Step By Step Guide to Setting Career Goals

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Choosing your career is one of the most important decisions you will ever make, one with far reaching implications for your happiness, health, and financial status.

Unfortunately, many people aren't sure how to take charge of this process, letting chance factors such as a convenient job offer from a friend determine the focus of their career. As a result, the majority of workers are less than satisfied with their employment.

In fact, surveys indicate that as many as two-thirds of all employees are unhappy in their jobs.  

Although there are no guarantees, taking a deliberate approach to the career planning process can expose you to more options and increase the probability that you will find sustainable, and enjoyable, employment. The process for setting career goals in a thoughtful manner can be broken down into the following steps. 

Start With Self-Assessment

Taking stock of your interests, career values, skills, and personality traits can help you formulate your own criteria for a desirable career.

Consider a Coach. Meeting with a career advisor or counselor at your school, college, or in your community can help you reflect on your background and identify the cornerstones for your future career.  

Create a Career Profile. If you would rather proceed on your own, start by reviewing your academic and work history.

Which courses, projects, jobs, internships, and volunteer roles were most satisfying and successful for you?  Make a list of the activities that were most energizing, and where you had the greatest impact. 

Which are Your Top Skills? Ask yourself which skills enabled you to achieve that success.  Then, consider which interests or values made the work meaningful or stimulating.

Make a list of the strong skills that you also enjoyed using.  Finally, itemize any of your personality characteristics that made the activities feel natural for you.  

Creating a comprehensive assessment like this is a solid foundation that you can use to hone in on what type of career fits your personal interests and professional strengths.

Example:
Take Jane, a recent graduate who was struggling to visualize a career path that suited her. Jane reflected on her role as the social chair for her sorority and remembered that she coordinated some of the best parties, pledge activities, and fundraisers in the history of the organization. She really enjoyed leading a team of her peers, coming up with themes for events, organizing the logistics, and promoting the events.  

As Jane conducted her self-assessment, she listed leadership skills, event planning, promotional ability, creativity, and detail orientation as key interests and skills in her personal profile.  She also noted that her outgoing personality made her very comfortable in highly interactive roles.  

 Brainstorm Career Options

The next step after self-assessment is brainstorming some options for consideration. Scanning resources that list a variety of career possibilities like the Occupational Outlook Handbook is one way to come up with a list of options worth investigating.

 

There are many free online personality and career quizzes you can take to get ideas on what career would be a good fit for someone with your interests and qualifications.

You can also review websites that list a variety of job titles in order to build a hit list of career possibilities.  Once you have some general sectors in mind, you can review top jobs in those categories, or you can search online by keywords like "careers in health care," for example, or whatever field you are interested in. Try to identify ten careers about which you are sufficiently curious to spend some time conducting further research. 

Example: 
John had no idea what fields might be of interest to him.  He started looking at the Occupational Outlook Handbook and found himself gravitating towards healthcare careers.  He searched the internet for top healthcare careers and found a bunch of sites listing options.

John drew off these lists to fill out seven of the ten occupations on his brainstorming list: Nurse Practitioner, Physician's Assistant, Ultrasound Technician, Respiratory Therapist, Physical Therapist, Dental Hygienist, Occupational Therapist, and Nutritionist.  John found that some sports careers also caught his eye. Since he wanted some diversity on his list, he also included Sports Marketing, Sports Reporter, and Sports Psychologist to broad his options.

Research Your Top Career Choices
Once you have a tentative idea of some careers worth investigating, then you will need to research them in detail to further assess their suitability. Begin by reading about each of the fields on your brainstorm list.  Look for information in online career information resources.  

Try Googling each field like this:  "Career Information Physical Therapist." You will find that professional groups provide excellent sources of career information.  Review the requirements for entering the field and make sure that you are prepared to complete any training, certificate programs or educational degrees which are required.

For your remaining options, the next step should be to conduct informational interviews with professionals in those fields.  Reach out to college alumni, contacts in your personal and social networks, as well as local professionals to schedule in-person or telephone consultations. Here's how to get started with career networking.

Keep notes regarding what you have learned during your research and match it up against the list of interests, skills, and values which you generated during your self-assessment phase.  Make a list of options which are still worth considering.

Try Job Shadowing to Get an Insider Perspective

If a field still holds your interest after reading about it and speaking with professionals in that sector, try to schedule a job shadow to observe the work and sample the work environment.  

Consider an Internship or Volunteering

If you are in a position to try out a field that is still of interest at this point, consider doing an internship or some related volunteer work.

Start the Decision Making Process

You should be prepared to make an informed decision at this point.  List the pros and cons for each remaining option on a separate sheet of paper and weigh the choices.  If you are still unsure, seek the assistance of a guidance counselor at your high school, a career counselor at your college, or a professional career counselor.

Example:
Sherry read every possible piece of information on physical therapy that she could find, and she was still excited about the field. Her mom had utilized a local physical therapist and made an introduction for an informational consultation.  Sherry was fascinated by what the therapist and her colleagues shared about the field and believed it matched up well with her key criteria, a nurturing profession in healthcare that would draw upon her strong aptitude for biology and physics.  

Sherry spoke with an admissions representative from a local PT program and reviewed the admissions and degree requirements. She was confident that she could successfully gain admission and complete the program. She spent two days shadowing the therapists at the clinic where she had conducted her informational interviews and saw nothing that diminished her interest.  Finally, she volunteered at a local nursing home and helped with activities for some of the therapy patients. After all this, Sherry had a very clear sense of the nature of the work and was comfortable with setting a career goal to become a physical therapist.

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