Mapping your career path

In my previous posts on managing one’s own career, I mentioned that a great way to measure your progress in career is tracking it against your desired career growth path. This is a great way because it provides us with the most direct way of mesuring the return on the time and talent investment we are doing in current job. However, this raises the question: how do I create the map of my career path so that I can track my progress against it. Easier said than done, right?

Here are the ingredients I have used to map my own career and of people who have asked me for career advice:

  1. Your value system: These are the set of values you live your life with (or want to live with). They define who you are, and what are acceptable and unacceptable paths of life for you. 
  2. Your life goal: Every career map needs a rallying point: the major objective of life, the reason you want to live and feel motivated to work at all. Defining this takes effort, but this needs to be a clearly defined (and mentally visible) goal ‘significantly’ down the road.

    Your strengths and weaknesses: These are the foundations on which you will build your career, so it is essential you know them well. A good career map uses the strengths and avoids the weaknesses.

  3. Your likes and dislikes: A great career path is sustainable only when you do what you like to do, at least most of the time. So it is useful to know them in advance.
  4. Your current and desired skills: What skills you possess and are working towards are necessary to determine a starting point of the career as well as direction of career change at any given point of time.

If you know all of these aspects of your life, mapping a career path can be broken like this:

  1. Break the goal into 1-2 yr milestones, each milestone should be defined in a SMART way. This is the hardest part because this needs to take care of your value system as well as your strengths profile. A project management approach will help here, so will involving a career counselor or a mentor.
  2. For the immediate milestone, figure out what you need to be doing now in order to reach there. This may mean changing your role or company or both, so this is a careful decision. Also, this needs to make sure your likes and dislikes are taken care of, because this will involve learning new skills and it better be in an  area you like.
  3. Write down your plan for next 12 months and make sure you discuss with your manager so that he/she understands your aspirations. If he/she is not bought in, it may be much more difficult to achieve.

Make sure you review this entire plan as well as the ingredients above every quarter or so (depends on the pace at which your company/project/life is moving). Be open for changing any of these. Typically the value system will not change at all, goal will change very slowly, and others can change rapidly.

What has been your recipe for career planning? Do you think career can be planned? I will be interested in knowing your thoughts about this.

8 thoughts on “Mapping your career path

  1. I came across this your article today and really your thoughts are very realistic and helpful in developing a good vision for career and life.

    I am at stage in my career where i am stuck and see no learning and growth . Employer wants me to do what they want to build my career in technical area rather in management. Employer says that they cant give me that career path due to the business reasons.

    Please advice.


    1. I came across this article today and found it very realistic and helpful in developing a good vision for career and life.

      I am at a stage in my career where i am stuck and see no learning and growth . Employer wants me to do what they want from me ( managing a team of 8 people with not much work in my interest area) but I want to build my career in core technical area rather in management. Employer says that they cant give me that career path due to the business reasons. Altough there are people in company who are making advances in technical career.

      Please advice.

      1. Hi Umesh,

        It is normal for employers to focus on their own (organization’s) goals when assigning role to you. Without knowing too much details about your particular situation (work domain, your strengths and passion, organization state, etc.), let me comment briefly:
        Organizations find it hard to take an employee from an area of expertise (in your case, managing this team) and put them into a new area, because it creates a void in the original place and also makes this person in the new role unproductive for a while. However, you can help in 2 ways that will make it easier for the organization to make this change:
        1. You should train someone in your team who can be the next leader when you are gone. Given that you have 8 people, chances are high that this team will have 1-2 people who will have interest and capability to lead (at least technically) the remaining people. Once you train them, your departure will not cause any problem for the organization.
        2. You should identify a complex technical problem that is large in scope and influence (# of stakeholders, criticality to the company etc.) and offer to solve this problem, while holding your current role. This will stretch you for a while, but if you have done #1 well, it will give an opportunity to your new leads to demonstrate their ability while you focus on this complex task. If you do this task well and solve the problem, it establishes you as a problem solver for the team, which is a highly sought after skill in a team and the organization should be willing to let you do it full time (esp. when they see there are others who can pick your previous job).

        You can drop me a mail if you would like to discuss this further.

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