What is your career path?

Knowing how to select a career path after graduation is a lesson they are not teaching in school. If you have received your degree, you will already have been entrenched in a profession. Then again, you might not be.

A career path is a sequence of jobs that leads to your short- and long-term career goals. Some follow a linear career path within one field, while others change fields periodically to achieve career or personal goals.

Career paths typically refer to either your industry path, or your organizational path. For example, if your goal is to become a principal, you would typically start as a teacher while teaching, and work on your administrative credentials. If you’re in a big district, you might be able to map a path within your city. You might become a department head and then advance to a position as an assistant principal.

If you’re in a smaller district, you might need to move to a different organization to advance your goals. In that case, your advancing within your profession, but moving to another organization.

Some organizations help you develop a career path as part of the employee development process. In this case, you and your supervisor or a human resources representative discuss your career development within your organization.

Career paths traditionally imply vertical growth or advancement to higher-level positions, but they can also include lateral (sideways) movement within or across industries.

Changing jobs is expected and such changes can often include various types of roles in different industries. Some career paths have some ups and downs, and some people even plan to move the career ladder downwards.

By asking your company to transfer to a position with fewer responsibilities and less stress, you may move down the career ladder. Or you might be applying for a position with a company that you’re passionate about working with, but there are only lower-level positions available.

If you’re feeling stuck and unsure of the next step in your career path, consider talking to a career counselor. A reputable counselor can help you clarify your goals and explore your options.

Your career path ultimately depends on the ideals of your profession and the personal goals. As you pursue a higher income, better benefits, and/or increased job satisfaction, you may change industries. Or, you might wander off the path to take care of your family or continue your education altogether.

There are three major types of career seekers in need of career planning:

  • Newbies just getting their careers started. These include recent graduates from community colleges, trade schools and apprenticeship programs, as well as those with undergraduate and graduate degrees.
  • Workers who have been trekking down a particular path but are looking to make a career change and forge a new path. These individuals might need additional coaching, training or advanced degrees.
  • Individuals seeking to continue down their current career path but are in need of career management support in order to keep from stagnating.

Deciding on a first career or a career change is a daunting task, and like any major life decision, it’s helpful to break it down into small bite-sized pieces. If you are thinking about changing your career or redesigning your career path and don’t know where to start, consider the following:

1. Passion
First of all, what do you feel passionate about? What do you think about when you’re at your present job or when you’re having a daydream? If you were able to shoot into the sky for that luminous plasma spheroid, what would you want?

2. Expertise
What is your skill set? Are you someone who sees the beauty in numbers, patterns and proofs? Maybe you enjoy elucidating complex problems, or perhaps you love putting the metaphorical ink to paper. All careers require both soft and technical skills, and it helps to determine what you already do well and what skills you need to further develop.

3. Personality
Who are you and what is your personality type? Are you a strong-willed leader, a creative free spirit or perhaps a strategic thinker? Personality tests are a good way to provide further insight or simply confirm what you already know.

4. Education
You’ve identified what you like and what you’re good at. Now to further develop your skills or learn something new, there are seemingly myriad classes to take to develop your skills.

5. Money
What are your salary requirements? Determine your range of what you’d like to make and what you need to make. (Check out Rasmussen College’s quiz for insight into skills as they relate to job clusters and salary ranges.)

6. Networking
Build your network. Start with people you know: friends , family, colleagues, classmates and friends and then work to grow. Network at local events with your colleagues, follow leading thinkers in your area of interest on LinkedIn, meet connections from your network and join related organizations and professional development groups.

7. Informational interviews
To those looking to explain or validate their career goals, these are an absolute must. Talking to people who currently hold the position you are interested in will give you valuable insight that you might not be able to get to anywhere else. They’ll be able to send it straight to you, warts and all.

8. Mentoring
These long-term relationships are often one-on-one, coach-driven or group-based and focus on supporting the development and growth of those seeking mentorship. Increasingly, organizations are using mentoring software to design, recruit, match and manage mentoring initiatives.

9. Career coaches
These experts can help guide career seekers through their job search, provide resume writing help and prepare candidates for interviews or promotions.

10. Internships
These are particularly useful for job seekers who are just out of school or about to graduate with a degree or certificate. Someone will typically go through their university or school to receive internship assistance. Similarly, businesses also use their job sites to advertise internships.

11. Temporary job placements
Freelance platforms and staffing agencies can be a great way to get your feet wet in your desired field. Freelance platforms help connect businesses to freelancers, and staffing agencies help place candidates in short- or long-term openings across industries and positions.

Some people have well-planned career paths which are deliberate. Others take things one job at a time and adjust as their objectives and preferences change. Either approach (or a combination of both) can succeed. Here are some ways in which you can place yourself for a good career:

  • Be in learning mode: Today’s job market moves quickly. To keep up, you need to be prepared to add to your skillset. To find out which skills are most in demand in your industry, take a look at your peers’ LinkedIn profiles. You’ll learn which skills you’ll need to advance.
  • Network: Connecting with your peers can help you identify new directions for your career, even if you’re not interested in job-hopping at the moment.
  • Be flexible: Don’t hold too tightly to your career plan. Be open to opportunity and keep your ultimate goals in mind. What’s important to you? What do you enjoy about your job and career, and what would you prefer to minimize at your next gig?
  • Don’t be afraid of a lateral move: Sometimes you need to move sideways (or even backward) to get ahead. If a job offers you a chance to develop skills or connections that will be valuable later on, be open to a lateral move.

Check out my related post: How to write a career change cover letter?

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