Career Path: What is It and How to Find Yours

If you want to move up on the career ladder either within your current workplace or through changing careers completely and taking a different route, it can be hard to get things moving. Especially, when you are not even sure how an ideal career path looks for you. 

Let’s rectify that. In this post, you’ll learn how to figure out a solid career progression plan for yourself, and more importantly — start acting on it! 

What is a Career Path? 

A career path is a grand sum of roles you can take en route to becoming that veneer on the career credenza. Typically, most career progressions happen vertically i.e. you gradually climb from an entry-level to an executive position. 

But in the current landscape, horizontal and lateral career paths are also quite common. For example, at some point, you might want to change industries or change your career trajectory, or perhaps even switch to entrepreneurship and launch your own venture. 

Portfolio careers have also become increasingly common these days. As the name implies, such career paths assume collecting a set of different positions within different industries. For example, it’s not uncommon these days to meet a K12 educator, also doubling as a part-time yoga instructor and nutrition consultant. A portfolio career path lets you amass skills from different industries and roles and leverage them when searching for new job opportunities. 

How to Choose a Career Path: 6 Tips

Whether you are early into your career or already worked across different roles and reached a certain milestone, at some point you might start questioning if you are moving in the right direction. That’s understandable. With an array of job opportunities, emerging roles, and overall transformations across industries, it’s easy to lose sight of your ultimate goals. 

So how to find a career path that suits you best? Here are 6 steps you should take: 

  1. Map your career goals. 
  2. Do an inventory of your skills. 
  3. Re-examine your previous experience.
  4. Take note of your interests.
  5. Identify your core values.
  6. Wrap it all into a plan. 

Map Your Career Goals

There are a lot of people who want to advance their careers that find themselves feeling more and more unfulfilled in their roles. It may be a case that you have been in your position for a few years and that you have simply outgrown the job. Surely, it’s good to feel comfortable and secure at work, but why should you settle for a mediocre career when you know that you are capable of achieving so much more?

But you need to figure out how “more” looks for you. That’s what career goals are for. Think of them as quick check-points that you set up for yourself to measure your progress and correct your trajectory as necessary. 

Good career goals are:

  • Succinct, concrete, and time-bound. For example: “In 10 years, I want to move from role X to role Y, and earn at least $XX, XXX more.”
  • Include actionable sub-steps. Specify what you’ll do to accomplish your final goal e.g. what would it take for you to grow from an entry-level specialist to a department head or a c-suit. 
mapping your career goals

Learn more about formulating strong career goals (and actually following through on them!).  

Do an Inventory of Your Skills

Sitting around doing your job day in and day out and expecting that your career progression will come naturally will never happen. You will most probably be overlooked for promotion unless you a) make an effort in growing the scope of your core competencies b) get more vocal about your commitment to taking on extra work for the extra credit.

So have a quick sit-down session and assess your current skill set. Take separate note of your:

Both are equally important for promotions and new career moves. If you are struggling to identify your main strengths, ask your colleagues for feedback. 

Once you’ve made a good enough inventory (you’ll definitely need it for resume writing next!), compare it against:

Identify the gaps. Which skills are you missing? Then think about ways of acquiring them. Can you get on the job training? Or perhaps take online courses? And apply for new certifications? 

Re-examine Your Previous Experience.

In a similar vein, put your work experience under the microscope. If you want to change careers, think which skills can be transferred to another industry/role

Also, consider your current accomplishments. What do they communicate to other employers? Do they indicate how you could achieve similar results at their organization? Again, make a list of your work experiences and see how these stack against the current demands at the job market. 

career accomplishments and work experience

Take Note of Your Interests 

If you are feeling stuck at your current role and completely uninspired, you might want to search for an alternative career path for yourself. That’s a totally normal thing to do at any stage of your career! 

The best part? Thanks to the rise of the gig economy, you don’t need to immediately quit your job to “follow your passion”. Instead, you can dip into a new niche(s) on the side and try yourself out in different sectors before committing to a new career trajectory. 

For those at a complete loss, taking a comprehensive aptitude test may be a good thing to do. Also, consider seeking career counseling or mentorship from a person whose background you admire or would like to mimic. Plenty of successful leaders, entrepreneurs, and veteran HRs now provide on-demand career consulting services. 

Identify Your Core Values

Another reason why so many people “feel in a rut” is because their initial career choice no longer correlates with their values.

History knows plenty of highly-successful corporate lawyers who at some point switched to working at NGOs or doing other more meaningful work (despite a significant pay cut).

identifying core values

So it’s never too late to re-examine your career and see whether it could be realigned with your values. 

Wrap It All Into a Plan 

Once you’ve narrowed down your options using your aspirations, skills, experiences, interest, and values as guiding points, line these up into a 5-to-10 year career plan. 

Be specific: where do you want to be each year? What progress can you commit to making? If you need to upskill or want to give an alternative career ago, write out how you’ll manage that along with your full-time or part-time jobs

If you are more interested in pursuing vertical career growth at your current workplace, get more proactive. Find an opportunity to discuss your career objectives with your boss. If they are keen to keep you on board, then they should be more than happy to help to keep you moving up your career ladder.

To Conclude: Never Settle On Mediocre

Start off by making some plans. Look at what else is out there that interests you and see where you may need to brush up your skills or training to meet the needs for that new role. Learn as much as you can about the companies that are offering jobs in your desired field. Give your resume a refresh and pack it into a more professional resume template. Stop drifting and start moving in the direction you’ve charted for yourself!

This article has been originally published on April 24, 2017 and has been extensively revised and updated on January 12, 2021.

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Originally posted at Freesumes