2020 Guide to Career Planning | JobQuiz Inspiration for Jobquiz

2020 Guide to Career Planning

By Jay Leonardi

Posted on November 11th, 2019 at 2:00 PM

We begin with a truism: where your career leads, your life follows.

For most of us, a series of rapid-fire decisions made at a very young age sets in motion a cascade of events that could bless you or curse you for the next 50 years. This career guide not only helps you make good decisions, it helps you avoid disastrous ones.

Here’s what we’ll cover in this article:

Section 1: Planning Your Amazing (or Disastrous) Career

Section 2: Self-Evaluation: It’s All in Your Head

Section 3: Education: A Very Big Career Decision

Section 4: Getting the Job You’ve Always Wanted

Section 5: The Job Search

Section 6: The Biggest Interview of Your Life

Section 1: Planning Your Amazing (or Disastrous) Career

Even for the best and most talented, a career path can be a maze of dead ends and misdirection. Without a seriously good plan, you could end up trapped in the mud with no way out. And, trust us, that’s not a place where you want to be.

Lesson One: If you don’t plan your career, your career will plan you.

Careers are like taking a ride on a playground sliding board: Once you start to go, momentum takes over and it’s very difficult to stop or change directions. Your early decisions in life are like that first push down the slide; with only one small decision, you have launched yourself down a path that could take you figuratively to the bottom.

Startling Belief: Most people believe their life and their career will “just work out.”

Startling Truth: Most people are wrong!

For many people, it’s the early decisions that have the most profound impact on their life. The people who will achieve success are already demonstrating that success in middle school or even elementary school.

Successful people typically achieve success through one of three paths. The first path is pure intelligence. These lucky people are so naturally smart that success is almost assured. The second path is talent, which can be achieved through genetic superiority or through endless practice. The third path to success is drive, which is composed of effort, conscientiousness and personal ambition. This path is the largest road to success and has been followed by millions of otherwise “average” people.

Lesson Two: 70% of People are Dissatisfied with their Jobs.

Astounding Life Tip! (You want to be one of the other 30%)

Sad Fact: Most people take the job they can get, not the job they want. It’s only those who plan well, work hard, and do just about everything right who end up in that other 30%.

The path to your desired career is like a series of doors. Unfortunately, these doors are on heavy springs: hard to push open, but they slam shut with ease. Career doors that shut are often closed for good; they are bolted tight and you have no key, meaning your only choice is to move in another (probably worse) direction.

Here’s the truth: Closing doors often seems like “fun” at the time. For example, you decide to hang out with friends rather than study for a chemistry exam.

Here’s what you see:
  • Fun!
  • Easy!
  • Pleasurable!
  • Happy friends!
  • Nothing bad happens!

Here’s what you don’t see:

  • You get a “C” in Intro to Chemistry
  • You never take Advanced Chemistry
  • A door slams shut on every medical career in your future!
Lesson Three: There are lots of jobs you probably don’t want.

The reality is that most jobs are repetitive, basic and not much fun. If you want something better, you must make a whole series of very good decisions and avoid being dragged off the path to success.

Ask people what they want to do for a living and you’ll often hear fantastic jobs like art director, computer engineer, archeologist or meteorologist. Unfortunately, these jobs make up a tiny fraction of careers. Let’s compare less-desirable jobs to highly-desirable jobs

Common, less-desirable jobs:

Retail salespersons: 4,528,550 workers. Median wage: $22,680

Hand laborers and material movers: 3,932,000 workers. Median wage: $25,870

Cashiers: 3,555,500 workers. Median wage: $21,030

General Office Clerks: 3,117,700 workers. Median wage: $31,500

Personal care aids: 2,927,600 workers. Median wage: $23,130

Waiters and waitresses: 2,600,500 workers. Median wage: $20,820

Janitors and cleaners: 2,384,600 workers. Median wage: $24,990

Total for group: 23,046,450 workers. Median wage: $24,289
Less common, highly-desirable jobs:

Art director: 90,300 workers. Median wage: $92,500

Computer hardware engineer: 73,600 workers. Median wage: $115,120

Data scientist: 27,900 workers. Median wage: $114,520

Microbiologist: 23,200 workers. Median wage: $69,960

Meteorologist: 10,400 workers. Median wage: $92,070

Archeologist: 7,600 workers. Median wage: $62,280

Genetic counselor: 3,100 workers. Median wage: $77,480

Total for group: 236,100 workers. Median wage: $89,133

If you look at the totals for both groups, you’ll see that the highly-desirable jobs make up just over 1% of the total workers. From this sample, it’s clear that if you want a highly-desirable job, you must make great life decisions, and you must begin making them as early as possible.

