Career Paths: 6 Ways to Develop Employee Careers

Building a customized career path for each of your employees encourages them to submit valuable work and develop skills to advance in their role. Establishing clear career paths helps retain quality employees who are driven to meet career goals and improve their performance. Learn more about what career paths are, discover how companies benefit from them and view tips for managers to help employees develop career goals.


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What is a career path?

A career path is a career development program employees follow to advance in their role at your company. This is a timeline that provides short- and long-term goals for them to accomplish to move up in their position. Each career path is customized and catered toward an employee’s unique goals and skills. This roadmap starts from the employee’s lower-level role and provides a detailed plan to get them to a higher-level position.

Having a structured plan allows employees to better visualize their advancement in the company by seeing milestones they need to reach. A career path tells employees exactly which skills, experience and knowledge are required for each promotion and higher-level role they pursue. Giving employees a career path to follow shows that leadership cares about their employees’ accomplishments and success.

Related: Saying Congratulations on a Team Member’s Promotion


How companies benefit from employee career paths

Developing and implementing career paths for your employees gives them the motivation to submit valuable work and stay with the company. Other common benefits of implementing employee career paths are:

  • Attracting quality employees: Knowing there are guaranteed opportunities for advancement encourages more driven and motivated employees to apply to your company. 
  • Boosting employee engagement: Giving employees plenty of advancement opportunities leads to a positive and motivating work environment, which spreads throughout your team. Employees also feel more driven to collaborate and work as a team to deliver quality projects. 
  • Reducing employee turnover: Laying out a clear career path for employees tells them that if they meet certain milestones and goals, they’ll move up in their role. This drives employees to stay long-term with the company as they continue reaching goals, developing skills and advancing in their career.
  • Improving employee performance: Achieving milestones and moving up in their role helps employees improve their skills and deliver quality work, which contributes to the company’s overall performance.
  • Building an employee-centric culture: Giving employees career paths to follow and providing the resources to help them meet their goals is an effective way to show that your company commits to employees’ success and well-being. This makes employees feel more appreciated and valued, which leads to impressive performance results and higher retention rates. 

Types of career paths

When creating a career path for your employee, you must first collaborate with them to determine how they prefer to advance in the company. There are many career growth opportunities available depending on an employee’s career goals, skills, knowledge and field. Common types of career paths include:

  • Vertical: This is typically the most traditional career path, which involves moving up within your specific field. For instance, an employee would advance from marketing coordinator to marketing manager to director of marketing. 
  • Horizontal: In this career path, employees move from one department to another developing a well-rounded skill set and a wide knowledge of different positions. Horizontal career paths are great for entry-level employees still learning which career is right for them. It also allows them to gain experience in numerous areas before moving upwards into leadership roles.
  • Dual career ladders: This career path provides employees with promotions and raises without placing them in supervisory positions. It’s a great solution for employees who want to continue advancing their career, but aren’t interested in or well suited for a management position. 
  • Scaled back career: Some employees may decide that moving down the career ladder is the best option for them. This is beneficial for employees who find the tasks in their role uninteresting, feel their role is too fast-paced or want to consider working in a different position within the company. A scaled back career path helps employees take a moment to evaluate their current responsibilities and determine if they want to continue working in this position or industry. 

Tips for managers to help employees reach their career goals

As a manager, it’s important for you to support your employees as they advance in their role and improve their skill sets. Follow these tips to help employees accomplish their career goals:


Build a career development plan and roadmap

Work one-on-one with your employee to understand their career goals. Then, collaborate with them to build a customized career roadmap and career development plan that represents how they’ll move up in the company once they hit certain milestones. Build a diagram to help them better picture the order of roles they can advance to. It also helps if you have an organizational chart that outlines the hierarchy of each employee and their current position. This allows the employee to better understand where they fit within the organization.


Set clear goals for the employee to meet 

Clearly define the performance standards you expect the employee to meet. Evaluate the employee’s current strengths, skills, knowledge and experience. This helps you better understand certain improvements to add as goals. Think about the skills needed to be successful in the roles the employee is interested in. Ask your employee which goals they want to achieve in their role and where they see themselves in their career over the next few years.


Communicate this plan to your employee

Work with the employee to develop clear milestones to hit, communicate deadlines for each goal and plan regular one-on-one meetings to discuss the employee’s progress. Communicating your plan to employees and plotting out each goal for them to hit by a specific date helps them stay on track and hold themselves accountable.

Be sure to add training and development milestones to your plan as well. This provides employees with the necessary resources to improve their performance and knowledge. Possible training and development opportunities to offer include leadership training courses, mentorship programs, industry conferences and software training classes.


Track and optimize employee performance 

After incorporating one-on-one meetings into your plan, follow through by sitting down with employees at the scheduled times to discuss their performance. Praise them for being on track with their performance goals and provide guidance and resources if they’re falling behind. Try to keep the conversation positive and avoid disciplining employees for failing to meet goals.

Focus on ways to help them improve and meet their performance goals next time. Encourage the employee to let you know which challenges are keeping them from meeting milestones. You may need to adjust their goals and deadlines accordingly to meet their needs, challenges and skill level.


Give employees opportunities to learn about different roles

If you’re in charge of entry-level employees hoping to grow and learn more about careers within the company, develop a mentorship and job shadowing program to give them hands-on experience in leadership positions. Ask employees which higher-level roles they’d like to serve in one day, then work with leadership members to set up programs for employees to shadow executives, learn new skills and ask in-depth questions about the role.

This motivates your employees to pursue their goal of working in that role one day. It also helps them realize if they want to work toward a different position within the company instead. Another option is to start a job rotation program that lets employees shift to different roles occasionally to learn their daily tasks, gain new skills and better understand how the company functions.

Related: Promotion Announcement Emails: a Sample for Your Business


Encourage a healthy work-life balance 

Hard work is essential for employees to find success in their career. It’s important to communicate to employees that they can work hard while still maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Teach them strategies to maximize efficiencies and prioritize tasks effectively, so they will have more time to spend on their hobbies and interests, rather than completing work tasks. Emphasize the importance of keeping your brain and body healthy by taking regular breaks, getting adequate sleep each night and eating a healthy diet.

Encouraging your employees to maintain work-life balance helps them understand that they don’t have to work excessive hours to move up in their role. As more employees maintain a healthy work-life balance, you’ll notice them feel more energized to meet goals and to submit valuable work.

As you develop a career path for each employee, be sure to provide them with ongoing encouragement and resources to help them reach their goals. Being in a positive, collaborative environment makes employees want to stay with your company long-term as they advance and improve their performance.

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