Don Stoltz By Don Stoltz • January 5, 2023

The Beginner’s Guide to Career Planning: Smart Strategies to Change Your Career

When you hear the term “career planning,” what do you think about?

Most of us tend to think about young, fresh-faced 18 year olds selecting majors and degree programs or figuring out internships on the way to college graduation. However, career planning is not about picking a program of study, and it does not end once a student completes his or her degree. Our society tends to gravitate toward this cookie-cutter scenario, when, in fact, career and skills assessment is a lifelong endeavor.

Planning your career, or choosing a new one, can be a job all its own. You know you need to develop a career plan, but where do you begin, and how do you implement it? These basics will help you assess your options and identify what you can offer a in new, fulfilling dream job. Here's how to plan for any career transition and increase your chances of success.

Know You Are Not Alone

Very few lucky people are able to determine exactly what they want to do career-wise before graduating high school. For most adult students, career endeavors are anything but cookie-cutter. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2021 that Americans born between 1957-1964 held, on average, 12.4 different jobs from the ages of 18 to 54. Nearly half of these jobs were held from ages 18 to 24. That number is only expected to grow with future generations.

Finding our “calling” at any age can be a long, winding road full of trials and errors. Some have spent years in an industry or field that leaves them unfulfilled, only to be unhappy in a job that merely satisfies their family obligations, or they lack the confidence to explore other options. Others find themselves on the losing end of an economic downturn and experience career hardships due to layoffs, personal challenges or lack of training. And, then, there are those who only discover that dream job after being fully immersed in the work.

Some of us may not have found that calling yet, and that is ok. In this, adult students are unique. They experience diverse careers and a wide range of educational backgrounds due to any number of circumstances. Whatever the reason, a career change is the goal, but the means may seem near impossible. 

Do Your Research

If you’re looking to break into a new career, you need to assess what educational credentials are required for the specific position you’re seeking. The best way to do that is to view job descriptions on job sites like Indeed or Career Builder. Some job postings will list specific degrees that are desired. Others will just list the education level needed, whether associate, bachelor’s, master’s or some other advanced degree.

As an academic advisor, my goal is to help you create an educational plan that matches your career pursuits. Even if you’re embarking on something new, that doesn’t mean that your past efforts were in vain. Whether you are looking for the quickest route to a bachelor’s degree or you’ve decided to follow a new career path, an academic advisor can show you how your previously earned credits and credentials would apply to various degree programs. Then, we will help you develop a plan to complete a degree that meets your career goals within a time frame that is comfortable for you.

Use Your Network

As an adult, you most likely have already developed a wide professional and personal network, whether through your work, hobbies, community activities or relationships. Use that network to connect with people who are in the field in which you are interested. When you speak with someone in your desired career, you’ll probably learn more than what you can find online about daily responsibilities, work environment, typical work hours and growth potential, and that intimate knowledge can be invaluable to your career decisions. 

Identify Your Transferrable Skills

We’ve all heard of hard and soft skills when it comes to developing your resume. Hard skills are those unique to a specific occupation. For example, an aviation mechanic possesses specific skills that are very different from that of an accountant. Soft skills pertain to attributes and personality traits. Communication skills, flexibility, work ethic and persistence are just a few soft skills.

Assess your skills and determine what is considered transferrable; the hard and soft skills that pertain to many careers. Identifying your transferrable skills is a great starting point to develop a comprehensive plan that will allow you to successfully transition into a new career. Do this by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What skills have I developed in my current position that would be of value in a new career?
  • What skills do I feel I may lack?
  • How can I develop those missing skills for my desired career? 

Career Resources and Tools

No successful career change or transition can be done without a solid foundation of research and planning. Below are some suggestions for additional resources that can help you assess what careers may fit your personality as well as career-specific data and trends.

Career and Personal Assessments

  1. Strong Interest Inventory - This assessment will help you identify your preferences regarding occupations, activities, subject areas, leisure activities and people, and how they relate to various careers.
  2. Self-Directed Search (SDS)Developed by the well-known psychologist and professor, John Holland, SDS is a career planning simulation that incorporates an interest inventory as well as a psychological test to identify occupations that match those characteristics.
  3. Myers Briggs Type Indicator - One of the most famous career-oriented personality tests, this tool assesses personal psychological traits and pinpoints your strengths to determine in which career field you may be most successful and happy. The real test is about $50, but you can find plenty of generic versions online that produce the same results.
  4. The Kolb Learning Style Inventory - While this is not necessarily a career assessment tool, David Kolb published this report on learning theory in 1984, and it still helps people understand their learning styles today.

Job and Industry Trends

  1. Occupational Outlook Handbook - Created by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, this handbook details the work environment, conditions, training, education, earnings and outlook for a variety of jobs and occupations across the nation.
  2. O’NET Dictionary - Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, this career exploration tool is a comprehensive database that details worker competencies, job requirements and more, filtered by occupation.
  3. ACT’s World-of-Work Map - The ACT World-of-Work Map is an empirically-based system for summarizing and displaying basic similarities and differences between occupations. It is visual and interactive, and designed to engage users in the process of career exploration.
  4. - Also sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, this system holds similar occupational information as some of the other resources, but also incorporates career assessment tools.
Don Stoltz

Written by Don Stoltz

Don Stoltz is a senior program advisor in the Office of Academic Advising. Between helping students select courses and create degree plans, his goal is to assist students in matching their professional career aspirations with their educational pursuits. He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from Fairleigh Dickinson University. He is also an accomplished culinary artist, earning an associate degree in culinary arts, before transitioning to higher education.

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