The Foundations of Career Planning. What You Need to Understand Before You Start.
10 min read

The Foundations of Career Planning. What You Need to Understand Before You Start.

The Foundations of Career Planning. What You Need to Understand Before You Start.

Defining Career Planning and Why it is Important

On a journey of a thousand steps, the first step can often be the hardest. Career Planning is a complex topic to discuss. There are so many little things to account for when early career professionals are in the early stages of career planning. Career planning is the process and plans you follow to define your ideal lifestyle and clearly define what actionable steps you need to take to achieve your career goals. Working in higher education for the past eight years has allowed me to see how early career professionals plan their careers and how difficult it can be for some of them. You often look at career planning as something that happens for you, but you should be looking at your career as something you create or design for yourself. When you look at your career as something that you design, it empowers you to take control of your life and career. Rather than waiting for good things to happen, you can create opportunities for yourself. You can make the life you want to live on your terms. We all know that planning is essential, but career planning itself can be ambiguous. What elements should be in your career plan? I want to focus on the key elements that should make up your career plan.

Essential Pieces of Career Planning — What You Need to Include in Your Career Planning

Lifestyle Centric Career Planning

Cal Newport describes lifestyle-centric career planning as imagining the life you want to live and working backward from that (Newport, 2008). When you begin planning your career, you need to reflect and think about what kind of lifestyle you want to lead. Your role or the industry you are working in will determine your lifestyle. This could include the number of hours in a workweek or how often they travel. Do you want to have the flexibility to travel or spend more time with your family?

If that profession’s schedule or day-to-day work gets in the way of how you like to spend your time outside of work, it leads you down a path of unhappiness. We plan our lives around what we do for a living, for better or worse, so if you cannot live your ideal lifestyle while working in your chosen profession, you are setting yourself up for unhappiness.

Work towards the lifestyle that will be best for you personally and professionally. To get a good grasp of your ideal lifestyle, it’s essential to demonstrate self-awareness.

Demonstrating Self-Awareness and Understanding your Values

Demonstrating self-awareness can help you make better decisions and factor into the career planning process. You need to know who you are, where you are going, and how to get there. Understanding yourself will help you succeed in whatever you want to do. Organizational psychologist and executive coach Dr. Tasha Eurich has researched the importance of self-awareness. In her piece for the Harvard Business Review on self-awareness, she states this:

“When we see ourselves clearly, we are more confident and more creative. We make sounder decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively. We’re less likely to lie, cheat, and steal. We are better workers who get more promotions. And we’re more-effective leaders with more-satisfied employees and more-profitable companies.” — (Eurich, 2018).

Dr. Rurich describes two different types of self-awareness. The first is internal self-awareness, and the second is external self-awareness.

1. Internal self-awareness “represents how clearly we see our own values, passions, aspirations, fit with our environment, reactions (including thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses), and impact on others.” Additionally, her research team “found that internal self-awareness is associated with higher job and relationship satisfaction, personal and social control, and happiness; it is negatively related to anxiety, stress, and depression.” — (Eurich, 2018).

2. External self-awareness is understanding how others see us. Dr. Rurichs research shows “that people who know how others see them are more skilled at showing empathy and taking others’ perspectives.” — (Eurich, 2018).

This evidence shows that having a fundamental understanding of yourself will lead to better career decisions and more successful over the long term. Self-Awareness and understanding your personality are crucial to thriving in your targeted areas of interest and will make life easier for you. A significant component of self-awareness is understanding your values and what is important to you. If you take a value-based approach to career planning, you will ensure that you are entering a profession that aligns with who you are at your core.

Researching Potential Pathways

A key component to career planning is researching potential careers. How can you know if it is a good fit for you if you haven’t spent any time learning about it? The most surprising thing about my work with early-career professionals is how little research they do on careers they are interested in.

This is problematic for two reasons:

1. Their “interest” in a particular career causes them to make the wrong decision. These decisions cost them time, money, and intellectual capital. Only after they decide on a career path and enter the profession only to find out it doesn’t align with their values or ideal lifestyle.

2. They end up not researching anything and cannot decide on anything. You can’t expect to pick areas you want to focus on if you haven’t researched any sites at all. They get so caught up in everything else in their lives that they don’t develop any awareness of industries they might be successful in or spend time developing the skills they need to succeed in those careers.

The best way to conduct career planning research and build your network simultaneously is to get as many informational interviews as possible with people working in the job or industry you want to work in. When researching a potential career, you should focus on understanding the lifestyle in that profession and if that lifestyle aligns with your values. It’s also important to know how people got into their current role and what skills you need to succeed in that position.

Identify the Skills You Need to Thrive.

What skills do you need to thrive in the career you are pursuing? This should be answered during the career planning process. Part of your research should be on what skills you need to thrive in your targeted career and industry. Once you understand the essential skills, you can double down on learning those skills. Do not expect your college education to teach you all these skills. You may have to go out and learn them on your own. The good thing is that you can learn virtually any skill through online courses, YouTube videos, or books. I look at skills in two different contexts.

Hard skills are the foundational skills needed to succeed in your targeted career. Examples of hard skills could include coding, accounting, or having a technical understanding of standard tools in the industry. For instance, if you are going to succeed in the Business Analytics field, you need to understand things like cloud computing and SQL. These are skills you could easily acquire through your coursework or self-study.

Soft skills are the people skills you can use to succeed in your career path. Soft skills are essential, do not neglect them. You can have all the hard skills in the world, but if you can’t deal with people, you will struggle to get ahead. There are certainly some careers where they may not be as necessary, but even the brightest engineers in the world could use some soft skill development. Examples of soft skills could include things like communication and teamwork.

