It’s rather common to find yourself in a job you don’t enjoy or simply discover yourself a bit lost about where you’re going professionally. At the same time, you probably have dreams of what you’d love to do, but you might not know how to go about achieving them.

Career Planning How to Choose and Climb the Career Ladder

© | Sergey Nivens

In these situations, career planning should be something to consider. In this guide, we’ll explain what career planning is and the steps you need to take to choose and climb the career ladder.


Career planning is a process, which helps you manage and understand your own learning and development. It’s a long-term process and you should focus on career planning throughout your career. It’s therefore, not a one-time plan, but a creation of a plan, which you can regularly update and re-evaluate.

Whilst you should regularly re-examine your career plan, there are a few occasions when it’s especially beneficial to do so.

  • When you are starting at university or other career school.
  • When you are about to finish your studies.
  • During your career, especially when you are training or taking extra courses.
  • During job changes, such as looking for new jobs or if you’ve lost your job.

Although career planning is a process best started when you’re still studying, you don’t need to feel it’s too late to start if you’re in the later stages of your career. Wherever you are in life in terms of your career, you can always give it a better sense of direction by venturing into career planning.

The aim of career planning is to help you:

  • Better understand your interests, skills, values and preferences, especially regarding your career, but also personal life.
  • Find the work and the learning options suitable for you in terms of your skills and goals.
  • Ensure the work and career you choose fits your personal circumstances.
  • Manage the changes that happen in both your career and personal life.

Career planning isn’t difficult. In fact, it can provide more direction to your life and make your job more fulfilling and exciting.

Listen to Apple CEO Tim Cook’s experience with career planning.


Career planning and career ladder climbing should always begin with two simple steps.

First, you need to understand your strengths and weaknesses and second, you must figure out the skills your ideal job requires.

Step 1: Mapping your strengths and weaknesses

Finding the right career path is easier once you know more about yourself. It’s not a good idea to pick a job randomly, without thinking about the strengths your skillset and personality might bring to the role. In addition, understanding the weaknesses you have can eliminate the roles you would not enjoy.

For example, not all of us are interested or even good at helping out other people. If you don’t critically analyze your own personality, you might find yourself in a customer service job you hate.

The best way to start mapping out your strengths and weaknesses is by answering the following questions:

  • What are my strengths? Perhaps you can speak five languages or you are good at solving problems. You want to use this as a guide to finding the careers that require these skills.
  • What are my weaknesses? You might not be good at math or you don’t like to spend time with children. These can help you eliminate career paths, like accounting and nursing, which you are clearly not suited for.
  • What are the things I want from a job? Do you want to be part of a team or work on your own? Is financial reward important to you? It’s crucial to think what ultimate drives you professionally.
  • What are the things that are the most important to me, both in personal life and in a career? Are you more family or career oriented? Do you value having flexible schedule?

The above questions are worthy of asking even if you are already employed. It’s never too late to start thinking about our own values and personality. It might well be that your strengths over the years have changed and it’s time to change the career path with them.

Furthermore, you should also think about the follow-up questions:

  • Where am I now professionally? This can be both the subject you’re studying or the job you currently hold.
  • Where would I want to be professionally? What is the role you’d rather be in, in case it isn’t the one you are currently studying for or holding a job?

If you are struggling with some of the questions, such as understanding your strengths and weaknesses, it can be a good idea to ask advice from friends and family. They might point out characteristics that you didn’t necessarily think as your strengths.

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Step 2: Mapping the skills needed for your ideal job

The above is going to help you find a direction for your career path. You can examine your strengths and use them to find the ideal career for yourself. You can even use career tests for determining a list of suitable roles based on your personality.

Your next move is to map out the skills you need to achieve in order to fulfil the dreams you have in terms of your professional goals. Start by answering the following questions:

  • What careers meet my skills and my interests? Have a list of the roles that suit your skills and interests the best.
  • What are the best ways to obtain the required skills? Is it by studying or through work experience, for example?
  • What options do I have for pursuing my favorite career? Where do I find them? Does the career require a degree or a specific set of qualifications? How and where can you obtain them?
  • What non-work activities am I pursuing that might help me? Depending on the career it might be that your hobbies give you an added advantage. For example, you might be an amateur photographer who wants to eventually become a renowned wedding photographer.

The idea is to create a list of the options you have in terms of your career path. For instance, it can be possible to start your own bakery business by studying at a baking school or by pursuing it as a hobby at first.

Check out the TEDx video about finding a career you’ll love.


The above steps helped you understand your skills, needs and values, and to find out how these can help you get on the right career path. Your next move requires you to focus on creating a career path that gets you on the career ladder.

Develop a career roadmap

First, you need to develop a roadmap of the career goals you’d like to achieve. The roadmap should include the ultimate goal, the dream career or position you want to have. This could be the dream of starting your own construction business, becoming a CEO of a fashion company, or obtaining a good management job at a hospitality firm, for example.

Furthermore, the roadmap needs to include the short-term milestones that get you closer to this ultimate goal. The milestones should be annual, meaning your ultimate goal is set to around 10 years time, for instance. For that duration, you can then identify 10 or less smaller milestones, which ensure you achieve the goal in time.

Start by researching the different career routes that can get you there. For instance, in order to become the CEO, you might first want to gain experience as a middle manager, a senior manager and so on.

Part of the roadmap will also include skill development. In most instances, in order to progress on the career ladder, you’ll need to constantly develop your skills and gain experience in the industry.

