A young woman smiles as she works on her computer.

Whether you’re preparing to graduate and launch into an exciting new job or find yourself daydreaming in your cubicle about the company next door, deciding to level up your career requires strategic planning.

Maybe you feel stagnant in your current job, frustrated knowing that you are capable of so much more. You’ve grown as an employee, plateaued, and hit the wall of boredom. What now?

Or perhaps there’s an industry that you’ve always had your eye on, been deeply curious about, and feel the time has come to pursue it. Sometimes we’re driven by our financial situation to move up in our careers and sometimes by our drive for mental stimulation and personal growth.

Planning a solid career strategy gives you both a confident sense of ownership over your future and a sense of purpose in the daily grind as you get where you want to go.

Before you put the pedal to the metal, work through these 14 strategies for a successful trip.

Career planning and preparation

1: Know yourself

Give yourself the best chance of making it from here to there by beginning with you. Use assessment tests like the Myers and Briggs, Big Five, DISC and Enneagram to dial in who you are and how you operate at work. When you approach a new company, you are selling yourself. Be certain you thoroughly know the product.

2: Evaluate your baggage 

We all have it. What is coming along for the ride whether you like it or not? A strong aversion to food services? A knee-jerk reaction to coworkers who procrastinate? Do you panic every time a semi-truck in the form of a coworker passes you? Make a conscious decision that anything that will not work for you on this trip must stay locked in the trunk or try to jettison it completely.

3: Look in the rear-view mirror 

See what your personal track record is. Do you already have a pattern you can exploit or lean into (organization, time management, interrelationship skills) going forward? Is there a niche you are or can quickly become an expert in that will increase your value as an employee?

4: Upskill

Once you know where you stand, decide what you want to add to the package. Take a class, get a certification, or teach yourself a new in-demand skill. Take a career aptitude test like the Career Personality Profiler or the TypeFinder for Career Planning to learn more about your career interests and motivations and decide if your new career path is a good fit personally. 

Hire a career coach for further advice. What can you add right now that will make you versatile and add to your experience? For example, offer to mentor a junior member of staff to improve your leadership skills.

Plan the Journey

5: Lay out the roadmap

Your dream job sounds like the ideal career for you, so stop daydreaming and start mapping. There is no substitute for research. What is it going to take to get there? Lay out the map and look over the territory. Are there major markers between where you are and where you’re going? Do you plan to make any detours or side trips along the way? Which mountains are worth climbing and which are best skirted, even if they add a few extra miles? Is it smarter to go sideways in order to go up? Should you expand where you are now before jumping to the next company?

6: Be prepared for speed bumps 

Is the career path you’ve chosen your actual destination? If your research unveils a more attractive position, redraw the map. Ask yourself, are you committed to completing your trip the way you mapped it out, or do you plan to take advantage if something unexpected flies by the window? If you find yourself at a dead end, will you have the fortitude to make a u-turn and get yourself out again? If someone offers you more money in a position that stalls your original objectives, will you take it? Why?

7: Create a timeline

What does your map look like on a calendar? What are your milestones one year, five, and even 10 years from now? Lay out your budget for gas (education and enthusiasm), passengers (family, coworkers, or bills), and maintenance (health, vacations, etc.).

Learn and grow

8: Network

You can never network early enough. Reach out to five people ahead of you on the road and ask how the weather is (do they like the atmosphere?) or if they foresee any big road construction. Industries are in constant evolution. You don’t have to be surprised by the upcoming new industry tech or pivot the minute you arrive. Is the company planning to expand or is it in negotiations for a merger or buyout? Employee or employer insight is priceless if you can get it.

9: Document your findings and make them public

Begin a spreadsheet of who you’ve spoken to and when and about what. Search, update, and add to it as you progress. Once you’ve committed to a career path, tell everyone you know and ask them for references. Make your aspirations known. People love to help and a simple introduction could drop you into the fast lane.

10: Get your foot in the door

Make certain this career path is a good fit for you. Look at current openings on the ground level. Do they resonate with what you initially thought? What is the industry asking for right now? Might it change once you’ve gotten halfway there? Are you willing to pivot so long as the main goal remains achievable? What skills or competencies will you need to gain and in what order? Adjust your road map accordingly.

Take that first step. Intern, volunteer, shadow, or hire on. It is all about learning and you might stumble until you’ve got your bearings. Align your goals with the industry’s goals and know their objectives as well as your own. Be determined to stay positive, ask questions, and repeat yourself as you learn to navigate and steer in the direction of your dream.

11: Keep curating relationships

As you move further along the road, find respected and connected mentors for each new phase and curate those relationships. Begin to build a reputation for yourself in the industry, both personal and professional. Take on speaking engagements, write articles, or apply for awards. Your ambition and passion will be obvious and the workforce will notice. Engage with your employer’s personal development process, training courses and take advantage of offers to build from within. Be sure to quickly resolve any personnel issues and ask for regular reviews and objective feedback.

Evaluation and Celebrate

12: Reevaluate each step

Make sure every next step you take is still in line with the new knowledge and skills you’ve gained. Reflect on the overall journey so far. Perhaps a step should be shuffled back or moved forward on your map. As you get closer to your destination, you hone your ability to correctly prioritize next steps. Do your original goals still resonate? Is it time to course-correct? Only you know best.

13: Decide your achievement markers

What will you use as achievement markers? Time? Money? Personal satisfaction? Are your goals SMART? Build celebration into your plan. Owning what you’ve already accomplished puts fuel in the tank to keep going when the times get tough. Remember why you started the journey in the first place and hold your values tight.

14: Celebrate the wins

If you discover that the grass was not, in fact, greener in this new place, remember that none of the journey was wasted. You invariably learned new skills, gained new perspectives, met new people, and gained transferable skills. This is a strategy that keeps on giving and you can do it over and over again with a new road map.

Building a successful career is a lifelong journey. You can explore new career heights anytime you’re ready for a fresh change of view, and a well-planned map will give you the confidence to move full speed ahead. Good luck!

Jolie Tunnell
Jolie Tunnell is an author, freelance writer and blogger with a background in administration and education. Raising a Variety Pack of kids with her husband, she serves up hard-won wisdom with humor, compassion and insight. Jolie is an ISTJ and lives in San Diego, California where she writes historical mysteries. Visit her at jolietunnell.com