Choosing a Career Path and Sticking With It

We’ve talked a lot about getting a job, choosing a career and tips for being at work, but we haven’t directly talked about a career path yet. Knowing your career path early on is a big advantage. A career path can help keep you focused on your end goal. You may have a dream to work in a certain position or for a certain company. A career path tells you how to get there. If you haven’t chosen a career path yet, I’ve come up with a list of questions to ask yourself so you can find the right career path for you… and stay on track with that career path.

How do I know what job I want at the end of my career path?

Listen to your unthought knowns, as Dr. Meg Jay calls them in her book, The Defining Decade. There’s a voice inside you that knows what you like and what you’re good at. It also knows what you don’t like and what your weaknesses are. Listen to your inner unthought knowns. They’re called unthought knowns because you know them… You just haven’t thought about it yet.

To help focus in on your unthought knows try one of these techniques:

  • Make a list of all skills, interests, etc.
  • Pay attention at work – what aspects do you like and not like?
  • Have informational meetings to learn as much as you can and ask all your questions.
  • Find out the job descriptions of different positions.
  • Understand the different departments, how they work together, where their work ends, and another starts.

Nothing’s worse than working your way to a position, only to then find out its nothing like you thought it would be and you hate it. Do the research now while you still have the flexibility to move around to an area you know you will enjoy for the long run.

How do I get on a career path?

After you have chosen your end goal you can find out what your career path should be. Some of the techniques listed above can also help you discover the steps it takes to get to your end goal. Talking with co-workers who have been in the company or the industry for a few years can be very helpful. What’s even more helpful is if you can sit down with someone now who is in the position you would like one day. If you can find someone has been or currently is in a position you want here are some questions I would suggest asking…

1. What type of schooling do I need?

2. What type of experience and how many years of experience do I need?

3. Is there any additional experience outside of work you would suggest?

4. What skills should I be practicing?

5. Any final words of advice? Steps I should take? Positions I should hold? People I should talk to?

Will this job offer help me in my career path?

This is an important question to ask yourself every time a new job offer comes your way. My best advice, only take a job if you “side step” or move up on your career path. A”side step” is when you move to a different position, but you’re still on the same level as your previous position. You didn’t “move up in rank” is another way to look at it. Still a perfectly good option. This “side step” position can teach you new skills, give you more experience, introduce you to a new network or allow you to move to a new company.

Receiving a job offer is obviously a great sign that your boss, and the company likes you. They have faith you’ll do good for the future of the company. But, I would advise that accepting a position which leads you off your track does you no good. It would better serve you to politely decline and stay where you are. If you do have to decline, I would suggest having a conversation explaining the goals you have set up for your future. This conversation may also allow the employer to see the big picture you have for yourself and may look for opportunities to help you achieve it in the future.

Sometimes being offered a position that is lower than your current position can actually help on your career path. If your career path is for a position with a certain company, you may want to consider a lower job offer in order to start working for your dream company. However, I would not accept the job offer until I knew exactly what I would be doing, knew it would help me get to where I wanted to be, knew there was room for growth within the company, and knew I would be happy.

Am I currently doing everything I can for my career path?

It’s good to check on your own progress from time to time. But before you can check on your progress you need to have a set of clear goals with steps. From the information you got doing your research about the position you’re working towards and what the career path looks like you can make yourself a basic timeline. I say basic because I don’t want you over stressing and feeling completely depressed if you do not follow the timeline exactly. Still, a timeline will allow you to see roughly how long you should stay in a position to get the experience you need and tell you when its time to start thinking about getting a new position.

After you have your clear goals with steps, sit down to have a self evaluation or ask for a peer evaluation. To have a peer evaluation you could ask a co-worker or boss for feedback on how you’ve been doing. Then take that information and compare it to your time line.  Use the comparison to decide if you are where you should be, if you’re behind or meeting the bare minimum. Are you meeting work requirements? Have you required all the skills you can in your current position? Is there anything more you can be doing? In my opinion, there’s always room for improvement, that’s the way growing works. You grow as a better employee if you keep challenging yourself. It’s always better to be challenging yourself than to be safe. Safe keeps you in one spot, challenging keeps you moving up.

What career path have you started on? Do you have any additional tips or questions?

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2 thoughts on “Choosing a Career Path and Sticking With It

  1. Great list Katie! I think something everyone should consider is developing skills that are useful in many career paths. It seems like these days people are changing career paths more frequently. There are skills that are universally applicable which should, in my opinion, be mastered before focusing on more specific skills.

    • Thanks, Nick. I see your point and I agree that a diverse skill set will help you when you’re starting off. But while diversifying your skills, there is a risk to wonder away from what you really want to do. Take Jeff Vrabel for example. Yesterday he was the guest writer for the YPAF series. He spoke about his experience when he started being a writer. He had multiple different jobs and was exposed to new experiences, so naturally he gained a diverse skill set with editing, designing and writing. He learned about his field and gained skills to support him through it. But ultimately he had his eye set on a goal. If I wanted to give a specific example with that timeline I was talking about, I would say the first 2-3 years, maybe 5 max, can be good for diversifying your skills set and learning about different fields, but beyond that its time to focus in. Start putting that career path into action. You can’t float around forever.

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