How to Create a Career Path Development Plan

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Do you want a promotion? What is career path development? Why should you form a career path?

A career path framework is ideal for those who want to progress in their careers. Planning your career involves keeping track of knowledge and skills you may need to work at a certain level. 

Let’s look at how career path development works so you can advance your job.

What Is a Career Path Development Plan?

In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg says that a career path gives you a long-term dream that provides direction. For example, perhaps you want to travel or win a major prize. To improve yourself in the short term, Sandberg advises creating an 18-month plan, setting long-term and short-term goals for professional accomplishments as well as learning and improving personal skills. 

Sandberg claims that the traditional “ladder to success” doesn’t accurately reflect career path development plans. Rather, a jungle gym is a more apt metaphor for careers. People switch jobs, make lateral moves, and take more risks. 

Creating a Career Path Development Plan

When taking the necessary steps in your career plan, consider looking for jobs with growth potential even if it seems risky or the title is less prestigious. Taking risks is important because diverse experiences prepare you for leadership. To advance professionally, it’s necessary to be brave in the career jungle gym and go after what you want, advocating for yourself.

1. Set Career Goals

When developing your career path, you first want to consider the goals you want to achieve first. How do you set goals for yourself? Let’s start from the high level, and zoom down into little goals, as explained in The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz.

Visualize Your Future 10 Years from Now

Envision the most successful version of yourself 10 years from now. What do you want to have achieved? Try these questions:

  • Work: What kind of work am I doing? How much money do I want to make? How much responsibility do I want? How much public recognition do I want? 
  • Home: How comfortably do I want my family to live? What do we want from our free time? What kind of relationship do I have with my partner or spouse? What do I hope for my children?
  • Social: What are my closest friends like? How connected do I feel to my community? With what types of people do I spend my time?

Then think about specific details to make it real. Imagine the ideal job.

Don’t be afraid to dream big. You won’t achieve big things if you don’t first set big goals.

Create a 30-Day Improvement Plan

You can improve yourself a little at a time, as well. Successful people often set a series of small goals for their own self-improvement. Working on the little things gets you in shape for the big things. 

Set a 30-day plan focused on small changes.

  • List negative habits you want to break.
    • Examples: Watching TV; procrastinating.
  • List positive habits you want to acquire.
    • Examples: Smiling more; being more decisive.
  • List ways to increase your value to your employer.
    • Examples: Speak up in meetings; volunteer for tasks.
  • List ways to improve your home.
    • Examples: Set aside specific times for your family; compliment your spouse.
  • List ways to grow personally and think more sharply.
    • Examples: Read one book a week; have coffee with a successful friend.

Write down your self-improvement goals and give yourself 30 days to work on these improvements. Commit to doing all these things by this time next month.

Then take a look at your progress. You’ll see that building positive new habits and breaking old, negative habits is a day-to-day process that yields incredible rewards, little by little.

2. Find a Job

Now that you have a better sense of what you want out of your career, you’ll use this knowledge to find work. In What Color Is Your Parachute?, Richard N. Bolles gives two approaches to finding a job, and the second is far more effective:

  • Traditional. This approach involves starting with the job market⁠—searching for job postings online, sending out resumes, using employment agencies, networking, and so on.
  • Parachute. This approach involves starting with yourself⁠—using your goals to determine which careers match your interests and conducting informational interviews to learn more about potential careers and companies. Only then do you start looking for a job.

There are five steps to using your goals to find a job:

1. Determine possible career paths. Write your top five interests and skills on a sheet of paper and show the list to people you know and ask them what jobs or fields your list points toward. Ideally, speak to some people working within your interest field. For example, if one of your interests is gardening, speak with a gardener.

2. Research possible careers. In step 1, someone might have told you about a job that sounds perfect, but you won’t know if it really is perfect until you learn more. Therefore, the next step is to conduct informational interviews with people who are currently doing the job. Ask them how they got into the field, what they like and don’t like about it, how much training the job requires, what some related careers are, and who else you might talk to.

3. Find out what organizations hire for the job. Brainstorm broadly. For example, if you want to be a teacher, you’ll think of schools, but also consider things like corporate training, military bases, ESL associations, and so on. 

4. Find out what specific companies hire for the job. Make a list of companies that you think look interesting (regardless of whether or not they have open positions). To do this, keep talking to people⁠—friends, family, and informational interviewees⁠—and look online using search engines and LinkedIn.

5. Research specific companies. It’s important to research companies for two reasons: 1) to learn about an organization’s culture, working style, mission, and how you can be an asset to them, and 2) to determine if you would like to work for that company. To research, look online, read company materials, test-run companies by signing up with a temp agency or as a volunteer, and keep conducting informational interviews.

