From a distance, career success may seem like a combination of luck, good timing, and on-the-job performance.

While luck and timing certainly play their parts along with a job well done, career success becomes much more likely with a healthy amount of strategic thinking. Planning, building connections, and ongoing maintenance are critical keys to have on your career keychain for a truly fulfilling experience at work. They’ll unlock the right doors as you take the necessary steps toward success.

It all starts with knowing your goals, your professional assets, how to talk about yourself, and who to talk to.


Key #1: Know Your Goal, and Know It Early.

The best time to set a major career goal is before you take your first step in a new direction, or take your first class. Get control of your experience by first thinking about how success could look to you. What new career area do you want to enter, and what kind of position do you want? Or, are you looking for a new position within your current field?

To answer these questions thoughtfully, begin by researching the answers through exploration. If you’re in a degree program or considering pursuing a degree, a coursework can help support your exploration into new career options.


Key #2: Know What You Bring to the Table

Part of preparing to network is having a good grasp of you can do. We all have a decent idea of what we’re good at—at least to a degree. But job skills and proven abilities are one thing. What about your underlying attributes?

You may create Excel spreadsheets with great filters, equations, and formats, but your mastery of a certain program could mean you have certain qualities that can apply to so much more, like attention to detail, a strong sense of organization, and the ability to learn new processes quickly.

Identify these attributes. Write them down. Next, add the life experiences you consider especially valuable, as well as education—including conferences you’ve attended and professional development courses.

As you make this list, you’ll start to see the unique value that you can bring to any workplace. From there, you can start determining how to communicate what you’re good at.


Key #3: Know How to Present Yourself

Understanding how to communicate your abilities, skills and goals is another important key to career exploration. From a solid LinkedIn profile to a pitch-perfect elevator speech, effectively presenting who you are and what you want is a critical skill in career development.

But be careful not to rely on improvisation. Even if you’re gifted at talking about topics off-the-cuff, a little preparation goes a very long way.

  • PAUSE: Take a moment to think about where you are, what your goals are, and how you could reach them.
  • REFLECT: Consider what your goals really mean to you, what you’ll be willing to do to get there, what assets are in place, and what gaps need to be filled.
  • PREPARE: Continue to research your chosen field. Browse blogs, industry publications, and company websites to brush up about the latest developments and lingo people use in your field, and be ready to pull them out in conversation.
  • PRACTICE: Meet up with a trusted friend or mentor and have a mock networking conversation. Ask them to ask you thoughtful questions that a new networking contact or hiring manager might ask to help you get comfortable with the real thing.


LinkedIn is more than social media; it’s your online professional presence. Watch this video series  to develop, perfect, and manage your LinkedIn profile.


Key #4: Know Who to Talk To, and How to Find Them

There are few things that are more valuable to career exploration and management than old-fashioned networking. Talk to people you already know in your chosen field, or instructors who teach classes you may be taking. Ask them for 30 minutes of conversation to tell them about what you want and what you can do.

NOTE: You are not expected to know everything about your field, or even to know exactly what you want; finding these out are part of the process.

When you talk with your contacts, take notes on the advice they offer. Ask for introductions to other contacts. You may enjoy meeting new people! For the more introverted, simply think of it as an important investment you’re making in yourself. Whether you love making new friends or you prefer a quieter social life, you’re gathering important career insights.

Cast a wide net as a start, and be willing to talk to almost everyone. Research professional associations and networking groups in your field and attend a meeting or two. Ask yourself, “Are these my kind of people? Do they want what I want? Would I want to work with them every day?” The answers to these questions will tell you if it’s a good match.

As you get clearer on the direction you’re headed, narrow down the number people you’d like to talk to, to spend your time (and theirs) wisely. And keep in touch with your contacts after you meet—networking is about building and maintaining those relationships.


Unlock Your Career

Knowing your goal is the first key to unlocking the doors that will open to your new career direction. Start at your goal, then engage in the exciting process of exploring along the way to a future you’ll love.



The Capella University Career Center counselors, resources, and tools help students and graduates manage their careers at every stage.

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