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Career planning process

Identifying the right career, course or training route, often called the 'career planning process', helps you focus on what you should do when you start a new career, change your career or progress in your current career. The process can be divided into four parts.

Circular representation of know yourself, explore opportunities, decide what to do and take action.
  1. Know yourself: ask yourself ‘Where am I now?’ and ‘Where do I want to get to?’, ‘How do I get there?’ Think about what you enjoy, your interests and skills, and what challenges you. Define your goals.
  2. Explore opportunities: is there a market for your skills and interests? Are your plans realistic? Look at what training and qualifications you’ll need and where vacancies are advertised.
  3. Decide what to do: plan how you will reach your goal. Perhaps gain experience at a lower level or voluntary capacity first to ‘build’ your career. Be realistic in your expectations.
  4. Take action: gain some work experience, make networks, familiarise yourself with the general and graduate job market, research job opportunities, both online and traditional press.



Adele: Hi I'm Adele Merrison and I'm a Careers adviser.

Identifying the right career, course or training route for you is often called the 'career planning process'.

This can be divided into four parts and it's important that you work through all of these so you can research and weigh up the options open to you in an informed, methodical and realistic manner.

Know yourself


Adele: Start by asking yourself 'Where am I now?' 'Where do I want to get to?' and 'How do I get there?'

To answer these key questions it's helpful to start thinking about yourself... what you enjoy doing...what interests and challenges you...what skills you want to use and can offer an employer.

This can be really difficult to do but it's so important that you know what you're looking for - otherwise how will you know when you've found it?

How else can you make sure you channel your energy in the right direction and are realistic about what you are going for?

There are loads of useful activities a careers adviser can suggest you use, to help you with this … there are work books like the OU's career planning and job hunting pack…computer-based career interest assessments like Adult Directions and Prospects Planner…or self-help exercises your careers adviser can suggest you try.

In my experience, OU students and graduates often have limitations on what they can do. They may be tied to a particular location because of family commitments. They may need to earn a certain amount of money because they've a mortgage to pay. They may be unable to travel too far or to work unsocial hours because they have children to take to school and collect. Sometimes plans need to be adjusted to take these limitations into account - this can mean ruling out some options - difficult to do if you've set your heart on it but you do have to be realistic to achieve your goals.

Explore opportunities


Adele: This is the key to successful career building. In my experience people can often spend a lot of time identifying what skills they want to use and where their interests lie but they don’t put nearly as much effort into researching how they can use them. For example is there a market for them? And are their plans realistic for their particular situation? You have to be sure that someone will pay you to use the skills and interests you’ve identified.

There’s loads of careers information available to tell you about the training and qualifications you’ll need, where vacancies are advertised and lists of contacts such as professional bodies and trade associations that can provide additional advice and information.

Decide what to do


Adele: Remember you may need to 'build' a career. You might not get the ideal job straight away and so you'll have to plan how you are going to reach your goal. You may have to be prepared to gain experience at a lower level...or in a voluntary capacity - and possibly in a variety of situations - before actually getting the job you want.

Often the people I advise are looking for their dream job. It's important to recognise that for most of us the perfect job probably doesn't exist. Talk to anyone about their job and you'll find most of them dislike something about what they do. So try to be realistic in your expectations.... don't expect to enjoy your job 100% of the time. Instead look for something that meets most of your preferences...most of the time.

Take action


Adele: So often the students I see don't realise the value of work experience. For some careers, such as clinical, educational or forensic psychology, social work and teaching - it's a requirement. For others it's a distinct advantage as it sets you apart from those who haven't done it. Equally importantly, you get the chance to see if working in that setting... with those types of people... in that kind of role - actually suits you. You can also make useful contacts for the future... people prepared to write you a reference... let you know when vacancies arise... help you with applications... maybe even practise interviews.

Finally you need to familiarise yourself with the general and graduate job market. Keep an eye on the local and national press... use job sites... look at the careers websites of your local universities and look at the websites of professional bodies... For more advice on this, or anything else I've mentioned please look at the OU Careers website.

What job roles would suit you?

If you want to generate some job ideas based on your interests, skills and personality type Kudos AD can be a good place to start. Answer a range of questions about your likes and dislikes in MyFuture and it makes suggestions of job roles likely to suit you, and what your interests say about your personality type. The MySkills assessment can help you pinpoint your individual strengths.

Front cover of Your Career Planning Guide

Your career planning guide

Deciding what you want to do with your career can feel like the start of an exciting journey, but it can also feel daunting if you're not sure where to start. Your Career Planning Guide is available to all students, you'll need to be signed in to access the guide.

Last updated 4 months ago