Career Path Planning: Why it’s Important + Where to Start

Bruce Dorland

January 8, 2023

These days, it can feel that the only thing that is really constant is change. With all the amazing advances in technology, borders disappearing and the bar for knowledge increasing rapidly, it’s no surprise that we all have to keep ourselves in consistent personal and professional growth.

“Change is inevitable. Progress is optional.” – Tony Robbins

It can all be pretty overwhelming and even confusing at times, trying to figure out what is required to stay on top, engaged and fulfilled while at work. I’m here to tell you the more the you can employ the principles of an actual career management strategy with long term vision, the more benefits you will experience now.

My intention with this piece is to encourage you to take a stand for your career growth, and embrace the idea that the more you are intentional about creating and following a career pathing strategy, the more in demand your skills and knowledge will be. Having a job is fine and works, but your ability to invest in creating a career will maximize your opportunities for success. Proactivity is key.

Caveat: This is not to say you have to stick to your path should things change, but it is a call to action. Take control of your career. Consider yourself a business with a brand to promote and a service/product to sell. Then create a winning strategy for marketing your workplace value.

Ok, sure. Yes, all I have said makes logical sense, but the question may have crossed your mind – what the heck is a career path? Let me enlighten you. Career pathing is defining the destination you want to end up in your career and then developing a plan to get there.

That’s simple enough. But what does that mean? Well, let me break it down in a few steps so you can see what’s involved.

Develop a clear vision

In order to have a plan, you need to know where you are going. This is where having a destination is necessary – it’s a non-negotiable. What do you want? Have you sat down to truly figure out what you want out of your career? If you haven’t, I suggest you carve out some time to do so. Find a space where you can think, dream, write, nap, meditate, stretch out – whatever you need to get in touch with your desired future – and brainstorm. If you’re not the type of individual that can focus on your own, and need some help to get clear, I highly recommend you get in touch with a mentor, someone who you admire or a coach that can help prompt you with the right questions.

If you have an idea of what you don’t want, this is a really great place to start. It doesn’t provide enough clarity for your full vision, but it can really help you kickstart the vision that you want for your life and career. The clearer the better. Once your mind can see it in vivid detail, it can start to create answers to solve the problem of how to make it happen. Don’t feel that this needs to be an extremely long view of your career where you need to have everything mapped out for the next 20 years. As mentioned above, change is constant – you may change your mind on what appeals to you or even what you are skilled at. Be easy on yourself and expect to pivot.

Commit to your vision

Do not gloss over this step! You need to be able to commit to what you want to make happen. You need to have a fierce protection around the life you want to create. Once you get clear, you will find that the excuses and naysayers will come out of the woodwork. Are you committed to making the life you want happen? What are you willing to do and sacrifice to get what you want? Do you need to take some new courses and minimize your social schedule? Is it necessary to switch out your novel reading to something that applies to your career? Do you need to curb your mindless social media browsing to become more intentional and strategic about the channels you use? Having an accountability partner to help with this can be extremely helpful, especially if you know you need the support.

These two steps contribute to having a positive mindset that will catapult your belief in yourself. Methods to help overcome thoughts of not believing you are worthy of being where you are – affectionately called Imposter Syndrome – are critical to career success. I cannot stress this point enough. If you have not developed a strong mindset, I highly suggest you start to read books such as The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz, and getting help from a coach, therapist or other person that can be honest about your blind spots and provide support in your growth through them.

Once you’ve taken these steps, you can then implement a plan to make this happen. Take a long view of your career development! We spend so many of our waking hours at our workplaces, it is ridiculous to think we can leave it all to chance and be successful and fulfilled, all while adding value. The only way to continue being in demand and staying at the top of the knowledge game is to “up-level” your skills. Continuous learning is the only way to grow.

Please hear me! Continuous learning is the ONLY way to grow. If you are not proactive in your career, you WILL end up where your boss/manager wants you to end up. Picture yourself just out of school, or early into your career, where you’ve landed a job at a big name company where the pay is good and you have the support of a big organization and its resources behind you. Should you choose to get comfortable with your income, the type of job, the hours that you work, the perks that come with seniority, not wanting to manage people and being a part of the bigger conversations, you may end up in a role/company that is not innovative or exciting, and in career skill purgatory with very limited mobility.

