3. Career Planning and Goal Setting

Jamie Noakes and Sarah Gibson


Creating a vision and plan for your career path can be overwhelming. Equipping yourself with evidence‑based information and tools will allow you to develop a customized plan that is geared for success. A successful career plan emerges through authentic self-reflection, personal and professional skill assessments, and thoroughly researched labour market information. Additionally, developing professional contacts and relationships within a specific profession or sector will allow you to leap into action when opportunities arise. Your preparation, focused efforts, and initiative will form the foundation of your career path. People will often describe a successful student as “lucky.” However, we believe luck can be best summed up by the quote:

“I believe luck is preparation meeting opportunity. If you hadn’t been prepared when the opportunity came along, you wouldn’t have been ‘lucky’.” — Oprah Winfrey (2010, March 19)

Learning Objectives

After carefully reading this chapter, completing the exercises within it, and answering the questions at the end, you should be able to:

  • Reflect on skills, qualities, attributes, and potential barriers regarding prospective career pathways, and utilizing career planning approaches.
  • Identify and synthesize labour market knowledge to inform decisions regarding job searches and career progression.
  • Identify and articulate potential career pathways by integrating personal awareness and labour‑market knowledge.

What Is a Career Path, and What Does It Look Like?

There have been significant shifts in navigating career choices and decision making over the past century. Career paths typically evolve based on the cultural and social norms and the labour market needs of the time in history. Generational and labour market changes have had a major impact on the types of opportunities available to job seekers. An aging population alters the demographics of the workforce, and this includes the availability of positions. Labour market changes include increased access to higher education, advancing technologies, and emerging industries and skill requirements within various labour markets.

As the popular phrase “climbing the corporate ladder” clearly illustrates, a traditional career path would have appeared as a straight line with an upward trajectory involving clearly defined steps to advancement (Figure 3.1). However, a modern successful career plan can appear as a complex, organic web of interconnected decisions and outcomes related to job roles and responsibilities. It may look like a spiral staircase or a corkscrew with lateral moves involving a cross-section of different employers, employment types, or even industry sectors (Figure 3.2). In this evolving labour market, focusing on your strengths, skills, and passions will lead you on a path to success that may appear different than how your parents or grandparents managed their lives and careers.

Figure 3.1

Traditional Career Path

A figure walks UP a staircase in a straight trajectory.
Note. By Peggy Marco on Pixabay.

Figure 3.2

Modern Career Path

A figure walking up a spiral staircase.
Note. By Peggy Marco on Pixabay.

Decision-making Strategies

Now that you have completed a series of personal and professional skill-assessment exercises in Self-Assessment, you can reflect on your unique qualities, abilities, passions, and interests to begin the process of strategic career planning. As you identify your strengths and interests, the beginnings of a career path process begin to emerge. Combining this reflective practice with accurate, source-based Labour Market Information will inform your road map to career success, allowing you to identify and articulate potential career pathways.

Other strategies to begin your reflective process may include answering the following questions:

  • What are my favourite academic courses?
  • What courses or subjects have I excelled at academically?
  • What job or volunteer roles have I enjoyed the most? Why?

Choosing a Direction

With your personal and professional strengths and interests identified, it is time to explore occupations and job opportunities across different sectors. Some credible labour market information sources in Canada are:

Gathering credible and timely labour market information will help you see where the compelling job opportunities are and what skills employers are looking for to build their workforce. This information changes rapidly and depends on a variety of factors such as the global and local economy, political and current events, and evolving technologies. Therefore, in-demand job opportunities will evolve, just as your interests and skill levels will change.

Student Insights: Tips for Success

In the following boxes, past TRU Co-op students have explained their career journeys, and described how their experiences in the co-op program have influenced their career paths and led them to be successful. Their unique experiences have allowed them to reflect and provide advice to other co-op students in the midst of their career exploration.

Katelyn Zubak – TRU Bachelor of Business Administration

Figure 3.3

Career Path Choices

The primary factors that have influenced my career path choices are my family, my work experience, and travelling. My dad is in business, so that’s how I initially became interested. I knew I didn’t want to be an entrepreneur like him, so I was first interested in marketing or human resources. At university, I joined a marketing club in my first year and found it was not my interest. Around that time, I also started working at a bank, which sparked my interest in finance and accounting. I decided to join the co-op program, and I did a finance co-op at the bank. Again, I found this wasn’t the exact fit for me. I had classes for a semester and then went to study abroad in the UK. That’s when I thought about the supply chain. I realized how interconnected we are globally and was fascinated by how one item manufactured in Europe somehow made it to my local grocery store. I declared my major and took some courses before starting a supply chain co-op at Hydro One. It’s been an amazing experience, and I’m really happy. I’m so glad that I continued to try new things till I found the right fit for me. All three factors have had a major impact on my career path, and it’s been a great thing for me.”

Katelyn’s three tips for students looking to secure a co-op position:

  1. Be flexible and adaptable — don’t get set on a specific career path or idea of what your career plan should look like. What you think at the beginning may not be the right choice for you, so don’t let yourself get stuck in a box.

  2. Be open to new opportunities — you never know what doors will open for you, so don’t be afraid to take a chance and walk through them. You might just find something you love!

  3. Try different career paths — trying a few different industries before settling in one can be helpful to figure out what you want and don’t want. You also become more well-rounded and develop diverse skill sets.

Kesha Temirgaliyev – TRU Bachelor of Tourism Management

“For me, as a professional trampoline gymnast, Cirque du Soleil was always on the horizon, but I never knew when it would happen. I first heard about this company when I was about 11 or 12 years old, and since then I have dreamed of getting into it. I watched a lot of videos, and when it happened, it was even better than I could have imagined. As many employees and circus performers say, once you get into this industry, you don’t want to leave it. And it’s true; now I want to connect my life with the circus.”

