Career planning does not necessarily follow routine or logical steps. Each of us places weight on different factors and may consider certain phases of career planning at different times. Career planning includes gathering information about ourselves and about occupations, estimating the probable outcomes of various courses of action, and finally, choosing alternatives that we find attractive and feasible.
Many observers have pointed out that students are not very efficient career planners. They cite evidence that (1) most students choose from among a very narrow group of occupations; (2) as many as 40 to 60 percent choose professional occupations, when in reality only 15 to 18 percent of the work force is engaged in professional work;
(3) young men show a striking lack of interest in clerical, sales, and service occupations, although these fields offer many job opportunities; and (4) as many as a third of the students are unable to express any choice of occupation.
In their book Decision Making, Irving Janis and Leon Mann identify serious flaws in the ways many people make decisions. These flaws seem to be associated with the patterns people use to cope with problems. The first flaw is complacency. People who ignore challenging information about the choices they make demonstrate complacency. People who take the attitude that “It won’t affect me” or “It will never happen” use complacency as a dominant pattern of behaving. Of course, complacency is appropriate for any decision in which nothing much is at stake, but that does not describe career decisions.
A second flaw in the way people cope with decisions is defensive avoidance. When confronted with a decision and unable to believe they can find an acceptable solution, some people remain calm by resorting to wishful thinking or daydreaming. Students who fail to think about the implications of their career choices often engage in rationalization (deceiving oneself with self-satisfying but incorrect explanations for one’s behavior) or procrastination (putting off or delaying). Facing the situation may produce anxiety, but examining alternatives could also bring relief.
A third flaw is hyper vigilance. This occurs in career decision making when people believe there is not enough time to find a solution and they panic. They search frantically for career possibilities and seize on hastily invented solutions, overlooking the consequences of their choice as well as other alternatives. People who are in a panic sometimes do not think clearly or logically.
The best coping behavior is vigilance. Vigilant decision making occurs when people believe that (1) a choice should be made, (2) they can find a solution, and (3) there is enough time. Under these conditions, students can conduct an effective search for alternative careers, carefully evaluate each alternative, and work out contingency plans in case one or another risk appears.
Following are the keys to career planning.
1. Study yourself. This is the key to career planning. Understanding what you are like, what you value, and what you want to become is the foundation for all career planning. In studying yourself, you examine your strengths and weaknesses, your goals, and the trends in your personal development. The self-understanding that you gain enables you to imagine how certain occupations may best fit your personality, interests, abilities, and goals. All career decisions require us to learn both about ourselves and about work, and to integrate these two kinds of knowledge.
2. Write your career goals down. A technique useful for organizing ideas about your career development is actually to write them down by time blocks in your life. Writing something down forces you to crystallize your thinking and to recognize unclear and half-formed ideas. It may lead to new insights into your possibilities and may help you to see new relationships, patterns, and trends, or to identify gaps in your thinking about your career development.
3. Review your plans and progress periodically with another person. Every so often, take stock of your situation and consider what steps have to be taken next. Taking inventory of progress and planning further steps can help you cope with the changes that you undergo and the changes that take place in the labor market. Talking over your plans with a college counselor, your parents, and your friends helps you define your goals and improve your career plans or make them work.
4. If you choose a career that does not fit you, you can start over. Today, growing numbers of men and women are changing careers or getting second starts in careers that have greater appeal to them. Many of those who find that their line of work is unsatisfactory retrain themselves for a different occupation. Often their new occupation is one that they overlooked when they were young or that they did not have an opportunity to pursue at that time for financial or other reasons.
Sociologists say that there are few changes in careers that involve “downward” movement; most involve the traditional business of “getting ahead”. Society no longer attaches the stigma of “instability” to the idea of career hopping, as it once did.
Job changes and career shifts occur at all ages. It has been estimated that as many as one out of four male workers between the ages of twenty and twenty-five change their lines of work. About half that number do so between the ages of twenty-five and forty-four.
Career planning does not guarantee that all the problems, difficulties, or decision-making situations that face you in the future will be solved or made any easier. No formula can be given to do that. But career planning should help you to approach and cope better with new problems, such as deciding whether or not to enter educational or training programs, deciding whether or not to change jobs, and analyzing the difficulties you are having with a situation or a person.
Nobody can foresee what the future holds for any of us. There are social, emotional, and moral considerations in our future that cannot be foreseen. But the most important lesson of this often unhappy modern world is that progress comes from planning. Ignorance about one’s career is not bliss; reason is better than chance and fate. Although there is no sure way to make career plans work out, there are things that you can do now to shape your career possibilities.