How to Choose a Career Path
A career path is a series of steps and milestones with the end goal of your ideal job.
It's a journey made up of specific roles that lead to a rewarding career. It's also a way of progressing your career in a direction that is right for you, gaining experience and new skills that build on one another as you progress through your working career.
Deciding on a career path might seem overwhelming at first.
It is important to remember that career paths do not necessarily follow a linear progression.
Some career paths may include horizontal or diagonal job moves.
While some career paths can be more winding than others, it is helpful to have a planned direction of travel and specific goals in mind to prevent you from drifting away from your career priorities.
Choosing a career path helps you make considered decisions about the roles you decide to apply for in your career journey.
It also means you are more likely to reach your end career goal and have an enjoyable, fulfilling working life.
Some people know exactly what career they want from a young age. For many others, choosing a career path often happens when they are at school. For some, it can be later.
Not everyone grows up with a grand passion. When choosing your desired career, a good place to start is by thinking about your core values, strengths, and what you enjoy doing.
The first step in choosing a career path is to take a step back and self-assess your skills.
Think about not only the skills you believe are strengths, but also those you believe are weaknesses.
Think about the things that you enjoy doing. If you are at school or college, consider the subjects you like. Take guidance from tutors or others who know you.
If you are working, jot down the tasks you enjoy doing at work and the tasks you don't enjoy. Think about why you don't enjoy these tasks.
If you play sport, write down what skills you have developed from this and the skills you feel aren't strength areas for you.
It could be that you are creative. If so, this may lead you to consider creative professions such as marketing or graphic design.
It could be that you enjoy structure, patterns, methodology or working with numbers. If so, you may start to consider career options where these strengths are valuable, for example, accountancy, actuarial or science-based professions.
Remember to note down what you consider to be your weaknesses as well as your strengths.
This can help you eliminate certain career options or, at the very least, make you aware that some career paths may need you to work on your perceived weaknesses.
Be honest in your self-assessment, to ensure the results will be as helpful as possible.
Many employers use career aptitude or personality assessments as part of the recruitment process.
These assessments enable employers to select candidates who display the characteristics and traits required to succeed in the organization.
There are lots of free personality assessments online.
The results from these will help you define your preferences regarding how you like to work. You can then narrow down the roles in which you would excel.
Remember to be objective when considering these results. For example, candidates who have always been public-minded but enjoy collaborative work may also enjoy working in a naturally competitive yet collaborative corporate environment.
It is essential to consider what you want from a role. Thinking about your values can help you decide on the sectors you want to start your career in.
Using your values can also help define the sorts of roles you may want to include in your career journey.
Defining your values is vital to ensure that you work with employers whose values align with your own.
Having a shared purpose and commitment means you will choose a career path and an employer that will give you a sense of fulfillment and lead to a more satisfying and enjoyable working career.
Everyone's priorities in life are different.
Some people choose a career path focused on making a difference to the environment or community.
Others are focused on attaining a role with a large salary. Some people choose a career path where they work in a fulfilling role but have enough time for out-of-work commitments.
Knowing your work ethic and your primary work goals can help inform your career options and, in turn, your career path.
Different roles and sectors require a different work ethic.
For example, you may want to train in accountancy but want to ensure that your working hours don't always go beyond those stated in your contract.
If this is the case, ensure that the organizations you would like to work for on your career path align with your work ethic and what you want from your work-life balance.
If earning a high salary in your chosen career is your goal, choose a career path and employers that enable you to achieve this objective.
When looking at your career options, don't forget about the experience or education that you have already gained.
Your prior experience can be used in different ways to help inform your career path:
- It can determine whether the field you have previously worked in is one in which you want to build a career path.
- Your experience can be used to identify the skills and competencies that you enjoy and are strength areas for you.
- Your education, if a specialist area, can be used when considering the level of entry into your chosen career. Some career paths require candidates to have specific knowledge or to have studied a specialist subject. Consider your education and how this can open up different career options for you.