Kesha recommends that students:

  1. Dream big.

  2. Determine what you really love to do and what you are good at.

  3. Be passionate about it and work hard to get your dream job. If you are following your passions, you can live more authentically, and not just be “working” for a living.

Emily Breiteneder – TRU Bachelor of Arts

Emily’s three pieces of advice to students in the co-op program:

  1. Be open and willing to take every opportunity that arises.

  2. Reach out to people, build relationships, and ask for help or clarification as needed.

  3. Be flexible to having plans or [when] circumstances change — that’s where the best lessons and experiences come from!

Introduction to a Career Plan

Creating a career plan can be a very important “first step” to navigating your career path. A well-thought-out career plan typically includes short‑term and long‑term goals, along with a list of resources and tools you’ll need to succeed. The remainder of this chapter will focus on the steps to take while developing a career plan.

Step 1: Identifying Needs

By now, you’ve reviewed the chapters on self‑assessments and labour market research, and you probably have a good idea of which careers are “growth” careers and which may be declining. When identifying career needs, think of the end state. What do you hope to become in your career? Do you want to be a doctor? A nurse? A scientist? An accountant? Start by finding a job description that aligns with your future career goals and aim for a career that might be 10–15 years from the start of your career. Now, search for an entry-level job description that could lead to a senior‑level job description. For example, if I wanted to be a senior lecturer at a community college, the entry‑level job description might be for a teaching assistant position. Or, if I wanted to be a construction superintendent at a senior level, an entry-level job might be a site labourer. Once you have job descriptions selected, identify the following details: qualifications required, soft skills, hard skills, educational requirements, and key competencies. With this information, you’ll be able to complete the chart in Exercise 3.1. This exercise will enable you to break down a job description to assess the skills and requirements needed for a career.

Exercise 3.1 Identify Career Skills and Requirements in a Job Description

  1. Find three job descriptions: one entry-level, one mid-level, and one senior-level.
  2. For each job description, pull out the details listed in column one and fill in the chart (Table 3.1).   A fillable PDF version is provided after this exercise.
    Table 3.1 Identifying Career Skills and Requirements: Listing the Job Specifications for Different Position Levels
    Job Requirements Entry-Level Mid-Level Senior-Level
    Job Title
    Key Competencies
    Soft Skills
    Hard Skills
    Key Qualifications
  3. Take a moment to reflect on the difference between each job level. Now that you have a better understanding of what is required for the career you want, it will be easier to create goals associated with your career plan.

Chapter 3 Table 3.1, Table 3.2 and Table 3.3 in fillable PDF format.. Students can fill out this form and hand it in to the instructor.

Step 2: Goal Pre-assessment

With increased knowledge of requirements for entry‑level, mid-level, and senior-level positions, you can now assess the strength of your skills in relation to the entry-level job description. Exercise 3.2 assists you with the next step in the career‑planning process; it is a goal pre-assessment where you review key skills for an entry-level job and evaluate your current skill levels in these areas.

Exercise 3.2 Goal Pre-Assessment

  1. Using the entry-level job description, fill in the soft skills, hard skills, education, certifications, and work experience needed for that job description.
  2. Assess your skills concerning the job description and identify ways to improve these skills in Table 3.2.Table 3.2 Goal Preassessment: Skill Assessment for Career of Interest
    Career Goal:
    I want to be an accountant
    Current Assessment of Skills Ways to Improve Action Items or Resources
    Soft Skills
    Example: verbal communication
    4/10 Practice speaking professionally Join Toastmasters
    Hard Skills
    Certifications/ Training
    Work Experience
  3. Take a moment to reflect on your skills assessment and identify two or three of your lowest skills.
    • If you could develop those skills further, what steps could you take? How could you advance those skills?
  4. Now reflect on your top three strengths. How could you advance those skills even further?

Step 3: Creating a Career Plan

Ideally, a career plan is a structured set of short-term and long-term goals that create a “game plan” of how to advance your skills so that you can enter the career of your dreams. A strong career plan also outlines the resources needed to achieve your goals. Career planning is an activity you may want to complete yearly because your short-term goals will continually change. With this in mind, let’s now complete Exercise 3.3 and create a career plan.

Exercise 3.3 Creating a Career Plan

Review Exercises 3.1 and 3.2 and create the following short-term goals in Table 3.3.

Table 3.3 Creating a Career Plan: Listing Short-Term Goals and Resources Required

Short-term Goal (within 3–6 months) Resources Needed
Goal 1 Example from accounting: To develop my knowledge of taxation, I will take ACCT 3221: Income Taxation 1, and two more taxation courses at University.
Goal 2
Goal 3

Congratulations! You’ve now created a road map for your career. Starting now, you’ll want to keep a copy of your career plan easily accessible so you’re reminded of the goals you’ve committed to working on.


Career planning and goal setting is a lifelong endeavour. It is certainly not a “one-and-done” experience. Your goals and plans can shift as you gain more skills and abilities and evolve personally and professionally. To build and maintain lifelong career success, the personal reflective processes, ongoing skill development, and timely labour market information identified in this chapter, and previous chapters, will continue to be important influencers in your career journey. The ability to navigate the dynamic interplay of labour market fluctuations with your evolving career will be essential for you to possess innate flexibility, and to pivot and change with the times (i.e., the evolving job market) for lifelong career success.


Thought for Today – Luck. (2010, March 19). Oprah.com. https://www.oprah.com/spirit/thought-for-today-luck/all

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