Charting Your Career Path
Planning Your Career: Questions to Consider
In your last couple of years in college, you may find it a challenging question to ask yourself “What do I want to do with my life?” You may find some of your peers seem to have it all figured out, whereas you are only just beginning to explore what you want to do.
Ideally, you should start your career planning process with a series of probing questions designed to help you identify your skills, interests, values, and personality type, so you can outline opportunities that are relevant to you and that maximise your potential. These initial questions will help you think through options and formulate a plan for next steps.
The Personal Development Plan we have created has five key steps:
- Understand your value, in terms of strengths and areas for growth;
- Map out your career goals and outline your role in bringing about the changes you want to see;
- Understand the playing field, to identify the skills and experiences you will need;
- Develop a tentative action plan to fill your current skill and experience gap; and
- Research and pursue opportunities will best allow you to build these skills and experiences
- 1. Understand Your Value: Conducting a Personal “SWOT” Analysis
- Strengths – what are you good at; what skills do other people recognise in you; what experiences, resources and connections do you have access to that others don’t?
- Weaknesses/Areas for Growth – where do you lack experience, resources or connections where others have them; what do you try to do that you can’t seem to master; are there parts of your personality or habits that can hold you back professionally?
- Opportunities – which of your strengths have you under-exploited in a professional context?
- Threats – what setbacks might you face based on lack of particular skills, experiences or habits; what obstacles have others overcome when trying to get where you want to go?
In addition to your personal reflection, consult people who have known you in different contexts, such as personal, professional, academic, to get a holistic perspective. Get their perspective on which skills you demonstrate a high level of competence and which you need to put in considerable effort to develop.
Weaknesses/Areas for Growth
2. Map Out Your Career Goals
The average professional in your generation will change jobs on average every 3 – 4 years and likely have pursued at least 7 career paths. Given this, it’s wise to plan your career goals in stages instead of as a static long term goal.
When thinking about setting goals for different stages of your life, consider outlining the skills and experiences you need to be successful at each stage, instead of stating your goals as achieving positions. For example, instead of “becoming a VP of Finance in major bank by 28,” perhaps consider “achieving significant impact as financial manager in a global financial institution by 28” as your goal. The former focuses on the attainment of a position while the latter speaks more to desired experiences and skills.
Remember to make your goals SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time bound.
3. Understanding the Playing Field
It’s often useful to understand the environment in order to realistically assess your career goals.
The PEST analysis is a useful framework with which to analyse the Political, Economic, Socio-Cultural, and Technological changes that could significantly impact your career track.
- political externalities: change in work visa requirements, national youth service;
- economic externalities: fluctuation in compensation;
- socio-cultural externalities: familial expectations, lifestyle trends, educational requirements; demand for new types of jobs and professionals;
- technological externalities: trend of technological skill sets required, aspects of career replaced by tech.
4. Develop an Action Plan
Given your outlined career goals, here are some guiding questions to plan your next move:
- What training and education do you need?
- What experiences and skills do you need?
- How and when will you get them?
- What kind of support do you need?
- What are you responsible for?
- What will others do to help you (mentor, coach, evaluate)?
Research and Pursue opportunities:
Now you have understand your needs, the playing field and where you can bring value, prioritise the opportunities you are interested in with the following steps:
- Prioritise and research the industries, institutions and companies;
- Network with people who have worked in those companies to understand the industry such as skills and experiences they use regularly, timeline of recruiting in their industry etc.; and
- Leverage your ALA and ACN network as well as your college Career Services for additional resources in preparing for recruitment process.
See Appendix for Career Decision Matrix (structure is biased to job seekers compared to entrepreneurial ventures)
- Remember that your plan is as dynamic as you are so don’t believe you have failed if the opportunity you secure isn’t exactly what you wanted.
- The most important outcome is that you maximise your opportunities for growth and learning and that of these opportunities, you have adequately prepared yourself to make an informed decision.
- Contact your regional ACN Associate if you have any questions or concerns.
If your interests are not captured in this document, do give us feedback and we will iterate on this further.
Good luck through this process!
Career Decision Matrix (add/ modify rows as required):
Nice to Haves (Chocolate)
Organisational Mission/ Vision
Org Size /Presence/Brand
Hansen, Randall S., Ph.D. “Five Step plan to create a personal mission statements.” Quintessential Careers.
Bialik, Carl. “Seven Careers in a Lifetime? Think Twice, Researchers Say.” Wall Street Journal. 4 September 2010. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704206804575468162805877990.html
 Which country/city do you want to be located for the next year or two?
 What mission/vision resonates most with you? A for-profit company seeking to innovate, a non-profit seeking to work on issues of social impact, or a government department seeking to work on a public concern?
 How big is the organisation and its footprint? Do you want to work on a community, national, regional, pan-African or global scale? What do people in the industry think of the company?
 What role do you envisage playing – a small role within a large department? A mission-critical role in a small organisation?
 How do people work and interact with each other in and out of work?
 What is the typical entry level salary for a particular company or industry?