How to Make a Career Plan: The 3 Paths to Consider

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Startup of You" by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why do you need multiple plans for your career? How do you make a career plan?

Because the job landscape is always changing, you need backups in case your original career plan doesn’t work out. In The Startup of You, Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha say that you need three possible career paths to ensure that you won’t fail.

Check out how to make a career plan for every possible scenario.

The 3 Types of Career Plans

To navigate the ever-changing job landscape, plan out three possible career paths instead of a single one. The authors explain that many startup companies became successful not because they had a brilliant idea from the start but because they could pivot quickly when their idea failed or when a better direction opened up. Like these successful startups, learn how to make a career plan so that you’re prepared to switch paths easily, take risks, and be resilient to setbacks. Here are the three plans you should have in place:

Your Current Path (“Plan A”): This is the path that you’re currently on or the field that you’re working in. For example, you might be working full-time as a software engineer.

Your Alternative (“Plan B”): Your alternative plan should be in a field related to Plan A, one that you can turn to if you run into problems with your current path or if a promising opportunity suddenly appears. For example, if you’re a software engineer, your Plan B might be related to game development. If you suddenly notice an exciting opportunity, such as promising advances in virtual reality, you can pivot quickly to seize it. The authors advise you to shift to Plan B before you think you should or consider starting it up on the side.

Your Last Resort (“Plan Z”): Your last resort plan is where you go to regroup if opportunities fall through or if the risks you take don’t work out. This could mean moving back in with your parents or working temporary gigs like driving for rideshare services. Having a Plan Z makes you feel more comfortable taking risks and acting quickly on potential life-changing opportunities.

How to Create Multiple Career Plans: Other Perspectives and Suggestions

Hoffman and Casnocha explain the different career plans you should have, but they don’t go into much detail on how you can develop them. Other experts provide insights on career planning that you can consider when creating your three plans:

Plan A: Hoffman and Casnocha write that your Plan A is the current path you’re on. However, to improve the chances that Plan A goes well, you should still think about the future and plan how you should best continue down your current career path. Experts say you should reflect on your career path every six months to determine if you’re still headed in the direction. And if you see obstacles ahead, stay committed and don’t immediately switch plans.

Plan B: Other experts point out what signs you can look for to know when it might be time to pivot to Plan B. First, if you’re losing excitement or engagement for your current work, consider seeking new opportunities. Similarly, if you haven’t received a promotion or gotten new or different responsibilities in over three years, you should consider pivoting because you’re not able to build your skills in your current environment. Lastly, consider whether your current role enables the lifestyle you want—if not, consider pivoting.

Plan Z: Experts suggest several preparations you can make in case of major career setbacks: Always perform quality work so that you’ll have strong references who can vouch for you, create an emergency fund that can cover all of your expenses for at least three months, and proactively build a network. While Hoffman and Casnocha recommend having a side hobby to test out a Plan B, working on a side hobby you can profit from can also help sustain you if you must fall back and regroup with your Plan Z.
How to Make a Career Plan: The 3 Paths to Consider

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  • Why you must approach your career as if it's a startup company
  • How to overcome unexpected career obstacles
  • The three entrepreneurship principles you should adopt

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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