All career paths have a starting point with many career options.
Once you have identified some roles or careers that you are interested in, research what career starting points and future paths others have followed.
Use social media sites such as LinkedIn to chart other's career paths.
While everyone's career path is their own, looking at the path others have taken will give you an idea of the sorts of roles to consider as part of your career path.
For example, if you are interested in digital marketing, look at the possible ways to become a digital marketer.
One path you may take is:
- Digital marketing assistant
- Digital marketing associate
- Digital marketing consultant (specializing in a particular area of digital marketing such as social media)
- Social media specialist
Researching the potential roles on a career path and considering other's paths will also open up some career options that you may not have previously considered.
If this is the case, revisiting your list of strengths, work ethics and values will help you decide if these new options are worth considering.
Some roles along a career path pay for your training while you work on the job.
For example, many accountancy entry-level roles incorporate the cost of training.
Knowing when additional training may be needed to move to the next stage of your career path means that you can put financial plans in place, rather than stalling your career path due to a lack of funds.
Once you have identified your possible career path, it is always good to try and get some experience in your chosen area.
This could be work experience in the actual role.
Many employers offer internships or work experience weeks that allow candidates to get real on-the-job experience.
If securing work experience isn't possible, doing voluntary work in your chosen career is always something to consider.
If your chosen career path is vocational, many large employers offer career taster days.
These days allow you to participate in work simulations and practise the required skills for a role in your chosen career path.
Getting experience in your chosen career can re-affirm your career path choice. In some instances, it can also mean that you realize your chosen career path isn't right for you.
If you cannot get experience, speak to someone doing the role you’re interested in. This will give you a real-life perspective.
Once you have gained experience in your chosen field, make sure you continue to build your career network.
Connect with people doing your ideal role, or in organizations where you would like to work.
If you have completed work experience or attended a career taster day, ask the people you have met if you can connect with them on professional networking sites.
Building your network allows you to keep your career options open, especially if you think you may want to specialize further down the line.
Once you have decided on your preferred sector and starting role, create your career plan.
Include your career goals and milestones in your career plan. Career plans can be set for 100 days, 5 years or even 10 years, depending on your chosen profession.
For example, you may want to start with a 100-day career plan that covers what you want to achieve when starting your chosen career.
Include SMART objectives in your career plan to keep you focused.
For a five-year career plan, include career role milestones.
For example, if your chosen profession was accountancy, your five-year career plan may consist of the following steps:
- Associate in training (starting role)
- Part-qualified accountant (after 18 months)
- Qualified accountant (after 3 years)
- Manager (after 5 years)
Include any specialist expertise or skills that you want to gain along your career journey. This will help keep you focused on your overall goals.
Having a career plan and goals written down means that you can map out your career path and refer back to it when you need to.
It also keeps you focused on your goals and helps you move towards your career objectives.
Many people's career paths are often diagonal. Remain adaptable and open to experiencing new roles or projects that will help you reach your end career goal
Set achievable goals and milestones as part of your career path.
Don't compare how far along you are on your career path to how far others are.
By setting your sights firmly on your core values and ethics, you will be best suited to today's constantly evolving job market.
This will also mean you can react and adapt as organizations continue to change and develop.
Writing a career plan for your chosen career path isn't something you do once and then forget about.
Revisit your career plan once you have achieved one of your goals.
Revisiting your career plan also reminds you to celebrate achieving your career milestones. It gives you the motivation and encouragement to tackle the next stage of your chosen career path.
As you progress along your career path, remember to evaluate your milestones.
Ask yourself whether what you originally wrote remains true in the constantly evolving job market.
Choosing a career path may at first seem daunting.
Following a step-by-step process enables you to break down each stage and think about what you want career-wise.
Being clear on your values, work ethics and goals helps you make considered career choices and allows you to learn more about yourself.
Choosing a career path is a fun, positive step that takes you in a fulfilling, rewarding direction.