How To Choose a Career Path in 9 Steps (With Examples)
Many people reflect on their interests in skills in order to choose the right career path. Deciding on a career path allows you to attain the right education and experiences and develop necessary skills to succeed in your chosen field. It's important to reflect on your interests and career goals as you make certain life choices, such as which school to attend, which entry-level job is right for you or whether to obtain a postgraduate degree or specialized certification.
In this article, we define what a career path is, provide a nine-step guide detailing how to choose a career path depending on personal characteristics and offer some examples of career paths you can pursue within different industries.
What is a career path?
A career path is a plan detailing the positions you aim to hold as you advance in your field. Your first job or college degree, for example, can mark the beginning of your career path. As you gain additional knowledge and skills, you may progress, or move vertically, into more advanced roles. Some employees also move laterally into equal but different job roles as they specialize or change career paths.
Related: How To Navigate an Unconventional Career Path
How to choose a career path
Here are some steps you can follow as you develop your career path:
1. Outline your career goals
Before selecting a career, self-reflect by asking and answering guided questions. Active reflection helps narrow your choices into something more specific.
Consider asking yourself:
What do I want from my career?
What are my core values?
What activities do I most enjoy, professionally or in my free time?
What are my interests?
What are my strengths and aptitudes?
Do I want to specialize in certain technical skills or seek management roles?
Once you answer questions like these and any others that are important to you, you can better research potential career paths. It's also important to revisit your career goals as you grow personally and professionally to ensure your goals remain achievable and aligned with your interests.
Related: Setting Goals To Improve Your Career
2. Create a five- and 10-year plan
Once you've narrowed down your options, consider establishing milestones for your career. Research where other people in your field are at five or 10 years into their career, and make a note of the job titles they have. Decide what title or advancements you want to have at these future points. Then, research what you can do to reach those goals. You may undergo training programs, seek specific responsibilities or pursue prerequisite positions.
By establishing career goals, you can plan based on what progress you expect every year. Schedule time regularly to reflect on your career and goals.
Related: 7 Tools To Plan Your Career the Right Way
3. Discover your personality type
A personality type is a set of personality traits that you can organize into groups. There are multiple methods for discovering your personality type, many of which focus on your responses to different situations. Different personality types may naturally possess different interests and develop different strengths, including careers.
Different tests list common career choices for each personality type. If you take a variety of tests and one or two careers appear across multiple tests, that specific career is likely worth researching. Some popular tools you can use to identify your personality type include:
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator: This questionnaire is a self-reporting inventory that includes introspective questions to identify your psychological preferences. Using this information, the type indicator system classifies people based on four key dichotomies, allowing you to identify your personality type out of 16 options.
The Keirsey Temperament Sorter: While this self-assessment questionnaire is like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, it more closely identifies roles that match each temperament type. The questionnaire focuses on behaviors and temperaments rather than preferences.
The Jungian Type Index: The Jung Typology Test is a self-assessment that can summarize your personality type and recommended careers by identifying Jungian cognitive functions or explanations behind certain psychological preferences.
Related: Myers-Briggs Indicator: 16 Personality Types in the Workplace
4. Review your previous experience
Your job satisfaction in previous roles can also help guide your career choices. Identify trends in your previous positions, such as focusing on a specific technical skill. Also, review your job history to identify positions you found fulfilling.
Related: How To Get Hands-On Experience
5. Compare job requirements to your education
Many jobs have specific education requirements for candidates and new hires, such as obtaining a high school diploma, completing a bachelor's degree program or having a master's degree. Some positions also require candidates to have degrees in a specific field related to the position. Review the education requirements for jobs you're interested in and apply for jobs that accept your current level of education.
Related: What Are Job Requirements?
6. Assess your current skill set
Make a list of your current skills, certifications and areas of expertise. You can also ask coworkers and colleagues for feedback about your technical, interpersonal and people management skills. This evaluation can help you find careers that match your experience.
Related: Top 10 Skills To Put on Your Resume (With Examples)
7. Note your interests
Depending on your personality, you may have interests that are particularly tailored for different careers. Examine your hobbies, past volunteer experiences and interests to identify activities you enjoy. While this information is outside of a professional context, creating a list of activities can help you narrow down your career path. For example, you may enjoy a career in cybersecurity if you enjoy logic puzzles, or you may enjoy a traveling sales role if you like meeting new people.
Use this knowledge to apply for short-term positions or volunteer opportunities to explore new career options. This firsthand experience allows you to test your suitability for a career. If you're currently in school or have a job, consider taking a course or certification program that's helpful for a field that interests you. This experience can help you determine if the career's skills and content are something you enjoy.
8. Identify your core values
Identifying your core values can help you focus on a career you find fulfilling. It can also help you find fields or niche areas you enjoy. Consider making a list of qualities you think are important in a company or its employees. You can use this list to search for companies and job descriptions that share these values.
Related: Core Values in the Workplace: 84 Powerful Examples
9. Consider your salary needs
Different career paths can have a wide variety of incomes. This data can be a good start for determining how much money you might earn at first, as well as your earning potential after you've gained a certain amount of time and experience. While salary certainly doesn't guarantee an engaging, satisfying job, it's an important factor to consider when mapping your career path.
Related: 16 In-Demand High Salary Careers (With Salary Information)
Example career paths
Here are a few examples of career paths in various industries:
Education: Teacher → curriculum coordinator → assistant principal → principal
Retail: Sales associate → cashier → assistant manager → store manager → regional manager
Restaurant: Dishwasher → prep cook → line cook → sous chef → chef de cuisine → executive chef
Editorial: Intern → editorial assistant → assistant editor → editor → senior editor → executive editor → editor in chief
Human resources (HR): HR assistant → HR specialist → assistant director of HR → director of HR
Marketing: Public relations assistant → public relations representative → assistant director of PR → director of communications
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