How to Create a Successful Career Path

Finding the Correct Career Path is Integral to Your Career Plan

A career plan is a concrete document that sets the strategy for your entire career. Your career plan should include your goals for your careers, milestones you want to accomplish along the way, and the detailed steps you need to take in order to get there.

One of the key components of a career plan is your career path -- the sequence of jobs you will have along your career to your final destination. (The final destination of your career, not the pine box version). Just like the career plan, your career path should be forward-looking and planned out in advance.

One of the common mistakes people make when trying to develop a career path is making 'today' the starting point and trying to figure out what their next job will be. Although moving forward in time may seem like the most logical method of developing a career path, it is almost always extremely frustrating. How do you pick the right 'next step' job amongst the thousands of potential jobs you could pursue?

Start with success and work backwards from there

Instead of going forward in time, start with the final job you want, and then work backward from there. Identify your ideal career and your ideal job. What would you be doing? Is there a job title or specific company you are shooting for? What industry or industries would you be in? Would you be working for a small company, a Fortune 500 behemoth, a local charity, or would you own your own company? Where do you want the job to be; in a major city, near the ocean, a specific city or region? What type of income do you want to generate?

Start with Success…

Determine Your ‘Destination Job’

Answering the above questions will help you gain a better understanding of where you want to go. Take time to reflect on your answers and create a detailed vision of the destination of your career: your ‘destination job.’ Ultimately, the question of where you want your career path to take you is the single most important question to answer when developing your career plan. As the Cheshire Cat remarked, if you don’t know where you’re going, it really doesn’t matter what road you take.

Identify Models

Once you have your destination job in mind, look for people who have already made it to that position. Identify people who, through whatever process, have achieved the career success you are ultimately moving toward. These people will be your models for your career path, and the basis of your research. If your destination job is to be the Chief Financial Officer of a major auto manufacturer, then who better to research than the current CFOs of Ford, GM, Toyota, Tesla, and the like?

… And Work Backward from There

Identify the Last Step Job

For each of your models, look up their biographies to see what jobs they held before attaining their current position. If you start to see a pattern in the types of jobs and positions they’ve had most recently before the destination job, it is a safe bet you’ll need to be in a similar job in order to be qualified for your ideal career. This is your last step job, the job or type of job you need as the last step before you attain your career goal.

Reverse Engineer Your Career Path

Now that you know your last step job, look for people who have attained that job. Investigating their biographies will tell you the types of jobs which are needed to make it to the last step job. Keep repeating this process all the way back to where you currently are in your career.

Step Back and View Your Career Path

This reverse engineering process will take a while, but once you complete it, a step-by-step path will emerge for how to achieve your ideal career. You’ll have created a pathway for yourself of each job you will need from you current position to your destination job.

Revisit & Review Your Career Plan

Every year, you should revisit your career plan to see how you are doing on the path to your destination job. Review your successes and where you’ve fallen short that year, and see what your focus should be on in the next year. If you need to get promoted next year or make a lateral shift to another department, start by identifying the skills and education you will need in order to make that career move happen. Then build a mini plan to get those skills, through continuing education, volunteer work, side gigs, or special projects at your current job.

Take the Purposeful Finance Challenge

In just a few minutes a week, you can move toward financial independence. Each week you will receive a simple action item to take to improve your financial situation. Visit our challenge page and commit to build your financial plan one week at a time.