Planning your career

Alan Ludmer is the president of ARL, LLC; specializing in individual career transitions, outplacement, and career and executive coaching, search/recruitment, corporate marketing and branding. He is the lead consultant for the JF&CS LifeLine Program which has helped numerous members of the St. Louis Community successfully navigate difficult career transitions.  He is a frequent speaker and author on career transitions,  employment issues, and entrepreneurship. For more information contact [email protected] or visit his blog at

Alan R. Ludmer

In the business world, planning is incredibly difficult and time consuming. It isn’t any different when it comes to planning your career. However planning is tremendously important to your success. Basically, planning means putting together a guideline of where you think your career will go in the years to come. The following are several key areas regarding the career planning process.

Where are you?

You start from where you are. You can’t figure out where you’re going until you know where you are, so the first thing you should do is take stock. Take some time to write down what you see as your best skills, traits, passions, and talents. Understand what excites you and makes you feel engaged.  This should be your framework for all of the other steps you take to build your career plan moving forward.  


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The best thing about charting your own course? You get to make all of the decisions. Your career map is completely up to you. The timing, scope, and end goal are totally customizable. It can also be helpful to both long- and short-term objectives when putting together your map, or even just focus on one or the other. If you are clear that you want to own your own company by the time you are 40, then you need to create a map that will get you there. If you are clear that you want to advance into management in your current role then, you can start with a smaller map to get your first management position.

Equally important is figuring out what your goals are not. Take an assessment of your priorities and see if any fall in the category of habits.  Habits are those things are you doing because others (parents, teachers, bosses) have pointed you in that direction, not because you like them. Clear your list of these habits and instead focus on what things are you doing because you love to do them.

Reasonable goals?

While having lofty goals is awesome, it’s also crucial to set attainable expectations. Don’t necessarily shoot for the moon, but also don’t low-ball yourself. Creating a timeline that’s requiring too much of yourself too soon can be a recipe for disaster. And make sure your objectives are meaningful to you, not just those around you. Milestones should be realistic and built around what success looks like for you personally, versus what success in society looks like.


One of the biggest issues people have with career planning is that it can box people into specific roles and goals when it might be better for them to be more open-minded. What happens when you get an unexpected opportunity or life events get in the way of your map? One of the most painful mistakes I see people making is having a defined vision for the future and trying to achieve it at all costs. This can be avoided by focusing on what truly engages you. In other words, if you find that following your map isn’t making you happy or you want to try out something different, don’t be afraid to check in with yourself and see where you can make some changes. Industries and technologies evolve over time, too, so it’s important to know that some of your long-term goals might get changed by circumstances outside of your control.

Personal Objectives

Integrate personal development into your plan, as achieving your personal goals will lead you to a greater level of success,. That means that if you want to earn an advanced degree, get a specific professional certification, or even learn another language that might be useful for you in the future, it should go on the map. Lifestyle considerations should also be accounted for. For example, if you want to be able to eventually reach four weeks of vacation per year or even get to a point where you can make time to train for a marathon, put it in your plan! 

Keep with it.

Your career map won’t help you much if you forget about it. Luckily, there are lots of ways to make sure you check in with your plan either daily, weekly, or monthly. Setting reminders in your phone and computer will help to jog your memory when you are getting caught up in the day-to-day. Everyone has a different method that’s most effective for them, but with some trial and error, you should be able to pinpoint what works for you. Whether it’s getting creative with sticky note reminders to yourself or creating a vision board, there are endless options for keeping your map in mind. But whatever you choose, it is necessary to check in and make sure that the steps that you are taking each day are moving you where you want to go. No one can do that work for you.