Written collaboratively by Alex Morris, Josh Quist, and Matt P Tripp
Imagine that you are in a maze. There are twists, turns, and dead-ends. It is easy to get lost once you have entered and time-consuming to get to the end.
In many ways, a person’s career path can be the same- a series of seemingly unconnected, perhaps haphazard, choices with no idea where the goal of a dream job hides, much less how to get there or how close (or far) an individual may be to stumbling upon it. They might wind up getting there or they might not. They might take years longer or they might become stuck in a job with a set of skills that bring them no closer to where they want to be.
Instead of wandering blindly, wouldn’t it be easier to simply take a look over the walls of the maze and get the big picture- catch a glimpse of the lay of the land, decide where you want to be relative to where you are and map out the shortest route to get there?
But people often neglect to assess their own location within their career path, where they want to be, and how to get there. These questions, though seldom asked, can provide an individual with significantly more direction as they address the next steps in their career, ensuring that time and resources will be well-spent making strides toward a target position and helping to avoid backtracking.
For example, consider the ramifications for selecting developmental activities. There are near endless choices: thousands of catalogs filed courses, books on every topic, and numerous on-the-job trainings. Availability certainly isn’t a problem- the real challenge is locating the right information. Without an idea of the standing in one’s career path, the sheer amount of information can be overwhelming, almost ensuring that the best information gets lost in the noise of lesser options.
Individuals may fall prey to the simplistic yet seductive thinking that each turn in the career maze is a solitary choice. Viewing each turn in a vacuum outside the career path makes it more likely that one will make decisions based on what is immediately accessible rather than what is best in the long run. Perhaps even scarier is the possibility that through unfocused training and auto-pilot advancement, an individual could find themselves at a dead-end in the maze of career paths, unable to get back onto their desired track without significant changes, time, and money.
The answer to this problem is for employees to peek above the maze of jobs, trainings, and tasks in order to get a better idea of where they would like to be. With this much needed additional perspective workers can begin planning out how best to advance along their career path in a meaningful and intentional way. While an individual might be able to accomplish this on their own through research and discussions with others, it would be much easier for employees if organizations helped them get the leg up needed to understand career paths.
The best and easiest thing an organization can provide to help their workers is a career path guide, map, or tool. Such resources help show employees potential positions they might be competent to perform or might enjoy performing, the shortest route to reach such positions, and even how to get started along that career path. Recommendations and information can be tailored specifically to the needs of the company, ensuring that an organization is able to select the most important or highest impact trainings or activities to better prepare their workforce. Hopefully, providing employees with such resources can help to best align their interests, preferences, and strengths with available positions thereby leading to a more capable, happier workforce. Additionally, it sends the message that the organization cares about its employees’ futures and wants to help them along their career path.
While career path guides, maps, or tools will all offer employees (and prospective employees) the tools they need to navigate an organization’s opportunities, the onus remains on the individual to actually take the initiative to begin. In other words, an organization can only offer the boost over the maze wall- the much needed perspective- but the individual has to actually decide to take advantage of the view.
Questions to Think About:
What kind of career support does your organization provide? What could your organization do to better support the careers of its workforce? How might career paths be able to help your organization or its employees? As a worker, would you want to see a resource such as a career path tool implemented at your organization? How would you use career paths to inform your developmental activities or job search?