How to Map Your Career Path

US News

"Success is often the result of taking a misstep in the right direction." - Al Bernstein

Serendipity is often the master of our career path, but wouldn't it be wiser to do some planning and put in some effort to attain our goals? If our goals are attainable, we should be able to map our ascent toward that goal. If our career is our goal in focus, let's discuss how we can map our career path and attain our career goals in a meaningful way.

Your career path can be harnessed and managed. Seldom do people rise to successful positions who have not thought about how they will get there during their ascent. Our careers can be thought of as a series of steps toward an end goal. Yes, it will likely be a long-term goal, but a goal nonetheless. Where is it that you would like to rise to? What is your long-term vision for your career?

To begin mapping your career path you need to start by writing out where you are right now and where it is that you would like to get to. If you are early in your career, the possibilities for how you get from where you are now to where you want to be may seem daunting, but don't fret. With planning you can achieve your career success.

From where you are right now, what is the next step to move forward toward your career goal? Each step will fall into one of these categories: new skill/knowledge, new visibility/recognition, new position or new pathing.

New skill/knowledge. A new skill or new knowledge may be required for you to move forward along your career path. For some this is an education goal, maybe finishing that degree or obtaining a master's or a doctorate. For others, this may be experiential; a skill or knowledge that can be attained through experience, possibly on the job.

Education achievements. Your education can be cultivated through your career path. During your career path mapping, you may see that to reach the next step along your desired career path you need to attain a new level of knowledge. Include your education achievements within your career pathing exercise. Start reaching toward those education achievements as early as possible along your career path, rather than learning there's an education requirement at a point in your career when you're lagging or burnt out. Prepare yourself for your advance.

Experiential skills and knowledge. You may find that there will be skills or experience that you must have attained to reach your next career step. It would be wise to map your career path so that you can acquire those skills along your path rather than have to backtrack or make a lateral move to acquire new skills while setting your career path out further in time.

New visibility / new recognition. To achieve some goals along your career path you may need to gain new visibility or achieve new recognition. For you, that new visibility or new recognition could come in several forms. Maybe it's an award that you'd like to attain, become a part of a highly visible project, achieve a particular job performance level, etc. If you know what you are looking to attain along your career path you can focus your efforts around your achievements.

New position. Along our career path we will need to move into new roles and positions. Sometimes these moves can be accomplished within your current organization, other times you'll need to look outward beyond your current organization to attain your next role. Some questions to ask yourself as you're plotting your new roles and positions are:

-- How long should I remain in the previous role?

-- If I spend too little time in the position, does that negatively affect me?

-- If I spend too long in the position, does that negatively affect me?

-- Will I be able to remain within the same organization?

-- Is there opportunity for advancement within my current organization?

-- If I advance within my current organization, would it be wise to then make a lateral move to the same position within another company later?

-- How long should I remain within the same organization?

-- If I spend too little time within one organization, does that lower my ability to be hired by another company in the future?

-- If I spend too much time within one organization, does that limit my marketability to other companies?

New pathing. Along some career paths you see jumps between what seems to be one career path and a completely different career path to move ahead. There are situations where one path may provide knowledge and skill that can enhance another career path. You may find that to move forward toward your career goals you can achieve success by making a path jump.

Horizontal and vertical career pathing. You can now start to map your path in horizontals and verticals. Let's do a very non-digital exercise together. Take a sheet of paper and in the lower left corner write your current position. In the upper right corner write your career goal or thefuture position that you'd like. What is your next step toward that position? What category does that new step fall into? An education achievement, experiential skill/knowledge, new visibility/recognition, new position or new path? When you're moving up to the next level in your career - for example moving from a manager to a director - that is a vertical move. When you're moving from one company to another or making a lateral move within your company, that is a horizontal path. Work your way, both horizontally and vertically.

Once you've got your proposed career path, try it again. Is there another path that you can take? Is there a point on your path where there may be two ways to get to the same end goal? Map out all of your various ways to achieve your goal.

Congratulations. Now you have your proposed career path. While this is a great document for you to work from, know that it is very seldom set in stone. This is more akin to writing on an Etch A Sketch than writing on a stone tablet. As you work your way through your career pathing, you will likely experiencechanges, setbacks and new perspectives. Incorporate those changes along the way and continue to keep your eye on your goals as you move forward.

Nick Inglis is a contributor to the Personal Branding Blog. He is an expert on enterprise software and is the author of the AIIM SharePoint Governance Toolkit. Nick has traveled the world teaching Fortune 500 Companies, governments, organizations and is a go-to keynote speaker for conferences and events. He has worked with companies as diverse as Ernst & Young, Shell and Canon.

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