A career plan is like a roadmap that can get you from point A (where you are now) to point B (your dream job). Although you'll experience roadblocks and barriers along the way, it is important to stay focused.
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September's the month for heading back to work and school -- and it's also the best time to click on your career. With Labor Day right around the corner, how will you spend your time? This CBS article states that "most people spend more time planning their next vacation or car purchase than planning for their retirement and rest-of-life," and alludes to this behavior as a major mistake. How much time will you spend planning for your vacation, and will you invest that same amount of time into planning for your future?

What is Career Planning?

According to Virginia.gov, "career planning consists of activities and actions that you take to achieve your individual career goals." In this ongoing process, you set up a long-term goal for your own career and strategically make career choices that will help you reach that goal. It involves the following steps in order:

  1. Define your skills and interests -- This usually takes place in high school or college while you're studying a particular field. You begin to better hone in on a specific job you'd like to pursue. Also, in your first job(s) you begin to recognize your skills, what you excel at, as well as duties and tasks you don't enjoy.
  2. Set a long-term career goal that aligns with your skills and interests -- Where would you like to see yourself in 10 years? What high level position would you like to hold? Research these jobs through sites like Indeed and Monster to view their job requirements and keep up with it continuously to see how they might evolve over the next few years.
  3. Set up short-term goals that will help you fulfill your long-term goals. Consider jobs that specifically align with your long-term goal so that your resume will look cohesive and progressive. Taking on jobs that don't necessarily align with your field of interest might throw you off track and force you to change your long-term goals along the way.

Why should people pay attention to career planning?

Career planning allows you to take total responsibility for your future. A career plan is like a roadmap that can get you from point A (where you are now) to point B (your dream job). Although you'll experience roadblocks and barriers along the way, it is important to stay focused on your long-term goal and adjust your short-term goals accordingly. For example, if getting into a graduate program is a short-term goal that helps you reach point B and you get rejected, it doesn't mean that you'll never reach your long-term goal. You'll just need to modify your short-term goal. Instead, get a job that will give you ample work experience and try to reapply another year. Keep your long-term goal in mind and stay persistent in pursuing it. This way you don't become a victim of the many changes that are bound to occur throughout your career.

The Shocking Reality

According to the most recent American Time Use Survey, the average working American spends one-third (eight hours) of his/her time in a week day doing work-related activities. Only sleeping (an average of 8.74 hours per day) takes up more time than working. However, some of the 2.8 hours per day we spend watching TV could be spent on career planning. University of Texas economist Daniel Hamermesh quotes in the Wall Street Journal, "In sum, time people might have used productively is instead being squandered." This is because people are more prone to focus on the here and now rather than the future. According to this Reuters study, Americans invest more time in researching a car purchase than their home loan. Also, most brides spend two hours a week planning for a wedding (with the average engagement being 14 months, totaling 120 hours spent on wedding planning), while the wedding itself usually only lasts two to three hours... And now the ultimate shocking reality is that this UCLA study shows that the average senior only spent 1.5 hours a year on career planning.

Are you seeing the connection yet? Career decisions affect income, where we live, when and how we work, our daily activities (including time wasted), how much time we spend with our families, sometimes who our friends are, etc.

So How Do I Get Started?

If school has just started for you, approach this year with career plan in mind. If you don't already have one, start analyzing your skills and interests and do some research on jobs that you'd be interested in. The Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook offers data on different careers, industries, educational requirements and salaries -- Your school should also have an on-site guidance counselor who can help you figure out a career plan. At this time, it is important for you to consider your values by answering some key questions: Is a high salary important? Is it important for me to have enough time after work to devote to my family? Do I want to help people or would I rather work with data? Your counselor will help you through self-assessment and exploring different career options to help you find a match.

There's also a wealth of free resources available online. McGraw-Hill provides a free career planning workbook that is completely downloadable. JobSeekersGuide.org also provides an easy-to-use worksheet that helps you sort out your short- and long-term goals.

Now's the Perfect Time to Click on Your Career
September is the month for going back to work and school, and is also the best time to click on your career. Here are seven ways you can move your career ahead:
  1. Resume overhaul and keep it current. Look for gaps and ways to fill them.
  2. Get a LinkedIn profile now -- even if you're still in college.
  3. Join a work task force or special project.
  4. Enroll in courses that outline skills training for a future career goal you have in mind.
  5. Join an association or meetup group in your field.
  6. Listen to earnings calls for your firm and understand the direction from the top.
  7. Keep up with the latest news in your field so that you're aware of how it's changing.

Whatever your plan might be, use your time now to get yourself closer to fulfilling that future career goal.

Dr. Tracey Wilen-Daugenti is a leading thought leader on career development. She is the author of ten books, a regular media contributor, and global speaker. She is a key advisor for recruiting and outplacement firms. Her most recent book is Women Lead: Career Perspectives from Workplace Leaders. Tracey has served as a visiting scholar at Stanford University's Media X program, researching the impact of technology on future careers. Find Tracey on Twitter and Facebook.

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