Section 2: Self-Evaluation: It’s All in Your Head

The question, “What should I do for a living?” is probably one of the most difficult questions you will face in your life. How do you get your brain around a question that big? How do you even begin to organize your thoughts? Here’s a place to start!

Ask yourself these self-evaluation questions:

  • Motivation: How motivated am I? Do I have the work ethic and personal drive to achieve at the highest levels?
  • Learning: Am I willing to spend years learning a skill or do I want to start working today?
  • Talent: Do I have a special talent or skill? What makes me different from others?
  • Pride: What makes me most proud? Do I have an accomplishment that could become a career?
  • Values: What personal values do I have that could shape my career?
  • College: Am I ready for college? Does my planned major have an adequate return on investment?
  • Fun or Money: Would I prefer a high-stress, high-income career or something fun that makes less money?
  • Intelligence: How smart am I really? Do I have the brains to be a doctor or a scientist?
  • Fulfillment: What do I love doing? What would give me the greatest sense of pleasure and accomplishment?
  • Success: What is success for me? Money? Position? Free time? Giving back? Helping others?

What do you desire in your career? As you ask additional questions, you may see patterns about the types of careers that may fit for you. Does the pattern suggest lots of college or none? How much structure do you need in your life? How much risk and stress is “fun” for you?

  • Location: Do you see yourself working inside or outside? Are you sitting at a desk or moving around?
  • Effort: Are you willing to push yourself hard enough to earn over $75,000 per year?
  • STEM Career: Will you pursue a technical career in science, technology, engineering or math?
  • Creative Career: Would you prefer a job where you can express your creativity and originality?
  • Travel: Do you want a career with lots of flying and driving? Or would you prefer to stay home most days?
  • Manage Others: Do you want to lead others or manage a work process? Do you consider yourself a natural leader?
  • Tasks to Avoid: What do you want to avoid? Sales? Service? Math? Hard labor? Tedious? Repetitive? Dangerous?
  • What’s New: Do you want a cutting-edge career or something more traditional?
  • Competition: Are you willing to compete for a rare or special job?
  • Who’s Hiring: What industries? What states? What occupations?

Where should your career search begin? Start the process with a career assessment like JobQuiz.com or CareerTest.com that will point you in the right direction. Assessment tests should always be considered as the start of the process not the end. They are meant to help you narrow your options to a manageable few. At that point, you can begin the process of deep self-evaluation that will lead to your perfect caree

Section 3: Education: A Very Big Career Decision

We all know the stats. People who go to college make way more money, right? Absolutely true, sort of.

With the advent of online learning, the traditional college degree path has started to receive some long-overdue competition for the minds of our young people.

Today, there are other viable options that should be considered for education beyond high school.

Option 1: Traditional College

Decision Point 1: If you’re going to college primarily for the social scene, there’s no need for further discussion. See you on campus!

Decision Point 2: Some fields, like engineering and medicine, will absolutely need a degree from a well-known institution. For other majors, like computer programming, many organizations don’t seem to really care so long as you can do the work. To them, it’s all about your skill level.

Pro Tip: If you don’t care about the social aspect and you don’t need the fancy diploma, there are almost certainly cheaper options.

Option 2: Online College or Online Learning

Observation: It’s clear that online learning is the future. Brick and mortar colleges are already scrambling to create online presences to compete for a share of the online market. It’s not difficult to see that some (or many) traditional colleges will go the way of Sears and K-mart and begin closing their doors soon.

Decision Point 1: When it comes to online learning, the most important variable is YOU! Are you the kind of person with an overabundance of self-discipline, drive and determination? Can you stay locked-on to a long-term difficult assignment without getting distracted by your home environment? If you say yes, online learning might be a great choice. If not, be honest with yourself and choose a more traditional route.