Ideally, after going through the five-step process, you’ll have discovered the existence of a job that meets your skillset. However, if that job is completely different from any jobs or fields you’ve worked in before, you might have trouble securing it because you have no experience.

In this situation, the best course of action is to move into your dream job in two steps⁠—first, switch fields, then, switch job titles, or vice versa. For example, if you’re an architect and you want to become a music teacher, instead of going directly to a music teacher role, find a stepping stone job such as designing soundproof practice rooms so you can gain experience in the field.

Online Presences and Resumes

Now that you know what job you’d like to do, the next step is to find an opportunity. The first thing to do is assess your online presence, because these days, employers learn just as much about you from the internet as they do from your resume.

There are four steps to creating a work-friendly online presence:

1. Delete. Search yourself online and read all the results. Delete anything you or anyone else posted that doesn’t show you in a favorable light.

2. Bolster. Add information to your existing online profiles to make them more complete and keep them updated. LinkedIn is a particularly important one.

3. Add. Put more information about yourself online. Join online forums and groups, start a professional blog or video series, and create new professional accounts on sites such as Twitter.

4. Summarize. Now that you’ve increased your online presence, you want to create a summary of the information for those who don’t have time to look through everything. You’ll do this by creating a resume. To create a resume, brainstorm a list of all your skills, experiences, and so on, consulting your goals if necessary. Write your resume content and format it professionally. Then, post the resume online. You can post it on major job boards such as Monster or on specific companies’ websites. You can also send it to specific postings or employers.

3. Find a Healthy Work-Life Balance

Finding a job is the hardest part, but now you actually have to start working. Many people struggle to find a healthy work-life balance, especially if their job is very important to them. This creates a situation where you’re always thinking about work, even if you’re not clocked in. That’s why it’s essential to counterbalance your work life and your life outside of the job, says Gary Keller in the book The One Thing.

Balancing all areas of your life at once keeps you from making an extraordinary commitment to anything. Yet the extremes are where exceptional achievement occurs. We instinctively know this, but don’t know how to manage our lives while pursuing the extraordinary. We swing back and forth between working too long and neglecting our personal life, and neglecting work to take care of family matters. Either way, we end up feeling we don’t “have a life.” 

Instead of trying to do everything at once or swinging between extremes, we need to counterbalance, which is what ballet dancers do. A ballerina may look like she’s balancing, but she’s really counterbalancing or making constant adjustments with her toes and ankles to create the effect she wants.

When you counterbalance, you focus on your job at work, and shift to another area only when you need to—say, your laundry at home. Like a ballerina, you remain aware of what’s happening and make adjustments as necessary one at a time.

How Counterbalancing Works

The question isn’t whether you allow aspects of your life to be out of balance while you focus on the most important thing in a particular area—it’s for how long: a short period or a long one. 

At work, go long—accept that achieving extraordinary results will require extraordinary focus on your most important task for long periods. This means allowing other work tasks to go undone for long periods, with only occasional counterbalancing or shifting focus to address the most pressing ones. This way, you won’t be thinking about the most pressing work tasks at home, because you’ll already be done with them by the time you clock out.

In your personal life, go short. The key is to be aware of personal and family needs and constantly counterbalance or switch your focus to address them. You can’t neglect your family, friends, and personal interests for long without causing irreparable damage. Shift back and forth quickly between personal priorities to ensure you’re leaving nothing unattended for long.

A Counterbalanced Life

To get the most important things done at work and at home, think of prioritizing in both places rather than balancing one against the other.

At work, be clear about your most important priority so you can get it done to focus on your priorities outside of work. At home, understand your priorities there so you can address them and go back to work.

Start living a counterbalanced life—let the right things take precedence and tackle the rest when you can.

4. How to Advance Your Career

Once you find a healthy balance (or counterbalance) that keeps your work life and personal life separate, you might be thinking about advancing your career. This isn’t necessarily a priority for everyone, but working for a promotion is a sense of accomplishment.

There are many ways you can advance your career on your own to develop your career path.

Develop the Necessary Skills

Continually upgrading your skills is one of the most important ways to get a promotion. Determine what you need to learn to do your job better and then learn it.

According to Brian Tracy in his book Eat That Frog!, developing your skills has multiple benefits:

  • It gives you confidence and motivation to plunge into challenging tasks without hesitation and get them done.
  • It enables you to avoid procrastination. A major reason for procrastinating is feeling inadequate in a key area. Weakness in one area can be enough to keep you from starting a task.
  • Upgrading your skills is a time saver. The better you are at something, the faster you are at getting it done. One additional skill or piece of information can make a big difference in how well you can do something
  • It will advance your career. To keep your job and to advance, you need to continually upgrade your skills in your key result areas. You can always expand your knowledge, and no matter how much you know today, your skills and knowledge are in the process of becoming obsolete.

