Pharmacists today have more career paths to choose from than ever before. Once upon a time, pharmacists simply picked from a hospital or retail job. But today is a different story.

Upon graduation, a new PharmD stands at the doorsteps of literally dozens of diverse professional settings. There are targeted clinical opportunities in virtually every medical specialty. There are also jobs within managed care or pharma or community or consulting or technology — the list goes on and on.

With so many options, how does a typical pharmacist plan his or her career appropriately? As a preceptor for pharmacy students, a manager of pharmacy interns and simply as a fellow-pharmacist to many of my peers, I get asked about this frequently.

The issue is a practical one and not just relevant to new pharmacists. Even seasoned pharmacists need to keep planning their careers. Many pharmacists have found through painful experience that coasting in their job has led them into a dead end that is unrewarding and disappointing.

The following advice comes from the real-life experience of a fellow pharmacist. I have been in this profession for nearly 25 years. I wouldn't mind spending another 25 years at it if possible.

My goal is not to give you a detailed list of steps. Rather, I hope to give you three key principles that, if embraced and followed, will substantially improve your pharmacy career.

Of course, only you can figure out for yourself what qualifies as "a great pharmacy career." But for most people it will involve striking a balance between doing satisfying work in an acceptable atmosphere while enjoying a reasonably healthy quality of life. In other words, planning your career means moving toward that sweet spot where your own pharmacy talents and knowledge are in harmony with your other priorities.

Key 1: Be great where you are

The first step in planning your career involves doing the best you can do where you are whether or not you like your job at present. I define being "great" as exceeding the basic expectations while striving to promote harmony and success.

What are the goals of your company? Embrace them yourself and take practical and tangible steps to accomplish these goals. Strive for great working relationships with all levels of management. Know who your "customer" is (this will depend on your job of course) and take great care of that customer.

Key 2: Expose yourself to opportunities

To plan your career, you need to expose yourself to some of the many opportunities around you. People talk about opportunity "knocking," but in my experience, opportunity rarely knocks. Opportunities are caught, like a fish, with tools and bait and patience.

The tools include things like networking with other pharmacists, subscribing to job-search websites to email openings in your area, and researching interesting companies. The bait is having a great, well-developed resume and a reputation (both online and in person) as being a great contributor to your profession. And then be patient.

Someone once said "opportunities are like sunrises, if you wait too long you miss them."

Key 3: Look before you leap

A critical piece to planning your career is being thoughtful and strategic about what offers you take.

Don't be hasty. Don't recklessly make a career choice or change based on insufficient information. While every new step in your pharmacy career will usually involve some risk, you can limit your exposure to a bad career choice by carefully comparing this new job with your overall goals and priorities.

Changing jobs too frequently, without any clear plan, doesn't generally look good on a resume. However, making calculated choices that move you nearer your goal displays that you take your career seriously and will likely be someone who takes his/her job seriously, too.

Look before you leap. As someone once pointed out "some open doors lead to elevator shafts."

Your pharmacy career is something you have invested in heavily already. Therefore, careful planning is critical in obtaining the greatest return on this important investment.

While this article only scratches the surface and is far from comprehensive, I hope it encourages you to keep dreaming and focusing on a satisfying experience within the pharmacy profession.