Create a Career Plan to Reach Your Professional Goals

Keeping an updated career plan is fundamental to managing your career. A career plan helps you stay on track to reach your career goals. It doesn’t eliminate the importance of serendipity and being adaptable. Instead, it optimizes and enhances the likelihood of thriving in the career path you choose. As you create your plan, don’t underestimate the power of intentional, incremental steps. Small steps now can have a significant impact later.  Here are three steps to get you started:

  1. Reflect on your values, skills, interests, and personality:

What do you value most?  Here are some ideas to get you started: collaboration, independence, having an impact, security, variety, leadership, creativity, diversity, helping or caring for others, influencing others, compensation, managing projects, achievements, relationships, recognition, solving problems, making decisions, and addressing challenges.

What are you skilled in?
  Include your academic knowledge and the skills you are gaining in your academic program. Consider your hard skills, such as your technical, presentation, language, organizational, and analytical skills; and your soft skills, such as communication, listening, collaboration, leadership, conflict resolution, and motivational skills.

What interests you?  
Here are some ideas to get you started: human behavior, mental health and wellness, advocacy, policy, criminal justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion, teaching, administration, management, healthcare, technology, leadership, writing, negotiation, public speaking, research, caregiving, design, customer service, entrepreneurship, finance, data analytics. Think about what you enjoy doing. Ask yourself why you chose your academic program and what were the favorite topics you studied.

How would you describe your personality?
  Here are some ideas to get you started: introvert, extrovert, idealist, practical, artistic, curious, cautious, compassionate, energetic, assertive, strategic, spontaneous, analytical.

In addition to reflecting on your values, interests, skills, and personality, ask yourself why you chose your academic program. What excites you about going to work? Visualize yourself in an ideal position. What does that position look like?


  • The Career Planning and Development website has a list of self-assessments on the Career Exploration tab under “Self-Knowledge” that you can take to help you gain insights into your values, interests, skills, and personality.
  1. Explore career options, qualifications, and opportunities:

Next, explore career options related to the knowledge and skills you are gaining in your academic program and that fit with your values, interests, and personality. Review current job openings that interest you. What are the required qualifications? Do you need licensure or certifications beyond your academic program? What type of experience is required? What technology is needed? Are there jobs available in your geographic area or remote positions available? Keep in mind that choosing a job target with few opportunities in your geographic location will be challenging and require in-depth planning and possibly relocation.

Contact people in your target field and ask if they will meet with you for an informational interview. Prepare open-ended questions to gain inside information and advice about the job. Research the salary range for the positions you are interested in so you can make personal financial adjustments to adapt to expected changes. If your research takes you on a path to starting your own nonprofit or business, keep in mind that you will need to conduct extensive research and planning.


  1. Set goals: Decide on your target positions, evaluate your relevant strengths and gaps, gain experience, update your resume, and build your professional network:

After you’ve done your research, focus on the positions that interest you the most.  Make a list matching your strengths and skills with the requirements for the job, such as: skills and knowledge gained from your academic program; years of relevant work experience; transferable skills from previous experience; relevant technology; certifications and licensure requirements.

Explore ways to fill any gaps and gain experience. If you don’t have the level of experience required, explore skilled-based volunteering or internships. If you are currently employed, look for ways to add to your relevant experience by taking on stretch assignments in your current position.  

Next, analyze your resume. Does it reflect your qualifications for your target position? Are you using keywords in your field to describe your qualifications? Are you including results when describing accomplishments?

Finally, take steps throughout your career to build your professional network. Your professional network is your community of people with similar or complementary professional interests. Two of the most common ways to connect with other professionals are to join professional associations and become a member of LinkedIn.


Once you have a plan in place, review it regularly to document your accomplishments and make adjustments.

If you need help:

Denise Pranke

Written by Denise Pranke, Specialist, Department of Career Planning and Development