Geospatial Career Q&A with Undergraduate Part 4 – Long Term Career Planning

June 25, 2012 at 12:16 pm  •  Posted in Business, Education, Geography by  •  4 Comments

In Part 1, I posted a line of questioning I received from a soon-to-graduate geography major.  My response is in 3 parts: (1) summer suggestions, (2) hitting the job market next year, and (3) long-term (3-5 years) career positioning.  In Part 2 I provided suggestions for what to do this summer.  In Part 3 I cover hitting the job market.  You’ll want to go back and read Part 1Part 2 and Part 3 if you haven’t already.  This will be my last post in this series.

Long term career planning can be daunting.  Here’s my approach in 4 simple steps.

Step 1. Don’t think beyond 5 years into the future.  How can you plan for your entire career with technology and the economy changing so rapidly?  You can’t.  It’s too hard.  Look how much the world has changed in the past 5 years.  In 2007 you might have thought that a finance job at Lehman Brothers would fulfill all your dreams.  Or perhaps a career as a high-flying mortgage broker sounded attractive.  Not so much today.  Five years is about right – if you decide to go into medicine then 5 years is a far enough to think through med school and the beginning of residency or something comparable for other medical paths.  Same for legal careers, teaching, etc.  And the same goes for geospatial careers.  Looking beyond 5 years is a waste of time because there are too many contingencies that are unpredictable.  By the way, planning for 1, 2, 3 or 4 years out is fine too if that works better for you.

Step 2. Visualize where you want to be in 5 years.  Where do you want to live?  What do you want to be doing?  Who do you want to be spending time with?  What will you need to get there?  Write it down!  More detail is better.  Try to paint as complete a picture as possible.  And focus on what you will actually do with your time rather than what title you will hold.  If you can’t commit to one particular vision then write down multiple possible futures.  Dream big!  Don’t settle for something that sounds okay.  Might as well go for it – you only make the trip once, right?

Step 3. Remind yourself of your vision(s) frequently.  Once you have one or more detailed descriptions of your vision for 5 years in the future create an index card with a handful of bullet points that will allow you to conjure the vision in your head.  Put it in your sock drawer or on your bathroom mirror or have it appear on your laptop’s desktop or cell phone screen – whatever works for you.  The idea here is just to keep your long-term goals fresh in your head.

Step 4. Take action to make your vision a reality.  If the vision stays in your head you’ll be able to take small steps, perhaps even unconsciously, to move closer to your long-term goals.  The key, as I discussed in Part 3, is to take action.  Don’t over-think and suffer from analysis paralysis.  Try lots of different stuff and see what sticks, then build on it.  Or start over if you need to.  It might feel like every decision you make is irreversible and catastrophic if it doesn’t work out perfectly.  Wrong!  You will make mistakes, lots of them.  Embrace it.  You won’t get anywhere without making lots of mistakes.  Learning to fail frequently is a pretty good strategy.  It’s sort of like a multiple-choice test; it’s often better to eliminate some of the choices rather than only searching for the “correct” answer.  There are no bad decisions.

Good luck!  And let me know if I can help.


  1. Ariel / June 25, 2012 at 11:01 pm / Reply

    Hi, Thank you for these post I’m still doing my thesis in Engineering in Geography. Am I too old (I’m 26) to study a PhD or a Master?, knowing I have to save money for that.

    • Justin / June 25, 2012 at 11:05 pm / Reply

      Hi Ariel. No, 26 is not too old for graduate school. However, I would suggest that you try to avoid paying full tuition for a geography program. Instead, you should try to work as a teaching or research assistant so you can finish your degree debt free. If you are a strong student you should be able to find these types of opportunities. If not, you may want to gain more experience and then apply when you are in position to pay your way without taking on any debt. Best wishes! -Justin

  2. Steve Gushue / June 28, 2012 at 1:29 pm / Reply


    Really like your website and the information you tackle. I am in one of those mid-career situations that is complicated by life situations (150 mile a day commutes because of where my fiancee works). I have served as a GIS Specialist the last 4 and half years basically function as the GIS Word Processor for a local government. While I have great opportunities to provide data driven results, often I am completing the simple “print aerial map and repeat” tasks. What I am faced with now is keeping the GIS edge sharp while progressing forward, although in some cases I am my worst enemy as I lose focus on the skills I should develop – programming, spatial statistics and analysis, database management. It is probably not beneficial to be a Jack-of-all-Trades and master of none in this field, especially considering the pace of technology. Anyway I appreciate the information outlined here, its good to reflect upon.

    • Justin / June 28, 2012 at 2:41 pm / Reply

      Thanks for the feedback, Steve! Best wishes to you on your career campaign. Hope you find a way to reduce that commute – life is too short.
      Cheers, J.

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