5 Ways to Make a Career Path That Will Help You Get Ahead

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k

You have plenty of career goals. If you’re lucky, you’re happy with your current role and employer and don’t intend to leave any time soon. So, how can you achieve your goals within the company? That’s where career pathing comes in. What does career pathing mean, and how can you create your own plan for achieving your work dreams? Let’s take a look. 

What is career pathing?

Career pathing is a process by which an employee of a particular organization maps out her career progression and goals within the context of that business. The employee must take into account her skills, experience, attributes, aspirations and other criteria that will help her achieve success. In visualizing her path, she must also consider how she can gain new competencies and move within the company, as well as what success means to her personally. A career path isn’t always linear; it might involve lateral moves within a department or a transfer to another one.

How do you create a career path?

There are many models of career pathing. These are some basic steps you can take as an employee.

1. Consider the positions that exist within your organization.

Take stock of what types of roles there are already and whether new positions are created regularly or semi-regularly. Think outside of the box here: you may not just want to take on your boss’ role, for instance. Don’t forget: lateral moves may be necessary. Don’t think of them as a step back or stagnating — in the grand scheme of things, they’ll help you achieve your larger goals.

2. Determine which ones interest you and the steps necessary for attaining them.

Once you’ve determined which positions interest you the most, write them down. For each one, consider the skills and knowledge required of these roles and how you can gain them. Perhaps you’ll need to take certain courses or attain certifications. Or maybe you need to achieve certain milestones in your current role.

3. Use the SMART method.

SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. The acronym is a useful device that's frequently used in goal-setting. Use this method for your career pathing:

Specific: Determine the specific end goal you want to achieve (the position you want to attain).

Measurable: Identify the markers that will allow you to evaluate success.

Attainable: Is your long-term goal achievable?

Relevant: Consider the steps you’ll need to take along the way.

Time-bound: By when should you reach your goal?

4. Ask for help.

Take advantage of resources at your disposal, including people, such as your manager or a colleague who has a position that interests you. A mentor can also help you define your career path. Asking for help with this process is often seen as a positive step because it shows loyalty and motivation. Employers may also provide resources, such as courses or programs (more on that below); many employers offer these types of opportunities to retain talent. 

5. Continually evaluate your career path.

Schedule regular check-ins with yourself to evaluate how you’re doing. You may find that you need to take additional steps or reevaluate certain factors. It’s okay if your goals change, too — just modify your plan accordingly. 


Perhaps you’re a marketing assistant working at a media company. You’re generally happy with your role, although it wasn’t your original intention to go this route. You take a look at the positions within your organization and imagine an editorial role might be more your speed. You’d like to stay within the company, so you think about what moves you’ll need to make in order to reach the goal of becoming an editor. 

This will involve a lateral move to editorial assistant, of course, and you might need to take some courses to gain the skills for an entry-level position in the editorial department. You should also network with people in that department and discuss what a lateral move entails with your supervisor (if that makes sense), colleagues and/or your HR department. 

What is a career development program?

Career development programs are usually employer-offered programs that help employees build skills and competencies to succeed and grow in their current roles and advance more generally in their careers. As noted briefly above, these programs are a way to retain, recruit and engage employees. Some examples of common career-development programs include:

• Formal mentoring programs

• Courses or seminars offered at the organization site, online or through a partnership with another institution or organization

• Tuition reimbursement

• Career coaching

• Leadership and management training

What is employee career development?

While career pathing usually refers to an employee’s progression within a specific organization, career development takes into account the entirety of a person’s career and the steps she takes to create and build her work life. It starts with her schooling and her first job (including internships) and ends with retirement. It also includes any steps she takes along the way, such as going back to school and earning advanced degrees, leaving a job and starting a new one, attaining certifications and so on.

Career pathing doesn’t just benefit employees: it’s also advantageous to employers who seek to retain and promote valued employees within an organization. Career pathing can increase employee and engagement.

To this end, many employers have a formal process for asking employees to evaluate their career paths, sometimes part of a performance review. For example, you might be asked to create long- and short-term goals and discuss them with your manager, as well as identify steps you and your employer can take to help you reach them. An employer might also provide you with tools or recommend that you take advantage of company-sponsored career-development programs to help you achieve your goals.

Both employers and employees can be proactive about career pathing, too. This is a good step for both of you as well — if a manager reaches out to an employee to discuss her career goals, she’ll recognize that her employer is invested in her growth. When an employee approaches a manager, her boss will see that she’s ambitious, has company-specific aspirations and intends to stay with her employer.  

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