Identify your most important tasks and capabilities, then draw up a plan to continually upgrade your skills in these areas. You can learn anything—from typing and computer proficiency to specialized knowledge in your field. Learning should be a priority. Basketball coach Pat Riley said, “Anytime you stop striving to get better, you’re bound to get worse.”

You can take courses and workshops, or earn certifications and advanced degrees in your field. But there are also several ways to make learning part of your routine:

1) Read about your field or industry daily. Also, read books and articles about personal development and productivity.

2) Take courses and seminars addressing skills you need. Attend conferences and business meetings of your profession or occupation. 

3) Listen to audio programs in your car. The average driver spends 500 to 1,000 hours a year on the road. Use this time to learn.

You build mental muscle or brain power by using your brain—so the more you learn, the more you expand your capacity to learn. The only limits to how far you can go are the limits of your imagination.

Keep Track of Progress

Along your journey, you should keep track of the skills you’ve learned and what needs improvement in order to achieve your goals. This can be helpful with a Bullet Journal, which you can learn how to use in Ryder Carroll’s The Bullet Journal Method.

When using your journal to monitor progress toward your goals, Carroll argues that there are endless opportunities for creativity in both the design itself and in what you choose to track. As long as what you’re tracking gives you valuable insight, you can track anything from your savings goals, to the books you read, to how often you exercise each month. 

Depending on what you track, Carroll recommends either creating an individual customized section or adding a tracker to your monthly overview. He says that tracking your progress through your monthly overview is especially useful for tracking your habits. To do this, first add a key for whatever habits you want to track (for example, R = Reading). Then, create columns to the right of your monthly overview calendar for each habit. Finally, add a task bullet for each date of the month that you can X off on the days you complete the task. 

Monitoring your progress yields valuable insights that can increase your self-awareness. One way in which you can glean these insights is by comparing your tracker to your daily records. (For example, you may realize after looking at your last daily record that you didn’t read yesterday because you were busier than normal.) Additionally, you can observe your habits over time to discover what’s working and what isn’t. (For instance, you may come to realize after tracking your reading habits that a goal of 30 minutes of reading per day is too unrealistic for your hectic schedule.)

Seek Out Feedback

In Ultralearning, Scott Young’s advice for advancing your career path is to aggressively pursue feedback and then filter it to take in what’s most useful. Feedback builds on the previous principle of self-testing: While testing yourself is a highly effective way to learn new information, feedback allows you to find out if what you’ve learned—and how you’re applying it—is correct. Young says you should seek out feedback by putting yourself in real-world situations where others will tell you what you need to work on. For example, if you’re learning how to write fiction, you might submit your work to an online writing community for critiquing.

Young writes that the least valuable type of feedback is feedback that appeals to your ego—praise can make you feel good but it may not be a constructive assessment of your skills. On the other hand, negative feedback can feel discouraging and impede learning. The most valuable type of feedback is corrective feedback, which tells you what you’re doing wrong and how to fix it. 

Absorb Career Guidance

In addition to feedback, seek out career guidance to improve your work, according to Lean In. There’s always someone out there who can give you advice or help you develop your career path. Learning from someone who you aspire is always a great way to move up in the world.

If you’re fortunate enough to have someone interested in helping you, behave with tact and courtesy. Be mindful of your mentor’s time; don’t just get together to catch up. The best use of a mentor’s time? Give them a problem to solve. Successful leaders are good at that! 

A mentor doesn’t always have to be a superstar senior exec. Career guidance can come from all around you. A subordinate can be incredibly helpful, and peers can mentor and sponsor one another. 

While not widespread, there is a positive trend toward companies offering official mentoring programs that work alongside other kinds of leadership and development training. Take advantage of these programs if one is available near you.

Decide If This Company Is Right For You

At the end of the day, you might wonder if there is another job or company that you’re more suited for. This doesn’t mean you’re regressing in your career—it just means there are better opportunities elsewhere for you at this point in your career.

Some certain jobs and situations inhibit your ability to amass career capital. In So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport says that if your current job has any of the following factors, you should look for a new job:

  • The job doesn’t give you enough opportunity to develop scarce and prized skills. 
  • The job is useless or immoral. While you could theoretically build up career capital at a job like this, you probably wouldn’t want to work there for as long as it would take.
  • The job involves working with disagreeable people. Again, while you could theoretically build up career capital at a job like this, you probably wouldn’t want to work there for as long as it would take.

When job hunting, remember to keep in mind all the progress you’ve made during your career path development. You aren’t looking for the same job at a different company—you’re looking for a better job with finer opportunities. 

Final Words

If you’re looking for a life-long career that you love, you deserve a career path that helps you achieve that. With these strategies, you can plan for career progression that will get you to the top.

Are there any other ways to develop a career path framework? If you think there are, let us know in the comments below!

How to Create a Career Path Development Plan

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Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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