d be good at doing, or what you have to do to realize your dreams for the future?

If these questions are on your mind, you are not alone. Most young people ask themselves these questions, which is why in Shaping the Future of Work we walk our students through a simple five step career planning process. Learners have found it to work well for them; maybe it’s worth a try for you.

Here’s how you can do it.


1. Take the test

Are you not sure about what you are good at or what kind of work you want to do in the future? In order to find out, you need a good vocational aptitude tool that matches your interests and aptitudes to real occupations and career opportunities. In our course, we use a tool that is free and that our students tell us works quite well, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Career Profiler.

Completing the survey produces two results. First, it summarizes your personal interests and aptitudes. Then, it matches your strengths and expressed interests to a range of occupations that will allow you to put your interests to work and identify the education you will need to reach different levels of an occupational hierarchy (e.g. high school teacher or college professor; machinist or mechanical engineer). The survey results also give salary ranges for each occupation. This is the easiest part of the career planning process.

2. Job Shadow

Now it’s time to go out and talk to someone within your preferred occupation, or even better, shadow someone at work. Getting a first-hand view of what a typical day is like and hearing directly what someone with experience has to say about this occupation and profession is very beneficial in this process. There is no substitute for this human touch!

3. Develop your Plan

After you’ve obtained an understanding of the job, next comes the planning part. Outline a concrete plan for how to get from where you are now to the first, or for those employed, the next job in your preferred occupation. This means an education plan, a timetable, and a plan for how your plan will affect other important factors in your life—parents, siblings, peers, children, current employer, etc. No plan stands a chance of being implemented unless it considers how it will affect all aspects of your life!

4. Gain Experience and Network

Getting the education needed is not independent of the others. While you are studying or working, look for internships, part time work in your chosen industry, or mentors who can guide, advise you and provide connections to job opportunities. This makes the educational experience all the more motivating, satisfying and rewarding because it connects you to the community you want to join.

5. Plan for Life-Long Learning

Today, and especially in the future, no one should assume that their education is completed when they finish their formal schooling and enter the workforce. The best source of bargaining power individual workers can muster is to keep their skills up-to-date.

By following these steps you can set yourself up for a life-long career. And remember, you are not alone in this endeavor. Many of your peers are asking these same questions and exploring them through this exercise, as well as learners in our online course, Shaping the Future of Work. Join us in this effort to improve work and career opportunities for you and for everyone in the workforce of the future.