Decision Point 2: Do your homework about the acceptance level of online learning for your major and perspective career path. Talk to people who are currently in your field and ask if an online degree or appropriate certifications would get the job when stacked against someone with a traditional degree.

Pro Tip: When looking for an online college choice, consider cost, reputation, scheduling flexibility and the depth of coverage for your area of study. Be aware that not all online programs are created equal. Certification mills with poor reputations are always a concern. Choose wisely.

Option 3: Entrepreneurs and the “Gig” Economy

More and more people are turning away from a college education and choosing instead the flexibility and freedom of self-employment. For some, it’s a personal choice and for others it’s the reality of a tough job market.

Are you a self-starter with a high level of ambition? Do you see obstacles as opportunities? Do you have specific skills that are in high demand? If you answer yes, self-employment may be the best job in the world for you.

Once you decide that self-employment is for you, the next big challenge is finding a constant source of work. For many people, that means freelance opportunities. A great place to begin is Fivver https://www.fiverr.com, where you can bid as low as $5 on an assignment. This allows you to get some business, begin building your reputation and brand, and ultimately, position yourself for some larger assignments.

Once you gain some experience, you may want to look at Freelancer https://www.freelancer.in. They have a huge following of employers looking for talented freelancers. Whether your skills lie in writing, sales, marketing, software, or developing mobile apps, Freelancer can match you to potential employers today.

Keep in mind that self-employment is not for everyone. Being your own boss may be the hardest job you’ll ever have, but for the right person, there may be nothing more fulfilling.

Section 4: Getting the Job You’ve Always Wanted

Building Your Resume: Skills, Knowledge and Behaviors The first step in your job search is building a credible resume. As you begin planning your resume, think of the SKILLS that you have developed that may be valuable to a potential employer. As a starting point, write down every skill that you have used as part of your educational and employment history. Here’s a short list to get you started:

guide to career planning

Next, think about what you can do with those skills. Here’s a list of possible work-based activities.

career planning steps

Organizing the information and data for your resume is half the battle. Begin by dividing your collected information into broad categories such as Education, Employment and Skills. Next, sort the information chronologically, beginning with the most recent items at the top of each section. Use bullet points and short sentences. Attempt to fit everything onto one page.

  • Keep it short
  • One page
  • Lots of white space
  • Use action verbs
  • Include key words
  • Skill focused
  • What have you achieved
  • Limit personal information
  • Chronological order
  • Be specific
  • Don’t lie!

Once you have a rough draft of your resume, you have two choices:

Choice one: Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. If you’re a skilled writer, polish and refine your resume until it is flawless. Remember that a single mistake on your resume will probably cost you the job.

Choice two: If you’re not a skilled writer, seek help from a professional resume company who can take your rough draft and turn it into a resume that will get the attention it deserves.

Section 5: The Job Search

Once you have a solid resume, you’re ready to begin your job search.

The first rule of job searching is: “Don’t Get Discouraged.”

The second rule of job searching is: “When you do get discouraged, keep going anyway!”

Here’s what a job search feels like for most people: You’ve spent 16 years educating yourself, taking on the tough assignments, excelling in sports, rising to Vice President of the Senior Class, and graduating in the Top 10%, with honors! You have your beautiful, perfectly-printed resume in hand that makes you sound like God’s gift to employers. You send it out to those employers who are lucky enough to have you and…

Nothing Happens!

It’s important to remember just how many people are competing for those same jobs. When a major employer runs an ad for a popular career position, they may receive hundreds if not thousands of resumes and applications.

Remember the rule: Don’t Get Discouraged!

You must be prepared for lots of silence from potential employers. And it’s important to realize that the silence will be stressful to you. Your thoughts will be, “Why don’t they at least let me know?”

Remember that a job search is a sustained numbers game. You will likely endure weeks of silence, lots of rejection, a handful of maybes that go nowhere, followed by one amazing, glorious “Yes”!

Your objective during all that time is… Keep Going! Don’t get discouraged and don’t slow down. Just keep searching for new openings and putting in those applications. Use online job sites like Indeed, Monster, and Ziprecruiter. You will be able to search by job type, employment status, location, years of experience and more to help you focus on the jobs that are your best fit.

The Power of Networking: Technology and internet search engines are great; a powerful network of contacts is even better.

