Jessica Sweet is a career and small business coach. In this article, Jessica discusses the importance of future-focused career planning for young professionals.

In the early stages of your career, you might think it's too soon to start thinking about career planning. But in reality, it's actually the perfect time. You have plenty of time to change your mind if you choose to, but starting out on an important journey with no plan at all is not a recipe for success. Most people start by looking at the very next step in their career progress, and they do that for their entire careers.

This method won't systematically lead you to your ultimate career goal. While your next job might look good for the present, if you're not looking far enough ahead you might not realize that it has limited growth potential, or that there are certain opportunities that just won't be available to you if you pursue that path. By planning better with your own priorities in mind, you might save yourself a lot of stress later in your career.

The dangers of autopilot

A client I work with is a clinical social worker. She is now going back to school to become a forensic psychologist. Her current career path doesn't allow her to work with the types of clients she wants to work with, to be involved in the legal system, or to have the level of professional clout she deserves, and as a result she is required to continue her education.

Looking back, she realizes she had reservations on all of these points while pursuing her social work degree, but she just thought it would "work out." Instead, she could have done some early career planning that may have helped her make better choices - ones more in line with her personal and professional goals.

You can think about it like taking a trip. You want to take it in the most efficient way that you can, while seeing as many sights as possible. You wouldn’t want to have to fly to Australia twice on the same trip, once to see the Outback and once to see Sidney, just because you didn't plan well. The same is true with your career. You don't want to have to go to school again, or transition careers multiple times, if it can be prevented. You do want to maximize the successes and enjoyment you have along the way.

Career Planning

Planning early

So how, exactly, do you plan your career? First recognize that career design is not perfect. You can't predict the future, and you can't know for sure right now what you're going to want in 15 or 20 years. But you might be able to make a pretty good guess based on what you already know about yourself and what you think you want to achieve and do in your life.

You'll need to recognize that it's only a guess and you can change your mind later. This is an important step because it allows you to take the pressure off yourself. Otherwise you might agonize over every decision which will only paralyze you. If you can let go of the need to know the future, you're ready to begin.

Start by working backwards. Project into the future, to when you are 40 or 50, and think about who you are, where you are, and what you're doing in your life, both personally and professionally.

And once you're ready, you can ask yourself these powerful career planning questions:

Where do I want to end up in my career? What do you want to be doing? What level do you want to be at - do you want to be a CEO? Or do you want to have your own company? Are you a busy manager, or are you working a job that gives you plenty of free time? These career goals will help you understand the types of roles you should aim for throughout the many times you conduct a job search.

What goals are worth working for? In other words, are you committed to becoming a billionaire, or does it only sound good in your head? Plenty of people say they want to achieve something huge, but when it comes to doing the work, they fail to show up. Really think about what you're going to do. There are no wrong answers here - just answers that are right for you. But whatever they are, they should be ones that you know you can commit yourself to.

What am I passionate about doing? Work that you care about is work you'll do well. When you like what you do every day, you do it with a sense of energy and urgency that you won’t find in a dull and miserable job. With changes in technology and the workplace that make new levels of success more attainable to both employees and entrepreneurs, you will really need to "bring it" to stand out and be successful. Passion is the key to finding that one career path that will have you excited to get to work every morning.

Where do I think I can be successful? What are your skills and talents or what skills and talents do you want to develop? You can base these on both the things you’re already good at and want to refine, and on the things you enjoy doing and want to know more about. Think about where you can make an impact in your team or at another company. Think about the skills you’ll need for that career end goal you’re working toward. And take the time to learn those skills in order to stay on track.

Is there a need for what I'm thinking about doing? You don't want to go into a dying industry just because you're passionate about it. That will lead to heartbreak. Instead, find a way to use your passions to do something there is a demand for so that you can afford to keep doing what you love.

If you spend some time answering these 5 questions - even with the help of a friend or a career coach - you can end up with a career you want instead getting somewhere on autopilot. And doing so will give you more control over your own future and the path you take to get there. You can revise your answers over time and change course as much as you need to, but a career with a strategy behind it will be much more successful than one that just unfolds.

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