Let’s play with this example to visualize what you could do to avoid career skill purgatory – here’s what a progressive career path might look like in this situation:

Map out a plan

It all begins with the end in mind. Take your vision and commitment and develop your map by working backwards from where you want to end up. If you trust your manager, proactively engage your boss in a discussion about your career goals, and collaborate to create a career development plan at your workplace. This will take some time. Be aware that the organization you work for may not be equipped with the tools to provide a lot of feedback here. You may have to seek out a third party, such as a mentor, career coach or a human resources team member.

In the case of our excited employee, one of the best perks you can take advantage of in a larger company is the structure. A larger company usually has really well established HR policies around performance management and career growth. Speak with your manager before performance review time and have a frank discussion about what’s possible and where you want to go in the company. A great question to ask is, “What does success look like in this role?”

Investigate requirements

Take the time to define short AND long term requirements. It will be necessary to understand the education, skills, technology and experience needed. Once you understand what is required, you will be able to develop interim career plans for achieving your long-term career goals.

Back to our example. Research is your best friend. You are all problem solvers – get online and use your search skills. Look at job postings. Talk to people in the roles that you want or aspire to. Then take advantage of the benefits your company may have to help you in education or knowledge gathering/sharing at conferences and other events. Ask yourself, “What are the things that I need to do to get to the next level?” “What do I love about the possibilities in these roles?”

Take advantage of opportunities

Put yourself out there for things that are aligned with where you want to go. Can you provide some insights for other projects? Are you able to help other team members in a way that empowers? Step into leadership roles, even if they are on volunteer committees. I am not asking you to add a lot of extra stuff to your plate so all you are doing is working, but I am asking you to step up in opportunities that light you up, and can showcase the value you are able to add.

Skill building is so key. Is there an office lunch and learn committee you’re super interested in? Join it. Are you excited about a project that needs volunteers or support? Ask to be involved. Have a cause that is dear to your heart? Volunteer at the charity that supports it. Many charities do not have the resources or team members to take advantage of the amazing technology that would help them in the pursuit of funds and support to really make a lasting impact. There is a myriad of ways to stand up and be a leader. The only way to know that they are available is if you put yourself out there and pay attention. Now, please make sure that you are not doing this just for the sake of doing this. Your heart has got to be in it, or people will feel your resistance.


Then you network. And you network. And then you network some more. I could write so much about this step alone. Not only does this keep your visibility up, especially when you don’t need anything, it allows you to better your communication skills, keep up-to-date on what’s going on in your circles, company, and industry, and connects you with more people that can keep you committed and on plan. Request one-on-one informational meetings with colleagues and managers. Attend industry specific events that allow you to meet and speak with people who you can learn from. Don’t ever stop – this should always be happening.

Back to our example. Network within your company. Since you are now more involved at work, and helping on different committees and projects, make sure you are getting to know the people you work with. Make an effort to know people that are in different departments – don’t just stay comfortable in your team. Attend Meetups. Engage with social media groups. Get involved in things that are industry- or job-specific so you can stay relevant and in the know with what’s happening. Develop your thoughts on these trends and start to share your thoughts. It’s important to add value where you are, and the best way to do that is to have knowledge and knowing where to apply that for maximum positive impact. Best way to do that is to talk with people who know.

These steps are ones that anyone can take, and are extremely useful for taking charge of your career now. Don’t leave your career path to chance, or the vision of your boss. Get clear on your values, get clear on your goals, get clear on what you are willing to do to get there, and then go out and get it. This may be a stretch for you. Putting yourself out there can be extremely hard and uncomfortable – vulnerability can be a scary thing. If you identify as more of an introvert, or you just don’t know what to ask for, coaching can be a really effective tool to support you in putting yourself out there and asking for what you need.

These simple methods will help you stay confident in your role, visible to the “powers that be”, and allow you to grow your skill set to stay relevant and valuable. Don’t underestimate the power that you have over your career. The truth is that your company and/or boss can define where you end up only if you let them.

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