It’s important to remember that many jobs are never posted on internet job boards. Often, companies will look first to internal employees or to referrals made by their employees. If you have a network of professional contacts, friends and associates, you may be able to reach inside those companies and gain access to jobs that will never be posted.

Think of your network as a series of ever-widening circles. In the first level, you know a certain number of people directly. Those are the people you will contact to ask for help. An important part of asking for their assistance is request that they act as a conduit to a much wider circle of people who they know and you do not.

In a properly functioning network, this second circle may even offer to introduce you to an additional extended circle of people. In this way, you have created a large referral network capable of reaching into many potential employers.

Ultimately, the interviews will come, and you’ll have your moment to shine

Section 6: The Biggest Interview of Your Life

When it comes to dominating the interview, it’s all about preparation! Even if you’re fantastic at speaking and never get nervous in high-stress situations, if you go in unprepared, you’re unlikely to win the job. Just remember that you’re competing against people who are just as talented as you. It’s preparation that will give you the edge and win you the job!

Step 1: Determine Job-Specific Competencies:

Begin with the posted job description and title and learn everything you can about the potential job. Search the title and descriptive phrases online and look at similar jobs. Take massive notes about the job activities, qualifications, key skills and desired professional behaviors.

Job Competencies come from four areas:

  • Activities: list the key work activities required for the job.
  • Qualifications: review the job description. Each stated qualification element is a competency.
  • Key skills: Make a list of the essential skills for the job.
  • Behaviors: what are the specific behaviors exhibited by top people in this job?

Here’s a starter list of competencies: attention to detail, control, planning, independence, initiative, interpersonal behavior, leadership, oral communication, persuasiveness, team orientation, technical knowledge, troubleshooting.

Step 2: Create a Concise Story for Each Competency

Create brief stories around each competency that you identified. (This is the most important step!) These stories are the key to preparing for the interview. What was the situation? What did you do? How did you plan? What did you say? How did others respond? How did you resolve a problem? What did you learn?

Your stories must answer the question, “Tell me about a time when you did such and such.” Other examples include: How did you handle..., What was most difficult..., What have you done..., Walk me through..., etc.

Possible subjects for your stories include:

  • Dealing with a difficult person or situation
  • Dealing with rapid change
  • Going above and beyond
  • Pursuing and achieving a goal
  • Recovering from a mistake
  • Working as part of a team
  • Working independently

Prepare examples and stories for classic questions:

  • Are there any work situations that you’d prefer to avoid?
  • If I called your most recent boss and asked her to describe you, what would she say?
  • What are your strengths? Your greatest weakness?
  • What failures have you learned from?
  • What type of work environment do you like?
  • Where are you technically proficient?
  • Why should you be considered for this position?

Step 3: Gently Control the Interview

Prepare “evidence” of what others have said about your work. Quote people directly or bring written documentation to leave with the interviewer.

Invoke your current boss (or advisor). Ask your reference people in advance if they would speak to the interviewer on your behalf. In the interview, say: “Mrs. Johnson, my previous manager, said she would be happy to speak with you on my behalf.” Just the offer to let them speak to your old boss is powerful.

Guide the interview in a positive direction. “That reminds me of another situation that you might find interesting...”

Generate enthusiasm. Get the interviewer talking about the exciting parts of the job. Make it conversational and fun. Let her hear your enthusiasm.

Be very prepared for, “do you have any questions?” This is a critical part of the interview and your questions must show that you are really thinking about the work. Ask about her approach, past successes in the job, past difficulties, how she would like to see you begin, keys to success, what she considers most important about the job, etc.

Prepare a strong close. Let her know that after the interview you’re even more excited about the job. End with a solid handshake, a smile, good eye contact, and a positive statement. “I’ve enjoyed our conversation. It’s exactly the type of opportunity I’ve been seeking and I’ll look forward to speaking with you again soon.”


If you’ve read this far, you are clearly the kind of person who is looking for success. You know that you must start early, embrace good life choices, and make a long series of positive decisions. You understand the importance of evaluating your strengths, weaknesses, needs and desires. You have made a commitment to education, skill development and long-term planning that will lead you to a career that you love. We hope you enjoyed this JobQuiz article! To learn more about your future career, be sure to take our Career Test. It takes about 12 minutes, evaluates hundreds of career possibilities, and allows you to discover your perfect career.

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