3 Steps to Mapping Your Career Path

Hallie Crawford

You are your greatest asset, and as an extension of that, your job is one of your best assets, too.

Like any asset, your career is something you must take care of and nurture so that it keeps its worth over the long haul. When you treat your job like an asset -- one you will give to, but also one that you want to work for you in return -- you will be better able to make the right decisions about your career in the long term.

In order for your career to be an asset, it must be fulfilling to you and provide the rewards you want -- financial and otherwise. And in return, you must remain challenged and marketable to continue to be successful.

How can you make sure your career is truly an asset, and treat it as such? Making a strategic career plan is a critical first step.

What is a career plan? A career plan is a map we develop to plan for where we want to be in the future. To begin, you must understand and be able to visualize where you see yourself in the business world in one year, three years and five years. (Start by envisioning where you see yourself in five years, and then work your way back.) Review your career plan quarterly to ensure you are on track and make adjustments as necessary to your plan.

When you are ready to work on your career plan, start the process by informally working through the following three exercises. Simply journal about these for 30 minutes to get some thoughts down on paper.

What you come up with will help you formulate your more formal strategic plan. It will also get your thoughts and ideas flowing first, so that you can shape them into that structured plan. Sometimes if we sit down and try to create a structured plan right away, it stifles our creativity and our ability to think outside the box. So begin with a free-flowing exercise using the questions below:

Who are you? Self-awareness is critical to having a successful career plan that will leave you feeling fulfilled. Your values, strengths, interests and compensation are building blocks that make up the cornerstone of fulfillment in your career.

Other building blocks to a successful career include your education, experience and knowledge of your personality type and the right work environment for you. Knowing these things about yourself helps you understand the elements you want in a career and personal brand.

Action tip: First, identify your career values by asking yourself which work tasks you truly enjoy. Also identify your strengths and interests. Then clarify how you can honor your career values in a job long term; which strengths you want to use on a regular basis and how often during the course of your workday; and finally, which interests you want to incorporate into a job.

Where are you going? To answer this question, you need to define what success means to you. Is it becoming an entrepreneur, helping others in some way, being part of a thriving department in a large organization or something else?

By identifying what success means to you, you may find that your current job is not giving you what you want. For example, if you are not using any of your strengths in your current job, or if your work lacks meaning, it's not the right fit. Or if success to you means also having a family, and your current job is impeding that, it's not a long-term fit.

If you will not make as much money as you'd like to on your current trajectory, you need to evaluate whether or not that's OK with you. The key is understanding what you want and need and actively choosing your course based on those criteria.

Action tip: Write down what success means to you, and then ask yourself if your current job and its long-term trajectory will help you achieve that success.

How will you get there? This is where your one-, three- and five-year plans will start taking shape. Based on what you wrote about above, start to identify what action steps you need to take. Consider the experiences and skills you will need to acquire over the next few years to achieve what you want. Brainstorm how networking, training or education can help you achieve those goals. Think about what skills you can acquire or perfect, such as communication skills, motivating others or managing change. What kind of support system do you need to create to get there? Which friends and family members can help keep you on track?

It's also important to identify any roadblocks you may encounter on your way to career success for each year's plan. Think about how you can handle them or even avoid them if possible. Take a few minutes in this step to brainstorm all possible ways you can achieve your goals, and just get your ideas on paper.

Action tip: In this final step, keeping your five-year vision in mind, write down five big goals, and two or three action steps under each goal to start framing your more formal plan. Next, talk to a supportive friend, partner or family member about your plan this week. Using their feedback and input, make changes to your thoughts, then get started on your formal plan!

Hallie Crawford is a certified career coach, speaker and author from Atlanta whose coaching company, HallieCrawford.com, helps people identify their ideal career path, navigate their career transition and nurture their careers. Her team of coaches works with people of all ages, has clients worldwide and has helped thousands of people achieve their career goals. She is also regularly featured as a career expert in the media, including CNN, Fox Business News, The Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger and Forbes.com.