How to Develop a Career Path Plan

by Sharon Elber

Career Path Plan

A career path plan (CPP), sometimes called a career path framework, is a way to be strategic about where you want to go in your career and more importantly, how to get there. A CPP helps you to translate your ultimate career ambitions into actionable goals to guide your career development in a strategic way.

Without a CPP, you are essentially allowing luck to dictate your ultimate career success. Instead, take time once a year to review and update your career path plan to make the most of your time at work, school, and even volunteer opportunities to build the skills you need to position yourself for your dream job.

Career Path Plans for Those New to the Workforce

If you are new to the job force, whether you are just finishing college or starting your first job while still in high school, thinking about your ultimate career ambitions can be a very helpful way to make decisions about what transitional jobs, course classes, majors, and even which student organizations to join.

However, although a CPP at this stage can be helpful, it is important to keep an open mind. You are likely in a period of discovery about your interests, passions, and strengths. As you grow, your ultimate career ambitions are likely to shift. Be sure to revisit your CPP often and work with resources such as career mentors, college advisors, and career services staff to develop your CPP.

Career Path Plans for Those Changing Careers

If you have identified that your current career is unfulfilling, being phased out, or simply not what you want to do with your life, then a career change may be inevitable. Taking the time to develop a solid CPP is critical to successfully changing careers midway through your working life.

Career Path Plans with Your Current Employer

If you are happy with your current employer and see a future for yourself through advancement from within, then take advantage of all of the internal resources possible to make sure you are successful in your advancement or in making the lateral moves you may need to achieve your ultimate career goals.

For example, your supervisor may include career planning as part of your annual review process. The Human Resource Department may help you to develop an organizational chart to more clearly see the potential paths to get to where you want to be (there is often more than a single way to go from A to B within a company). In addition, job shadowing may be an option within your company to learn more about the day-to-day work in other departments.

Even if you are not planning to stay with your current employer forever, that should not stop you from developing a career path plan that takes advantage of the current organizational structure you are working within. It is a chance to pick up new skills and training that will serve you in your career even if you ultimately seek employment somewhere else.


STEP 1: Identify Your Strengths and Passions

The first step in any well crafted CPP is to take an honest inventory of your strengths, interests, and passions. As with all of the steps in developing a career path development plan, it is best to do this in writing, using whatever format makes the most sense to you.

Here are a few guiding questions to help you think through this vital aspect of mapping your career ambitions:

  • What aspects of the work you are doing now, or have done in the past, have made you feel good about the time and energy you were investing?
  • What kinds of tasks do you find come easily? Conversely, what types of tasks did you find tedious, particularly challenging, or were just plain miserable?
  • Do you have any special talents that you want your ultimate career to take advantage of?
  • Have you developed certain professional interests, such as working with people or solving problems that you feel should be central to the work that you do?
  • What special skills have you already developed in your work or education thus far?
  • Have you ever felt a drive to go above and beyond on a certain project? Identify what it was about that project that fueled your professional passion.
  • When you imagine your dream job, what types of specific tasks and projects would you be working on?
  • Think about your ultimate life goals outside of work. Are there interests and passions such as travel or working with animals that you would like to see become a bigger part of your work life?

STEP 2: Identify Your Ideal Positions

Once you have taken the time to more clearly identify your strengths and passions, it will be easier to identify jobs that are likely to be satisfying and professionally fulfilling. At this stage of developing your career path plan, it is a good idea to make the list broad, rather than narrow. That is, list as many positions as you can think of, rather than choosing a single position. This will open up more opportunities as you progress on your path.

STEP 3: Research and Work with Mentors and HR

Research is an important component of this step in the CPP. Take a look at career websites, reach out on professional social media sites to talk to people who are already doing the type of work you want to do, and utilize connections you already have such as family and friends to learn more about the type of work you see yourself doing in the future.

If you have access to a career planner, either through your current job or your college or university, now is a good time to reach out to them for help identifying the types of positions that map on to your strengths and passions.

Your goal in this step of the CPP is to identify actual job positions, ideally developing a list of actual job titles. Once you have job titles, the following steps of developing your CPP will be much easier.

STEP 4: Identify the Skills, Education and Experience You Will Need

Now that you have a list of potential job titles it is time to start developing a list of skills, experience, and education that you will need to be competitive for your ultimate dream job. One of the best ways to do this is to start looking over sample resumes to see the kinds of skills and experience held by those most qualified for the position you aim to one day hold.

If you have started with multiple different types of jobs, you will want to develop this list for each. Pay particular attention to skills, education, and/or experience that is shared across many of your dream job titles. These are the types of professional accomplishments that will keep all of your career doors open and should be considered a priority in terms of developing your list of actionable goals.

Here are some tips to help you develop your skills, education, and experience list:

  • Research resume samples for the job title you are most interested in. What skills, education (degrees, classes, certifications, etc) are listed most frequently?
  • Consider working with your company’s HR team to get in touch with someone currently doing the type of work you want to be doing in 10 years. Ask them about the most important skills, work experiences, and education that they have taken on their career journey.
  • Reach out on professional social media sites such as LinkedIn to connect with professionals doing the type of work that you hope to do one day. Ask them to share about the most important skills, work experiences, and education that they have which gives them what they need to do their job every day.

STEP 5: Identify Clear and Actionable Goals

Now that you have taken the time to see what you will need to succeed in your ultimate career, it is time to develop a list of goals that will help you to get the skills, education, and work experiences you will need to be competitive in your ultimate career.

Key to this list is that it includes actionable goals that provide clear direction for ways to invest your time at work or school. This may require additional research such as identifying opportunities to take a particular certification course, identifying in house-training opportunities, or working with HR to identify a lateral move within your company to attain work experiences that are relevant to your ultimate career ambitions.

Here are some examples of strong, actionable goals:

  • Enroll in a specific degree program at a specific college.
  • Take a leadership development program offered by your employer.
  • Make a lateral move to a specific position in your current company to gain valuable work experiences.
  • Volunteer to take on specific responsibilities that give you access to developing a skillset or to other types of work.
  • Talk to your supervisor about working on a specific project that will allow you to have work experiences and build contacts with people at your current employment doing work that is closer to your ultimate career ambitions.

Goal setting is most effective when you also provide yourself with deadlines to achieve each action item. Although these may evolve over time, holding yourself accountable to dates is one way that you can follow in the footsteps of highly successful people.

STEP 6: Take Action Today

No matter how detailed and well intentioned your Career Path Plan is, it is all just theory until you actually start to take action. Be sure to identify some small, easy to accomplish goals so that you can dive into your professional development today.

You will find that by starting with some small, accomplishable goals, you will develop momentum towards your ultimate career ambitions. This will keep you motivated and driven.

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