Whether your a STEM connoisseur, an artist at heart or a dedicated public servant, everyone wants a career that they love. And finding the career that's right for you — the one that gives you a little bit of happiness and a whole lot of passion everyday — starts with putting yourself on the right path. Career path, that is.
But what exactly is a career path, how do you make one and how do you stick to it? Does it differ based on what industry you're in, your level of education or your end goal? We've got all the answers for you, right here.
What's a career path?
A career path is the sequence of jobs that make up your career plan, or your short and long-term goals for your career. Career paths typically mean vertical growth — or advancement to higher-level positions. However, your career path may involve lateral movement within your industry or into another industry.
Career paths vary from person-to-person depending on their goals, their life circumstances and how they change their goals over time. At its core, a career path means changing jobs regularly, although the amount of jobs in your career path may differ based on your desired end result.
How to choose a career path.
Choosing a career path requires quite a bit of thought. There are two primary steps to choosing a career path. First, figure out where you are in your career right now. What do you like and dislike about your job right now? What are you good at and where can you improve? How much free time do you have and how are you spending it?
Then, define where you want to go by asking yourself a series of questions about your values and priorities. What careers are promising right now? Do you have any special skills or passions you'd like to utilize? What level of responsibility would you like to have, what compensation are you looking for and what environment would you like to work in? Maybe most importantly, how does this career path fit with your other life goals? Write this down or keep it in your mind. Then, use it to find a career path that fits you.
Take a career quiz.
If you need any extra help determining your career path, you can take an assessment test. Here are a few that we recommend:
Examples of career paths.
Perhaps one of the most difficult parts of choosing a career path is figuring out what's out there! While everyone has a different career path, different industries typically have general paths of progression and hierarchies that employees follow. Here are a few examples of career paths in those industries.
- Administrative Assistant
- Executive Assistant
- Office Manager
- Editorial Assistant
- Assistant Editor
- Associate Editor
- Senior Editor
- Editorial Director
- Sales Clerk
- Assistant Manager
- Store Manager
- Regional Manager
- Financial Analyst
- Associate Director
- Finance Director
- VP of Finance
- Chief Financial Officer
- UX Designer
- UI Designer
- Cloud Computing Engineer
- Information Technology Analyst
- Classroom teacher
- Senior teacher
- Assistant Principal
- Real Estate:
- Residential Appraiser
- Commercial Broker
- Buyers Agent
- Office Manager
- Pharmacy Technician
- Interior Designer
- Fashion Designer
- Agribusiness Manager
- Environmental Engineer
- Animal Geneticist
How to create a career path.
1. First, identify your desired job or jobs in your industry or organization.
The first step in creating a career plan is figuring out where you want to go. Identify the role in your organization — or your dream organization — that you’d like to have. If you don’t know which role or roles are your end goal, there are several ways to find the career that will fit your personality.
For instance, you can take a career aptitude test, speak with a career coach, or speak to women in roles you’re interested in about their experiences. You can even ask to shadow women in your dream role to get a sense of their day-to-day life. You may also decide your career goal is to create your own role or business.
2. Next, chart a course through jobs to your end goal.
Once you’ve determined your end goal, research is critical to getting there. If your dream role exists within your organization, speaking to a mentor or your Human Resources department should assist you in understanding the progression of jobs to that role. If your dream role exists outside of your organization, speaking to women in that role (or industry) can help you understand how to move forward. In industries with more “concrete” career paths, a simple Google search can help you understand how career progression works. Once you’ve done your research, write out a game plan of the roles you’ll need to get to your dream job.
3. Identify the skills you’ll need to develop to fulfill each role.
Vertical movement in any career requires the development of new skills, whether they’re soft skills or hard skills. Identify the skills you will need to get each role in your plan. Then, take note of the projects you will need to work on, the trainings you will need to get, and the professional landmarks — like managing a team — you’ll need to hit to achieve each skill. This process can make your career path feel more tangible, and set up a strong foundation for your everyday career goals. Note that for each role, you may also require a specific sponsor or champion. Denote these, too.
4. Seek a mentor or coach to help you flush out your plan.
A mentor or coach will likely understand the ins-and-outs of the roles in your career plan better than you do. Recruit a trusted individual to go over your career plan and fill in any gaps in your knowledge. Then, keep them on board so you can ask them questions as you consider new job opportunities, or as your plans change.
5. Allow for your plan to be flexible.
Remember that there is no right or wrong in your career. Every career path is different, and they tend to change as life circumstances and priorities change. Revisit your career path regularly, and give yourself the room to change your mind. Never shy away from taking a new opportunity that you’re passionate about or veering into a new path.
Everyone's career path is unique to them. By being thoughtful about your career goals, doing research into how people in your industry typically get there, and following through, you're sure to build a career that is just as special as you are. Don't believe me yet? Just give it a try.
Career Path Requirements
Whether you're just kicking off your career or making some moves down a new career path, keep these requirements in mind.
1. Keep an open mind.
You want to be in learning mode right now and extra flexible. The job market moves quickly, and you need to be willing to adapt by always trying to gain new skills and stay open to various opportunities that may arise.
The key to getting a better understanding of different careers is by actually talking to people in those careers. If you're curious about whether or not a certain position would suit you, don't hesitate to reach out to people who hold that position and ask them any questions you have. Networking to gain insights may even help you land a job in the process!
3. Don't automatically turn down lateral moves.
Again, staying open means fairly considering all opportunities. If you're making a massive career change, you may need to make a lateral move. You're not necessarily going to earn more money or a better title if you switch career paths. You'll likely have to work your way back up. So be open to lateral moves if you're making changes.