Identify the hard skills and soft skills you need to be successful. Once you’ve identified the skills spend some time learning those skills; it’s time to get some experience applying those skills in the real world.


Once you’ve spent much time researching potential career paths and talking to people through informational interviews, you’ve probably gotten a good understanding of the types of experience you will need to get to land a job in your industry. You learn by doing. You can research or read about your career path all you want, but until you get experience in something, you won’t know if it is for you. What better way to learn about something than by experiencing it firsthand?

Experiences like micro-Internships, internships, full-time and part-time jobs are great ways to get experience in your industry. You could also look for volunteer experiences. Depending on what you are doing, working for free can be an excellent way to get experience, apply and develop skills, and get your foot in the door at a place you want to work. Paid or unpaid, gaining relevant experience is essential to design your ideal career. Additionally, during your research, maybe you learned that freelancing is an excellent way to develop skills, so perhaps you start your own business to sharpen your skillset. You also may be working in a role that doesn’t directly align with what we want to be doing from time to time. Even if you don’t feel like your position relates to what you want to do, that’s okay. You can use those positions to develop transferable skills that will help you in any profession.

In the career planning process, it’s essential to understand the types of experiences you will need to be successful and then work backward to get that experience. You may have to seek out these opportunities on your own, or they may be built into your educational background, which you can assess as you begin researching the education you will need for career planning.


Education is a tool that will get you where you want to go in life and make you a more well-rounded member of society. I think it’s helpful to decide on your educational path once you have a clear understanding of where you want to go with your career. Often, we use our education to try and figure out what we want to do for our career, but this leads to students wasting time and money. Your education can open your eyes to many career opportunities. Still, you need to refine your career goals actively and then use your education to help achieve those goals. Not all school curriculums are designed to help you determine your career goals, nor should they be.

Your education should be carefully planned out to make the most of your experience. It should be a stepping stone that leads you towards your ideal lifestyle and career. If you are intentional about your perfect lifestyle and research the skills and experience you need to be successful, it will help you decide where to go to school and what to study. When doing your research, you need to account for what education you will need in potential careers and industries.

I would look at education through three different lenses:

What education, outside of your college education, are you going to need?

Your education is now more than your college degree. In my own life, I am focused on being a life-long learner. My college education could not have possibly taught me everything I needed to know. It is just not possible, regardless of cost.

A college degree is not enough anymore. You are going to need to get an education outside of college. This comes back to doing your research. In your research, you should research education outside of your college education to enhance your career prospects.

What will you need to study in school? (If you need a college education)

For most of you, your major won’t matter. Major does not equal a career. There are some exceptions. If you want to be a nurse, you will have to major in nursing, but there aren’t many majors that map to a specific career anymore. You can major in business because you think it’s more “practical,” and that’s okay. A business degree from a top business school can open many doors, but don’t think that is the only major that will aid in your career path.

Plenty of liberal arts majors has succeeded in many different things. Pick a major that interests you and, most importantly, one that you will be successful in. Too many students switch majors because they think it’s going to be better for their career (it probably won’t be) and end up staying in school longer. I’m not a big fan of majors. They are outdated and unnecessary, but you need one to graduate, so pick something you are interested in and complete it efficiently.

Once you are talking to people in roles that you want to work in, you will better understand what you might need to study to become successful in your targeted career. But I think you will find that there is not always one specific program you need to join to get into your chosen career field.

What will I need to learn on the job?

Some education you can get and need to get while you’re working. You can take all the courses you want, but they can’t teach you everything at some point. During the career planning process, you will need to understand what is easy to learn on the job and what you will need to learn on your own. Many industries don’t expect you to know everything and invest in your education when they hire you.

Building Social and Career Capital to apply in the Career Marketplace

Understanding what career and social capital you will need to build is an essential part of the career planning process.

Social Capital is best described in Ash Ali & Hasan Kaubba’s book “The Unfair Advantage.” They describe social capital as: “your network, your relationships, your connections. Your network is the people you’re connected with in some way and who, therefore, could open doors for you to opportunities, give you valuable insights and information, and act as allies and potential collaborators. Your network is who would return your call, reply to your email, or take a coffee meeting with you” (Ali, Kaubba, 2020).

Career Capital is defined in Cal Newport’s “So Good They Can’t Ignore You.” Career Capital is the rare and valuable skills you can offer the job market (Newport, 2016). Once you have built up enough career capital, you can then cash in on that career capital in the form of better jobs more autonomy in your career. Leveraging social and career capital is how the most successful job seekers land jobs they love.

Social and career capital is how people get opportunities to come to them. It also is how people get jobs at top companies. 80% of jobs are filled via a referral, and 65% are not posted online. This doesn’t just happen by accident. The people who have gotten opportunities this way have built up social capital along with rare and valuable skills.

As you begin to design your career, you need to build social capital through friends, family, co-workers, and some cold outreach. Career Capital can be created by developing rare and valuable skills in the job market.


I hope this piece helped you better understand what elements could make up your career plan. Don’t be afraid p in the career ss. It can be a lonely process, but it gets better when you engage other people in the career development process with you. Thanks for reading! Reach out if you want some help.


Newport, Cal. (2008, May 21). The Most Important Piece of Career Advice You Probably Never Heard — Study Hacks. Cal Newport.

Eurich, Tasha. (2018, January 4). What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It). Harvard Business Review.

Ali, A., & Kubba, H. (2020). The Unfair Advantage: How You Already Have What It Takes to Succeed. St. Martin’s Press.

Newport, C. (2016). So Good They Can’t Ignore You. Piatkus.