“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

It’s an interview question so common that you may have a rehearsed answer. However, beyond the confines of the job application process, this is also a question that deserves some deep consideration.

Why? Because it represents the difference between allowing your career to happen to you, and making it happen. If you have goals you desperately want to achieve, it’s time to plan your career and attack them with intention. After all, success rarely occurs by accident!

What is career planning?

Career planning refers to the active management of your career and the structured planning of its future. To effectively plan your career, you should take into consideration your personality, your skillset and your desired role alongside the changing needs of the job market.

When you plan your career, you decide on a path that will meet your needs (financial, emotional or otherwise) and manifest your aspirations. It’s all about making better decisions for yourself so that you can live the life you dream of.

Think about it: someone with a full-time job will spend a third of their day at work for the majority of their adult life. If this job isn’t chosen wisely, it can have a negative impact on health as well as happiness. Career planning is an effort to architect your existence.

It’s not simply a matter of choosing an ideal profession, either. It’s also strategizing regarding what you need to obtain the position and how you’re going to get there. For most of us, this is a gradual process; this is why career planning considers someone’s long-term trajectory.

When should career planning begin?

You undoubtedly were asked, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” when you were a young child. Don’t worry! Nobody actually expected you to start career planning at the kindergarten stage.

However, it’s good to be aware of your strengths and interests throughout your life. If you’ve always had a passion for art, for example, this may be a sign to pursue a creative profession. If you love being outdoors and loathe technology, you’d probably prefer to avoid the office.

In high school, many students meet with a careers advisor. Careers advisors help young people to take the first steps in their career journeys, whether that involves seeking work, an internship or the right education opportunity. Careers advisors are for adults, too!

If you didn’t have that experience, you might have undertaken independent career planning. Have you ever researched a job that interested you or taken a course to complement your skills? In that case, you’ve already been planning your career without even realizing it.

When you feel confused by your career options or like you’re operating on autopilot, it’s a good idea to perform some planning. Years can be lost and opportunities missed when you stop checking in with what really drives you.

Think of career planning as a chance to renew your inspiration and refocus. It’s never too late to make a change, and it’s never too soon to start strategizing!

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Why is career planning important?

To understand why career planning is important, just imagine someone without a plan. Rather than pursuing the best opportunities available, they simply agree to whatever they’re offered. When work becomes stale, they take it as a fact of life rather than considering what could be done differently.

Will this person enjoy their life to the maximum, fulfil their potential, and achieve their deepest dreams? Of course, work isn’t the only thing that’s important in life, but it does play a significant role in our day-to-day existence that shouldn’t be left to chance.

There are many reasons to take control and commit to a career plan:

You can make strategic decisions

When you have some idea of your destination, you’re better equipped to make the right decisions that will lead you there. You can assess opportunities based on whether they’re going to benefit your long-term objectives, which can help you to make smarter decisions.

You can reduce the temptation of derailing distractions

The job market is incredibly crowded, and there may be many positions that appeal to you for different reasons. Remember that when you accept one opportunity, you disqualify yourself from others. Career planning helps you choose the right ones.

You can ensure you acquire the necessary skills

If you don’t know where you want to end up in your career, you could find yourself underqualified for the role. Having a chosen field and a general idea of the position you’d like to occupy will ensure that you prepare yourself by accumulating relevant skills, education and experience.

How should I approach career planning?

A good first step is to perform a self-evaluation. Make a list of your strongest skills and the issues, interests and pastimes that you’re most passionate about. You may begin to see some patterns emerge.

Then, close your eyes and imagine your ideal day at work. Would it be fast-paced and challenging, full of interaction? Or would it be solitary, peaceful and focused on one single activity? Would you like to work with young people? Animals? Computers? These questions aren’t basic; they’re fundamental. They can help you focus and narrow down your options.

Once you have the results of your self-evaluation, you might consider taking them to a careers advisor. The job market is constantly changing, so there may be interesting jobs that you haven’t even heard of yet. You can also perform your own research online.

Look at career trends and emerging industries to find lucrative opportunities.  Check if the roles that interest you are compatible with your circumstances: would they meet your financial needs? Can you realistically meet the person specification for this role, now or at a later date? Would you be able to work in your preferred environment? How competitive is the market, and how could you get an edge on the competition?

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Remember that people can arrive at the same destination by taking different paths. For example, just because you studied art history at undergraduate level doesn’t mean you can’t transition to a career in business management later in life. If you don’t yet have the qualifications or experience that you need, explore alternative ways to obtain them.

Why not contact someone in your dream role and ask for their perspective? They can tell you what their career is really like, and they may be able to offer some insider advice. A mentor is invaluable when it comes to career planning. For example, perhaps your dream is to own your own veterinary surgery. A short-term goal could be to contact the local animal shelter and ask for work experience.

Once you’ve gathered the information you need, you can start to craft long and short-term goals. A great tip is to break big, overarching objectives down into smaller, bitesize chunks. Make goals clear, actionable and realistic. Even what feels like baby steps become significant when they’re headed in the right direction!

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