Finances & Money

Personal Finance Basics: Career Planning

Up next in the Personal Finance Basics Series is a task that I personally should go through myself: Career Planning. I have discovered what I’m good at doing, for the most part, but I haven’t actually taken the time to sit down and figure out what I want to do with my life…career-wise at least. So while I instruct you on how YOU should begin planning your career, I think I’ll take down a few notes for myself.

In “Your Job, Your Future“, we walked through why people work and the various attributes that you should understand about yourself before delving into the arduous task of “figuring out what you want to be when you grow up”. For something that you spend about 86,000 hours doing between college graduation and age 65, you should probably like what you’re doing, right? Well, few of us actually make an effort in choosing their career appropriately.

Steps in Career Planning

In my senior year of college, all I knew was that Information Technology was hot. I’m not a programmer, but I could BS my way out of many things. I interviewed with about 2 dozen firms, and in the end took a job working at a systems analyst/developer on some new-fangled technology. I totally lucked out career-wise in that my field is still a hot market 7 years later.

But then again, I don’t really like what I do. I have a few ideas of things I’d rather be doing, but now that I’m being paid a very nice salary and don’t really need to worry about finding work, I’m just not motivated to do career planning. And that’s how many of our high school and college students feel as well. Thinking about the real world just isn’t an appealing option when there’s other stuff to keep us busy.

But as I said, career planning is essential because of how much time you spend at your job. It involves careful investigation and analysis and can take years to complete. It involves the following four steps:

  1. Self-Assessment
  2. Research
  3. A Plan of Action
  4. Reevaluation

Let’s look at these four steps more closely.


I already touched upon this in “Your Job, Your Future“, but I’ll restate it here that you need to determine and understand your needs, wants, values and life-style. You need to know what you’re good doing (and what you’re not good doing) and what you’re interested in. Once you understand all of these traits, beliefs and interests, you can begin to match them up with potential career choices.


When we consider a career path, we may tend to only think about what jobs are familiar to us. But such a big decision requires more research than just your own experience. You need to utilize all resources from guidance counselors/advisers (if you’re in school), pamphlets, articles, counseling centers, employment offices and, of course, the web.

As your career options expand through research, you can then begin narrowing them down based on your interests, etc. However, be careful not to throw out an idea simply because you don’t think it would be interesting. Be sure to research all jobs thoroughly because not all literature is well-written. If something strikes your fancy, try to find someone in that field to better learn about their job, daily routines, growth potential, salary (if they’ll disclose it) and anything else that might be important to you.

For example, if you like bugs, visit the zoo and speak to an entomologist (I had to look that one up myself). But don’t limit yourself to a job that only deals directly with bugs. Check out businesses that contract on environmental impact studies, or maybe laboratories performing rain forest research. You’ll surely come across insects in more than just a zoo setting.

A Plan of Action

When you think you’re done with research and you’ve narrowed down your options to a select few, it’s time to create a plan of action. Now is the time to begin preparing yourself for that career further by developing job search techniques, taking courses, getting additional exposure to the field, and even seeking part-time or volunteer jobs to gain experience. Use this opportunity to not only understand your own job, but others’ jobs closely linked to your own. You may find that your job isn’t what you thought it would be, but a fellow intern’s might be.


This is the step I’m currently in. Although I have a steady, stable and well-paying job, I’m not much interested in writing test scripts or sitting in meetings all day (just some of my current duties). I’d rather be a car salesman, if I had the choice, or at least I think I would. But I don’t know whether I could hack it in the retail world, or if selling cars is a good idea during a recession. But I just need to research all of these career attributes further to determine if changing jobs is right for me right now. And I’m sure there are many other jobs I’d be interested doing, if only I made the effort to research further.


So right now I’m reevaluating my current career choice. I need to develop and then research alternatives, compare the pros and cons of the new career(s) to my existing one and then decide whether to switch or stay. It’s a cycle that all of us should do, unless we’re completely happy and content with our jobs. Personally, I feel unsettled in my career, but I’ll keep my eye on other opportunities as they come by (such as this website). Whatever your current job, I suggest that you not only keep your options open, but actively investigate other careers that may better match up to your interests, values and aptitudes.

You truly never know when “the perfect job” will come along, but you need to prepare yourself to notice it when it does.

About the author

Clever Dude


  • I guess I’m kind of lost in the self-assessment stage. I have no idea where to go. I mean, I have a rough idea, but I’m floundering by not being able to get past this stage. How do you go about finding out what’s out there, especially when what you have in mind is rather narrow and hypothetical? Or even if you frankly have no idea? Where are the resources for this? (open question, don’t feel like an answer is necessary!)

  • Squid, that’s a very valid question. Honestly, my mind is still stuck to thinking I need to stay in IT as a career, but I know there are other things I would enjoy doing.

    As far as how to find out what’s available, I’d suggest doing a google search for “research careers” and see where that takes you. I don’t think there’s any site that would answer all your questions right up front. It’s going to take some digging.

  • Hi CD,

    As a senior in college, I’m in the midst of my first serious job search and your points above are all excellent!

    I’d like to add two things:

    If you contact someone in a field about their job, even if you didn’t know them before, I’ve found them to be very open and happy to share their day-to-day job life.. I’ve even been invited to “shadow” them for a day, which proved to be invaluable in seeing if a certain type of job was for me (it wasn’t!).

    I just read a great book I highly recommend called Getting from College to Career: 90 Things to Do Before You Join the Real World by Lindsey Pollak. It’s cutting edge and speaks to us college kids, or recent grads. I actually wish I knew about it even earlier in my college career. It’s friendly, positive inits approach and very helpful — and it goes far beyond the how-to-write-a-resume and how-to-interview ideas about looking for a job.


  • If you’re serious about the car thing, I think you’d enjoy what my friend does. She’s legally a dealer but she doesn’t actually own a dealership, at least not one affiliated with a manufacturer. Instead, she’s got some set up where she has relationships with a whole bunch of dealers, and she has clients who call her, tell what car they want, and she gets it for them. Her clients aren’t getting the best deal out there (when I realized this, I stopped buying from her – but she understands the value of a dollar and doesn’t hold it against me). What they get is no hassles and superior service – she delivers the car, takes care of financing, and they might even provide some services like car washes, detailing, etc. (they used to but I don’t know if they still do).

  • Actually about 2 years ago, I thought of doing that exact thing myself. I even registered a URL (I still have it) and had a price list. I thought I was ingenious and came up with a novel idea, but I didn’t do enough research beforehand and found out it’s a competitive market.

    But thanks for bringing up this idea again. I’ll look back into it and see what I need to do to get started.

  • Choosing a career is tricky. Especially choosing something you’ll enjoy doing for many, many years. But a lot of people seem to think that if you had a couple of jobs doing one thing, you won’t be able to switch careers. You totally can. I went from working as a manager in logistics to software developer and now love. I used this awesome website to make a great resume to apply for jobs in my new field.

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