Strategic Career Planning: Setting Goals and Mapping Out Your Professional Path

Jul 21, 2023

Having a career means something different now than it did 20 years ago. This is a good thing because you’ve got far more options to structure your career path however you’d like, but it can also be overwhelming because there are so many options out there.

If you’re just starting to build your career and you’re not sure what you want to do with your life, that’s ok! What’s important is to head down the path you created for yourself and if/when you change your mind, the path can change too. 

It’s all about intention and attention – taking your career development into your hands and having an idea of where you’d like it to go makes all the difference. Instead of letting things happen, you get out and make them happen. This mentality will work whether you’d like to be a bank manager, a butcher, a teacher, or a tourist guide. So let’s take a look at the steps you can take to strategically plan your career. 

Assess What You Bring to the Table

Before you start thinking about your future, assess where you are in the present. You need to understand what you bring to the table in order to understand what you need to work on to achieve your career goals. Here are a few questions that can help you figure it out:

  • What skills/values do I bring to the table?
  • How can I use my previous work experience to improve my career plan?
  • What am I passionate about/what comes naturally to me?
  • What motivates me?
  • If there were no obstacles, what would I do?

These are just some of the questions to help you get started, you can expand on them in whatever way that makes sense to you. Write down your answers and periodically come back to them to evaluate where you are and how you’re progressing.

What is your ideal job?

Here, it’s important to be as specific as you can. It’s a good idea to determine everything that makes your ideal job, well, ideal. This includes details about your desired salary, a list of responsibilities, whether you’d like to work in a team or on your own, from home or from an office, etc. Be precise here, imagine what desk decor for your office would look like, how you would feel surrounded by your coworkers, and what you’d like to achieve in your career. The more specific you get, the better.

Think closely about every aspect of your ideal job because that will help you in mapping out everything you need to do to have it. This doesn’t mean you’re supposed to look for that job right away, but it will be easier to make the first step when you know your goal. Maybe your first job will only have a couple of your personal requirements, but it’s a stepping stone to something bigger and better.

What skills do you need?

If there’s one thing we know is that we always have room for improvement, no matter our job or calling. You want to know the kind of skills you should develop to progress faster in your career development. This will be easier to do after you’ve assessed the skills you already possess – those will be your foundation. 

Maybe you’re not sure what set of skills is required for your career of choice, so the best thing you can do is look at the job descriptions for similar positions. That will give you an idea of what skills you should develop in order to reach your goals. Bear in mind you don’t always have to have all the skills on the list, as long as you’re willing to learn. Sometimes employers prefer less experienced applicants with enthusiasm to learn and innovate, so don’t sell yourself short.

Take Advantage of Networking 

Networking might not be the most comfortable thing to do, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. After you’ve figured out what you want to do and what you have to offer, it’s time to connect with people who can help you jumpstart your career. You can start with something simple, like updating your LinkedIn to show you’re looking for a job. Headhunting is more often than you’d think, not to mention that you might have someone in your network who already knows about a job opening that would be perfect for you. 

Then you can upgrade to face-to-face networking at events within the industry you’d like to be a part of. Yes, it might be awkward in the beginning but don’t underestimate the value of meeting people and leaving a lasting positive impression. It’s a good idea to set short-term goals for networking, like how many people you want to meet, a list of industry professionals that you’d like to speak to, etc. Goals are easier to set and achieve when they’re quantifiable. Knowing the right people can bring about opportunities that you didn’t even consider, so give networking a chance. 


Depending on the job you want and your unique position, developing a career plan is a personal journey, and it’s different for everyone. Give yourself the space and time to discover what you want and what you’re good at – your ideal job will be at the intersection of the two.

Featured image by Liza Summer from Pexels

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