Three steps to planning your career: boost your chances of professional success

Planning your career is a vital step towards success!
© Getty Images/Jonathan Erasmus

“Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?” Were you asked this question at your last job interview – and did you find it difficult to answer? To avoid this happening at your next interview, and to help you develop a structured career plan, we’ve compiled a few tips. A conscious and strategic plan for every future stage in your career will improve your prospects of achieving your career goals.

The traditional model of career development – the career ladder – has had its day. A steady rise up the hierarchy, one step at a time, is no longer possible: candidates jostle on the same step, are held back or find that they simply cannot go any higher. Meanwhile, employers now consistently demand results, flexibility, a high level of commitment and a willingness to accept change – the most crucial elements in an individual’s career progression.

To help you to identify suitable career opportunities and succeed in finding jobs, you really need to follow a conscious, structured and strategic approach to planning not just your first job after university but also all subsequent career steps. Planning makes it more likely that you will achieve your career goals and enjoy professional satisfaction.

Step 1: Think carefully about what you really want

The first step in a structured career plan is to analyse your potential, strengths and weaknesses. This will highlight your skills and talents from a number of perspectives – specialist, methodological, personal and social. This first step also involves reflecting on your professional and personal interests and your own vision for your professional and private life. The aim is to look back and understand the logic and motivations that have brought you to where you currently are in your career. You can then formulate the logical next step. It is important not just to see your career through your own eyes but also to seek constructive feedback from third parties and, if possible, take a personality test. This will give you a more rounded picture. Defining goals – goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely – will boost your motivation to achieve your ambitions.

Step 2: View job-seeking as a personal project

Find and assess the career options that offer the best fit with your strengths, personal interests and motivation. This is just as important a part of the second step as reflecting on your “ideal job” and is the only way you can really focus on your real priorities. To devise a strategy for job applications that will get you where you want to be, you should decide on a specific timeframe for this step, identify the major sources of job opportunities and make a list of the organisations you would most like to work for. Once you have described these clearly – and, ideally, turned them into a kind of personal signed contract to keep yourself on track – you can set to work. 

Step 3: Invest sufficient time in making applications

In the third career-planning step, the priority is to focus on preparing to submit applications: update all the relevant documents and present them as well as possible, and gather together and scan key certificates, qualifications and references. It is also important to plan for the time you invest in preparing and submitting applications. The more time and energy you invest in preparing the documentation, the more rapidly your efforts will start to bear fruit.


Use this three-step process for every further stage in your career: your personality, interests and motivation will evolve over time and as you get older. Realistically, we can plan for only a limited period. Life is constantly taking us by surprise and throwing up unexpected events, so a coherent job-seeking strategy and a clear idea of your potentials and strengths, a vision, and SMART goals for your career development will be the best way of ensuring you achieve your ambitions – even when things look uncertain.

Guest author: Heike Anne Dietzel, Career advisor and trainer with a degree-level qualification in cultural and business studies – 

Contributions by external authors do not necessarily represent the editorial opinion.

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