When it comes to training and skills, think about:

  • What are the new skills you need to meet your next career objective and to reach the milestone? Your next move might require a course on a specific subject or technique, such as the ability to use certain accounting software. You might also need to gain experience in middle management for three years before looking for a promotion. Maybe you need to be able to code.
  • What are the new trends within the industry you need to know about? Your industry might have started using new technologies or techniques, which could help you on your career path. For example, as a beautician you’d need to learn about new facial care products and even techniques.

Study your past route

The second part of the planning process is especially important for people who are already on the career ladder. It helps analyze the past choices and evaluate their importance going forward. Nonetheless, everyone should keep the step in mind, when re-evaluating his or her career path.

The idea is to regularly look at the milestones created above and see if you are achieving your goals. You also want to focus on the right and wrong decisions you’ve made in terms of your career. By understanding the right moves and perhaps more importantly the wrong ones, you can use the knowledge to your advantage.

For instance, you might realize that taking time off to study has stalled your career progression and it would be more beneficial to simply train while working.

It’s auspicious to have a career roadmap, not just for the future, but also of the past. The roadmap of the past will allow you to reflect on the past choices. You should list all of your past career moves, both jobs and studies you’ve undertaken. Include the changes you’ve experienced. Once you’ve done it, examine the roadmap closer.

Ask yourself:

  • What is good about your past choices? What are the roles that have got you ahead?
  • What would you do differently now? Are there specific career choices that didn’t work out as well for you?


Climbing the career ladder can be difficult, especially if you don’t have a career plan. Therefore, it’s essential to focus on the above points before you try to speed up your career progression. The above would have provided you with goals, short- and long-term, and cleared the path to achieving them.

Once you are clear about your objectives, you can climb up the career ladder quicker by focusing on two steps. You want to learn to use your accomplishments as a tool and point out innovative ideas for your managers and colleagues in order to gain recognition.

Step 1: Keep a record of your accomplishments

Some people are rather shy when it comes to their achievements, but in order to climb the career ladder you must learn to take pride in the work you’ve done. You shouldn’t become arrogant, but you need to take ownership of your accomplishments.

Start by keeping a clear record of the things you’ve achieved during your career. This should include promotions, bonuses for exceptional work and any other industry related awards you might have achieved. Include any other major accomplishments that can highlight a particular skill of yours. Perhaps you’ve been recognized by a charity or a non-profit organization for your voluntary or even paid work.

Ensure the accomplishments reflect on the skills and characteristics required in the roles and jobs you are aiming for. When you are ready to move on the ladder, communicate these accomplishments clearly to the prospective employer. Remember that depending on the role and the point you are in your career, certain accomplishments are better suited for the application.

You want to use the achievements at the core of building your resume, as they can instantly highlight the transferable skills you have. With a resume full of the right kinds of accomplishments, you can start taking your career to the next level.

You shouldn’t just mention your achievements when applying for new roles.

In fact, it is important to keep mentioning the positive feedback you receive to your managers. For instance, if your clients are telling you that you do an amazing job, you can let your boss know about it in a non-arrogant manner. You can write a quick note to them, saying, “Hi, just wanted to let you know that I sealed the deal with client A after weeks of negotiating. A just sent me email stating how happy they were with the results. Great news!”

In short: Be the employee every employer wishes for.

Step 2: Point out opportunities

Finally, in order to boost your chances of being hired further on the career ladder and climbing closer to your goal, you need to be active in the workplace. Taking the initiative and making recommendations around the workplace can ensure people take notice.

If you identify a problem in an organization or simply a better way of doing something, don’t be afraid to talk about it with the management. Don’t suggest changes by saying, “You’re doing this wrong”, but point out the benefits of changing course.

For instance, “I was thinking about the accounting software we use and found out about this other program. I looked at it briefly and it seemed to be able to do these two functions at the same time with less cost. I thought you might be interested in having a look.

You don’t want to be pointing fingers or accusing others of doing things wrong, but rather, explaining the benefits to everyone of the different approach.

The saying, “The early bird gets the worm’ is true. If you are actively looking at ways to solve problems or improving the organization you work for, you are presenting yourself as an innovative and enthusiastic worker. The ability to think outside the box will surely be noticed by the organization.

The ability to innovate also refers more widely to the industry you operate in. Don’t lie low and just hope you can climb the ladder some day. Become an active member within the industry and try to find ways to make it better. This means participating in business events, blogging about the industry, participating in seminars and speaking about the sector, and continuously improving your skills and understanding.

Finally, a great way to network with contacts and to improve your career progression is by mentoring. If you can be the guide for new people in your organization or mentor other entrepreneurs, you create a powerful networking opportunity. Furthermore, you’ll also develop your personal brand into someone who’s trustworthy and helpful.

Climbing the career ladder isn’t about elbowing other people out of the way. If you help others than they are more likely to return the favor. The young boy delivering goods at your company might well be the CEO of a company one day. If you gave him tips, he might well hire you as the VP of his company.


Choosing the perfect career path requires careful examination of yourself and the options around you. It is important to take time to carefully map your interests and dreams because finding the right career will guarantee you’re more satisfied in your personal life as well.

In order to steer your career towards the right objectives, you need to remember to stay positive and behave in a constructive and positive manner. Climbing the career ladder requires constant re-evaluation, but it’s always best achieved when you approach it positively.

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