How to Design your Career Path
by Gabriela Arriaga
When designing your career path, we need to consider planning from two different perspectives. It’s not all one-sided. The first, of course, is what you want in the short, medium, and long term. The second is what your employer, company, or field will need from you, also in the short, medium, and long term.
Identifying where you are right now will help you decide the next steps to take.
Often, your goals and the company’s will align. But if they aren’t pointing in the same direction, not even close, you may want to think more deeply about your career plan and start taking certain actions to create change.
Over the years, we may lose focus on our own goals while pursuing those of the company or other external commitments. But don’t worry about how far away you are from your final objective, it is never too late to begin, and is not impossible to achieve them.
The first step is to accept that you’re going to have to make some hard decisions if you really want to move forward. Then, you need to act.
Map the Path
- Let’s say that you are in A, you want to be in B, and your company wants you to be in C, and they aren’t really in the same direction.
This situation is certainly complicated, but you are not alone so keep reading.
If this is your case, you may be lacking proper communication between you and your team coordinator, manager, or coach about your professional growth.
Try opening up that conversation and exploring what options are available in your company. Determine if whether, at a certain point, those goals could align.
Work with your manager to see if any existing path is viable for both sides. Identify the implications that following that path may bring and the timeline it could demand.
If both sides are willing, it’s time to start planning!
- Another scenario is that both you and the company are pointing to a similar goal.
If this is the case, congrats! You may have saved yourself some friction, but the process is just getting started. The goal may be very difficult to achieve or could take a lot longer than you would like. Discuss your intentions with your team coordinator, manager, or coach to commit to this plan and its follow up.
Not all that glitters is gold
In both scenarios, I encourage you to talk with whoever is mentoring you on your professional growth. This is because not all paths are easy or possible. Sometimes corporate rules, project demand, or even a company’s vision or scope may hinder your progress. You need to be aware of this before you take on the challenge. Sometimes everything is moving forward smoothly, but it is not as good as you expected. In all scenarios, you need to be ready to negotiate and make decisions.
Growth Plan Structure
“Start from the end”
That phrase is key, and let me tell you why. To build a coherent plan, you need to set a clear goal. If you don’t have a goal, or you’re not sure of it, step back and consider it.
“How do I know what I want?”
Start by discarding what you’re sure you don’t want. Identify someone you admire and highlight what qualities and skills they possess that you admire. Then think about those qualities in yourself. Do you have them? At what level? Do you need to work and train to get them? Ok great! List them down!
Think about whether the role/profile of the person you chose as an inspiration is the one that you’d also like to have? Or it is only their skillset that you wish to emulate? Their technical or soft skills may be what you fundamentally admire.
If you do want their role/ profile, then I think you’ve got yourself a goal! But if you realize you were more interested in their skills, look at different profiles in your company, or even outside of your company, to find profiles that require those types of skills. One of those profiles could be “the one.”
Don’t worry if it doesn’t come to you in a flash. Maybe you can’t even choose one person to emulate, and that’s OK too. Think about the “Build to Order” production approach and make your own “Who I want to be” skill set. From there, look at the profiles that would allow you to develop those skills, identify up to three of them and start working with those.
Got your goals? Ok then, “let’s move forward, defining backward.”
Define your identified goal as your final expectation for your growth path. If you have two or three possible goal options, complete the following process for each one.
You start by ‘walking backward.’ Ask yourself: “what other roles/profiles would I have to take on before I could reach my goal?”
You’ll likely have to pass through some other ‘intermediary’ positions first. Depending on how far you are from that final target, you might identify two or three intermediary roles and even some ‘expertise’ levels within each profile.
Don’t worry if the plan will take years to complete. It’s OK, especially if you’re working toward a medium-long term goal. Start there and just keep going back until you get to where you are today. Your company may have some career development paths to follow. If not, search for other sources, I can guarantee you will find some ideas. Just don’t forget to coordinate and consult with whoever is coaching you on this process. Once you’re ready, you can start moving forward.
As your end-to-end plan may take a while to complete, I recommend you focus on up to three levels of the growth path you’ve mapped out at a time, starting from where you are today. Even just those three levels could require a couple of years of continuous improvement. Even so, halfway through, you may realize that it is not exactly what you thought it would be. Your goals could have even changed. So keep it realistic, simple, and flexible. Don’t obsess about a 5+ year growth path that may not happen, or may not happen exactly how you planned.
From those three levels, identify what skills and competencies are required for the next role/profile and compare them against the ones you already have. This will help you to determine the next steps you need to take to either learn and/or strengthen the technical and/or soft skills needed in that new role.
From that list of necessary skills and capabilities, choose no more than three of them to focus on per quarter or half-year. Get these done first and see how it goes. Don’t try to tackle too much at once, as you could get overwhelmed. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Then, moving forward, you can choose new skills to learn as you need.
“Going from Overalls to Specifics”
Now that you know what you want, let’s figure out how to get it. For that, we need to be consistent, realistic, and specific. Consider the next career steps you are working toward, how much time and effort you’re willing to commit to getting there, and the skills you’ll need to learn along the way. Follow these steps for each of the next levels.
- Establish the expected outcome (i.e. become a Scrum Master)
- Establish what success will look like in that role (i.e. having completed one successful project using agile methodology).
- Break down what you’ll need to do to achieve that success. Ask yourself:
- Whatskills will you need to learn, practice, and improve?
- Don’t just focus on technical knowledge. For balanced growth, soft skills are needed too.
- Howare you planning to get those new skills?
- Consider the set of activities that each skillset will require.
- Validation– How will you know when you’ve learned those new skills?
- Define measurable targets to identify success.
- Whatskills will you need to learn, practice, and improve?