How to choose a career path in 8 steps (with types)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 26 October 2022

Published 20 May 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Choosing a career path is a guaranteed way of developing your skills, education, experience and working in a job that you enjoy. Your career plays a huge role in determining your quality of life, and a suitable career can make your life more satisfying. Fortunately, choosing a career is easy, and you only need to pick a career path that will positively impact your well-being and happiness. In this article, we'll discuss what a career path is and how you can choose yours.

What is a career path?

A career path is a career development strategy or a series of jobs that can lead you to achieve your short and long-term career objectives. It could be a linear path that includes several jobs in a similar field, or a nonlinear one where you periodically change fields to meet your career or personal goals by building the right skills and experience. Traditionally, a career path symbolised vertical growth or advancement to higher-level positions, but it could also symbolise lateral (sideways) movement inside one or several industries. A career path represents your route to your desired job as you traverse several jobs either through an industry or a particular organisation.

Related: How to find ideas for a job and fulfilling career path

Types of career paths

The following are the typical career paths you can take depending on the career you choose:

Specialist

The skills you require while becoming a specialist are usually niche. Therefore, someone following this career path will rarely change jobs or may work in the same field until they learn the skills necessary to become a specialist.

Proprietary knowledge

In this career path, you may require learning specific knowledge that can help you work in a particular industry such as learning a product based on the technology of one vendor. This means that you may have to work with a single vendor and will rarely change careers to improve your skills.

Generalists

You can choose a generalist career path that involves understanding the first principles in multiple areas. This can make you highly marketable since you can work for multiple stakeholders. In this career path, you can change roles multiple times to become good managers and executive managers.

Related: Generalist vs. specialist: differences, pros and cons

Creative and entrepreneurship

Most people often associate creative roles with success, as they can seem to be personally fulfilling. However, the competition is high and you may require advanced skills to succeed. Your career path could start as an employee to learn the skills you need to build your products or services.

Administrative

For an administrative role, you can start as an administrative assistant, and then become an executive assistant before being promoted to the role of an office manager.

Advertising

Within the advertising field, you could start as an advertising account coordinator, then become an assistant account executive, later on, an account executive and finally a senior account executive.

Communications

In the retail field, you can start as a public relations assistant, then become a public relations representative, then an assistant director of public relations, and finally the director of communications.

Related: How to become a communications assistant (with skills)

Customer service

In the customer service sector, you can begin as a customer service representative, then an inside salesperson, later on, an outside salesperson, then become a major account salesperson, before finally being promoted to a regional sales manager.

Editing

Within the editorial industry, you could begin as an editorial assistant, then become an assistant editor, then an associate editor, then an editor, and later on a senior editor before finally becoming the editorial director.

Engineering

In the engineering field, you can start as a junior engineer, then become a senior engineer, then a project manager, and later on get promoted to become an engineering consultant.

Human resource management

Within the human resources sector you can begin as a human resources assistant, then become a benefits assistant, later on, a benefits specialist, then an assistant director of human resources, and later on get the senior position of director of human resources.

Related: How to become a human resource specialist (with duties)

Retail

In the retail sector, you can start as a retail sales clerk, then an assistant manager, then a department manager, and later on a store manager before being promoted into the role of regional manager.

How to choose a career path

A career development plan or path helps you to avoid impulsive mistakes and to know when it is time to look for new opportunities or grow new skills. You can use the following process at any stage in your life to map out your career journey:

1. Assess yourself

It is important to first learn about yourself before you can venture out to find a career path that fits you. This includes discovering your personality type, values, beliefs, soft skills, aptitudes and interests. The qualities you discover about yourself will inform you about the occupations that could be fit for you and the ones that could be inappropriate.

Use a wide range of career tests and self-assessment tools to know more about yourself. You can engage the services of a career development professional or career counsellor if you cannot figure out how to assess yourself.

Related: 10 valuable soft skills that you need to succeed in your career

2. List down the occupations you want to explore

You probably have many ideas of where you'd like to work based on the many personal qualities you identified during the first step. Combine them into an overall list to ensure stay organised. Afterwards, scan for career paths that you have listed multiple times and write them on a fresh page. Then label them as occupations you'd like to explore.

Next, identify the careers in your list that you find appealing. They could be the occupations that you have some information on and want to explore deeply. Include also the ones that you have little knowledge of but are interested in as they could enable you to learn new things.

3. Explore the occupations you listed

By the time you get to this step, you will be thrilled to have narrowed down your list to a handful of occupations. It's now time to research each of the occupations. Start by looking for job descriptions and training, educational and licensing requirements. Learn about the opportunities for advancement you will have in each of the careers. Finally, search for government-produced labour information about the potential earnings and general job outlook of each of the careers.

Related: Why is learning by experience important for your career?

4. Create a shortlist

When you have garnered all the information, you can find about the occupations, narrow them down. This process involves eliminating the careers starting with those you have zero desire of pursuing any further. You can pick out four or five occupations that you are sure you should go for and label them as your shortlist.

During the elimination process, cross out all the careers that do not meet your standards. Eliminate those whose job outlooks are unappealing. Ensure that you also remove those whose educational or other requirements you might be unable or unwilling to meet.

Related: 16 types of jobs to help you choose the right career path

5. Conduct informational interviews

This step will be easier when you have a few occupations left. You can start digging deeper to know how it feels to work in the said occupations. Look for individuals who have worked in those jobs for some time and can share credible information. They will give you firsthand details about their experiences in the said jobs and you can then judge for yourself whether they are worth pursuing. You should check for such individuals within your professional and social networks.

6. Make a career choice

After conducting in-depth research, you are finally ready to select a career worthy of your skills and qualities. Pick one that offers you the best chance of getting the satisfaction you will need out of a job. Make the choice freely, as you can always change careers when you feel you need to. You may even change careers a few times in your lifetime.

Related: How to change careers

7. Highlight your goals

After you have chosen a career path you think fits you best, it's time to align it with your short and long-term goals. This can help you determine how and when you will get employed in the sector. You can target to achieve your short-term goals within six months to three years and the long-term ones after three to five years. The research about the occupations' educational and other requirements should guide your goals. For instance, you can target to finish education and training, with the short-term goals being applying to the training programs.

Related: Top tips for successful career progression

8. Write your career path action plan

A career action plan is a written document that outlines each of the things you need to do to achieve your goals. It is a road map that will take you to your destination. Include all your short and long-term goals in the plan and the steps for accomplishing each of them. Write out the barriers that you expect on the way as well as how you can overcome them.

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