The Career Planning Process: Planning Your Career Step-By-Step

Contributed by Dawn Rosenberg McKay, Career Planning Expert

Choosing a career is a big deal. It’s about so much more than deciding what you will do to make a living. To start with, think about the amount of time we spend at work. We are on the job approximately 71% of every year. Over our lifetimes, this comes out to roughly 31 1/2 years out of the 45 years most of us spend working, from the beginning of our careers until retirement. The importance of selecting a career with which we are satisfied cannot be over-emphasized.

While some people are lucky enough to just know what they want to do and end up in satisfying careers without giving it much thought, most of us are not. Many people don’t put enough effort into choosing occupations or pick them for the wrong reasons. Maybe they choose careers that seem secure or pay well. Then they end up unhappy. The best way to make sure that doesn’t happen to you is to make a well-thought out decision. Follow the career planning process as described here.

The career planning process is comprised of four steps: Self Assessment, Career Exploration, Match and Action. You can attempt to go through them on your own or you can seek the services of a career development professional who will help facilitate your journey. The way you decide to undertake this process—with or without assistance—is less important than the amount of thought and energy you put into it.

Self Assessment: During this first step you will use a variety of tools to gather information about yourself. You will learn about your

  • Interests
  • Work-related Values
  • Personality Type
  • Aptitudes
  • Preferred Environments
  • Developmental Needs
  • Realities


You will identify occupations that might be a good fit for you during this step. More about Self Assessment

Career Exploration

  • Explore the occupations that appear to be a good fit based on the results of your self assessment.
  • Explore other occupations that interest you.
  • Research the industries in which you would like to work
  • Research the Labor Market


After your preliminary research, you can start eliminating occupations that don’t appeal to you and get more specific information on those that do. These are some ways to do that

  • Job Shadowing
  • Part time work, internships, or volunteer opportunities
  • Informational interviews


Match: During this phase of the career planning process you will decide which occupation is the best fit for you based on what you now know about yourself and the occupations you’ve researched.

  • Identify the occupation in which you are most interested and one or two alternatives on which to fall back if, for any reason, you can’t pursue your first choice.
  • Give serious thought to how you will prepare to enter your chosen career, the costs associated with doing that and whether you will face any barriers. Barriers include family responsibilities, financial difficulties and disabilities that may interfere with pursuing your goals.
  • Go back to the prior phase if you find you need to explore your options further before making a decision.

Action: Now it’s time to put together a plan to reach your goals and start moving forward. First write a career action plan. This will serve as a guide that will help you reach your goals.

  • Identify your long-term and short-term goals.
  • Apply to college, graduate school or training programs, if necessary.
  • Develop a job search strategy
  • Write your resume
  • Identify and learn about potential employers
  • Compose cover letters
  • Prepare for job interviews

It is important to note that the career planning process is a circular one. You may have to go back to the beginning, or any phase, at some point in your life as you redefine yourself and your goals. You may even have to do this more than once. is the leading ag-specific career portal for job seekers.  Employers post more than 5,000 jobs on the site monthly.  Job seekers are provided free access to the industry specific job board, ability to post their resume in the database, and review online educational materials.  For more information, visit


Finding a Mentor

Contributed by:  Kristine Milbrandt, Creative Marketing Specialist,

It might sound old-school, but finding a mentor can really stimulate career growth. Mentors, by definition, are experienced and trusted advisers. Anyone can give you advice, but a mentor is someone that observes your progress toward particular goals over a long period of time. Career mentors are especially important for students and job seekers. When cultivated, a relationship with a mentor can reap many benefits.

So how does one go about finding a mentor? First, consider what you want from a mentor. What kind of advice are you looking for? Think about your goals and career objectives. Then think about who might be best to help get you on the right track toward fulfilling those goals. If you’re unsure of who that might be, think about your surroundings and your current career status. Are you still in school, are you looking for a job, or do you have one and are just looking for ways to enhance your skills?

College Students: If you are enrolled in post-secondary education, you most likely have many potential mentors that you cross paths with on a regular basis. Professors and instructors in your field, career services personnel, work-study supervisors, upperclassmen or graduate students, bosses, extracurricular coaches or advisers, and more. Getting involved on campus is a great way to make connections with people who could be key in discovering interests as well as career objectives and opportunities. Take the initiative and talk to these individuals you cross paths with. They likely have years of experience and advice behind them.

Job Seekers: If you aren’t enrolled in post-secondary education and are seeking employment, you might be surprised to know that you still likely have many possible mentors around you. Think about organizations that you might already belong to or once did, church groups, members within your family, community groups and non-profit organizations, neighbors, business associations in your area, and much more. If you’re willing to look, listen, and maybe step outside of your comfort zone a bit, you could find great advice in places you might not have considered.

Employees: Often, employees searching for a mentor will look to someone within their own business or office. While this may be great for some and certainly easy to access, it may not always be the best fit, especially if there is competition within your own workplace, if your workplace culture would not permit it, or if you are considering changing jobs. Networking and professional development events are excellent resources for finding mentors as are groups and organizations outside of your work.

Asking someone you don’t know or are unfamiliar with to be your mentor might be uncomfortable, but the results of a mentor’s advice can be very rewarding. Be straightforward once you’ve found someone you feel is a good fit for you and just ask. Set up a meeting to clearly discuss what you’re looking for and how you feel they can help you. If they agree, continue to meet regularly and discuss your objectives. You’ll find that the many rewards that come with having a mentor will help you meet your career goals. You may even find that you’d like to pay it forward in the future and mentor younger professionals yourself. is the leading ag-specific career portal for job seekers.  Employers post more than 5,000 jobs on the site monthly.  Job seekers are provided free access to the industry specific job board, ability to post their resume in the database, and review online educational materials.  For more information, visit