The Ultimate Career Planning Guide: Make Your Career a Reality

A college student following her career path to success.

The prospect of starting your career can trigger a sweeping range of emotions. For many students, it’s a thrilling and exciting experience. After all, it’s the culmination of all those years of effort and study.

For other students, it’s terrifying. The days are counting down to graduation, and you’ve yet to line up that first job. You’re starting to worry about where that first paycheck is coming from post-graduation. What can students do to set themselves up for success when starting their careers? There’s a lot more involved than just searching and applying for jobs!

Much of the work that goes into planning your career starts long before you graduate. Here are career planning guidelines for high school seniors, college students, and soon-to-be graduates to make sure you hit the ground running once you get a diploma.

What Are You Good At?

The first step toward planning your career begins by taking a long, hard look at yourself. What do you enjoy? In what areas do you display a high level of proficiency? Are you the type of person that just “gets” math? Do you have a detail-oriented passion for research? Maybe you’re an amazing public speaker who loves working with people.

It’s okay if you’re not sure where your talents lie. For many people, it takes time to discover their own talents. That’s a big benefit of higher education! If you need help discovering your skillset, career assessments can help. Thankfully, there are online career assessments that can point you in the right direction.

What Do You Want to Do?

Once you have a better idea of your own skills, it’s time to see how these skills relate to your potential career paths. Just because you’re good at one thing doesn’t mean you’re locked into a career. Ask yourself what you think you’d be happy doing for the rest of your life.

Do you have a passion for the law? Perhaps there’s something about business that excites you. You could love working with animals. This is an ideal time to give serious thought to what sort of career could keep you happy for the long run.

Still, remember that it’s okay if you’re not sure yet. Many students aren’t sure what they want to do until their junior or senior year of college, some even later. Lots of students start college with one career path in mind only to learn that their true passion lies in a different field.

There are plenty of options available. College is your opportunity to explore different choices and learn what aligns best with your own goals.

What Are Your Career Goals?

Beyond determining what you actually want to do for work, you need to figure out what you want to get out of your career. While it’s prudent to think about a specific job or field, you also need to determine what you want out of your job.

Is your goal to make a lot of money? If you’re aiming for a big salary, then you will want to explore high paying careers and see what sort of salary you can expect.

Maybe you’re looking for a career with more flexibility that can provide you with time to pursue your hobbies and passions. Are you looking for a job that will allow you to travel and see the world? These are all factors you must consider when making your decision about careers to pursue.

Sit down and make a list of what matters most to you, then compare this list to the career choices that can turn your dreams into reality.

Choose Your Classes Carefully

Now that you have a general idea of your skills and what you want to do with them, it’s time to lay out a path that will help you reach your destination. It’s necessary that you take classes related to your desired career, and that you research careers related to what you study in college.

While your college major doesn’t always determine your career, it really depends on the field you’re considering. While a psychology major may do well in marketing, it might not be as helpful if you want to pursue a career in computer science. Make sure that your studies will help to set you up for the career you want for yourself.

It’s a good idea to start researching different programs and majors as early as high school. That way, you’ll have a better understanding of the classes you need to take to achieve your goals. With so many programs and majors out there, it can all seem overwhelming at first.

By following the tips outlined above, you should be able to narrow things down and find the right major for you. This is also a time when school counselors can be an excellent resource for any questions you might have.

Take the time to develop a relationship with your school counselor and speak with them often about your classes, your major, and where you are in your career path.

Network

We all know the saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” While what you know is definitely important, we also recognize that who you know can have a far-reaching impact on your future career path.

A college or university is a wonderful time to meet people from different fields.  ‘Network’ is so much more than a corporate buzzword. The people you meet in college matter. You never know who you’re going to run into later down the line. Be sure you stay on good terms with professors, advisors, bosses, classmates, and more.

Consider joining organizations or community groups working in the field you’d like to pursue. Clubs and campus organizations can expose you to opportunities for internships and even jobs. Every introduction is an opportunity, so make the most of it and remember to make a strong first impression.

Apply for Internships

Speaking of internships, an internship is an excellent way to get a jump start on your career. When you intern, you learn more about an industry at the ground level. You’ll work together with experienced professionals in your field who can show you the ropes and the type of skillset you’ll need to succeed. For students who are unable to attend their internships in person, there are also virtual internships available.

Internships are great because they give students a hands-on approach in the job search. This helps you determine if a career is all you thought it would be and whether it’s the field for you. You never know, that internship from college could lead to your first job.

Attend Job Fairs and Career Fairs

Just like scouts come to colleges to find the best talent in sports, recruiters also come to campuses to attract talented students to their companies. Many colleges and universities, including community colleges and trade schools, will host several career or job fairs throughout the year.

These career fairs are a terrific time to speak with people from companies that interest you so you can learn about available career options.

Find a Mentor

Remember when we mentioned how important it is to stay on good terms with classmates, professors, co-workers, and peers? Here’s where that advice really comes in handy.

One of the most helpful resources in your career path is finding the right mentor. Your mentor is going to be someone with experience in your chosen field who can share the wisdom they’ve gleaned during their own career.

You may be asking yourself, “How do I find a career mentor?” First, you need to determine who you would like as your mentor. It may be a professor, a family friend, someone you met during an internship, or even an older friend who has experience in the industry.

Make sure it’s someone you trust who can truthfully advise you for the long haul. While they won’t hold your hand every step of the way, the right mentor will be a good sounding board as you climb your career ladder.

Once you choose a mentor, you have to ask if they’re up for the job. While it may seem daunting or even uncomfortable to ask, you may be surprised by the people who step up for the challenge. Many professionals want to share their knowledge with someone eager to learn. In fact, they may find it flattering.

Remember to take the time to develop a relationship with your mentor early on. You never know how this may pay off for you in the future.

Take Advantage of Career Services

Did you know that your college or university likely has a career services department dedicated to helping you on your path to success? If you didn’t know about it, you’re not alone. Fewer than 20 percent of undergraduate students take advantage of their school’s career services programs when looking for jobs or considering graduate school.

These career centers are incredible resources for students looking to develop their own career plans. Career services departments advise students on their options, available internships, and upcoming job fairs, and can even help them find jobs.

We recommend getting to know the people in your career services center and make friends with them as soon as possible. You never know. You may be the first person they recommend when that new job rolls around.

Remember That Everyone Has a Different Path

As you embark on your journey toward a rewarding career, always keep in mind that everyone has a different career path. There are certain steps, like the ones we’ve outlined above, that can help you develop a road map. Even so, the paths to success may be very different. It could mean attending a community college or trade school. It may mean graduate school.

Whatever your goals for your career, CFNC can help you plan for a career and start you on the right track. Create your CFNC account today to take full advantage of all the resources available to help you plan for college and beyond!