Ever Wondered Just What People Mean When They Say Career Path? You Are Not Alone
It starts in high school. Guidance counselors start talking to you about the classes you need to prepare you for your career path. Most likely you are confused at that point. You plan on graduating, getting a job or going to college and probably know what field you’d like to work in eventually. What is this career path that they keep mentioning? In simple terms, it means the way you plan on getting from where you are today to that ultimate career you want to spend your life doing.
We Start By Defining Exactly What a Career Is
A career is an occupation that lasts for many years. It is the ultimate way in which you earn your living but it also offers growth. In most instances, this position requires training and many years making your way from the bottom rung of a ladder to the top, or wherever you want to rest. Very often, a career is based on a lifelong dream to spend your time and energy in a particular field.
The Difference Between a Career and a Job
There are several differences between a job and a career.
*A job is something you do simply for the paycheck. A career involves working toward a lifetime goal by gaining experience.
*A job is something you don’t plan on sticking with and you will most likely be doing something completely unrelated in five years. A career will involve you using your current position as a stepping-stone toward a higher position in the same or related industry.
*In a job, you are there to get through the day and get paid at the end of the pay period. In a career, your aim is to learn, improve your skills and eventually move up the ladder over time.
*The people you meet on a job aren’t likely to be much help in the way of networking. They are all most likely going to move on to completely unrelated positions. Those you meet in a career-related position are apt to pop up again somewhere down the road as they are following the same path.
* A job is something you invest very little emotional energy into. While pursuing a career, you invest emotions into your everyday activities.
Let’s look at an example of a job versus a career. John and Frank just graduated high school. John wants to attend college and eventually go into law while Frank dreams of going to culinary school and eventually opening his own restaurant. Both get jobs in the kitchen of a local restaurant for the summer.
John is working to earn some money before he goes off to college. This is a job for him, one that he doesn’t plan on keeping past the summer. He goes to work, does what he’s been hired to do and leaves. In contrast, Frank does what he’s been hired to do, but when he has some downtime, he helps workers in other jobs so he can learn what they do. He works overtime and is always looking to improve his skills. He puts aside what he can in the way of money to cover culinary school. Before long, he has moved from salad preparation to preparing soups and other easy dishes. His hope is that his next step will be to actually attend culinary school and advance to head cook. Frank is on his career path.
Does a Career Need to Be in One Industry?
A career does not necessarily mean staying in the same industry, but it does involve staying in related areas. This can best be explained by an example. Sara is a Political Science major. She has always thought she wanted to get into politics but while taking some Criminal Justice classes, she found she also enjoyed the law. She applied for law school and was accepted.
Upon receiving her law degree, she joined a firm that offered low-income individuals legal representation. From there, she became a public defender and was noticed by a major law firm and made into a partner. Still wanting to enter politics, she ran for City Council and won. Next, she ran for Mayor and won. Eventually, she worked her way up to Congress. Once her term ended, she took a job teaching law classes at a local college. Her career followed a path that went from law to politics to teaching, yet each step led to the next.
The Focus is Not Always on Where You are Now, But Where You Want to Be in the Future
Where a career is concerned, the position you are in now may seem far removed from what your ultimate goal happens to be. This does not mean it isn’t a viable part of the career path. What matters is that your next goal gets you a bit closer to that final goal. Some people make a direct path and others end up going around a few curves before they reach that final goal.
Does a Career Path Need to Begin With Your Educational Background?
Your educational background does not necessarily indicate where your career path is leading. It can be helpful if the background is the same, but what matters is what steps you take along the way.
Going from earning a degree to working in that field gives you the advantage of entering the field at a level that may be higher than someone who does not have that specialized training. You are more familiar with the work you are doing and won’t need to get additional training to qualify.
Not going into the same field, however, can give you the advantage of bringing fresh insight into the field you do enter. It can also result in you entering a certain field through the back door, eliminating some of the competition. Sometimes a skill you have been trained for translates well into another field that is more to your liking.
Does a Career Path Need to Be in One Organization?
A career path can be in one organization but this isn’t always the case. What matters is what your goal demands. If your ultimate goal is to run a Fortune 500 company, then reaching that position can be where your path ends. In other cases, however, once you have gone as far as you can in one company, your goals may not be able to be realized if you stay. Let’s look back at Frank. His ultimate goal is to become a chef and own his own restaurant. Where he is working now, he may be able to rise to head cook and eventually restaurant manager, but that isn’t owning the restaurant. Once he has reached that point, he needs to move away from this restaurant in order to advance further toward owning his own place.
Does a Career Path Need to Be Planned Far in Advance?
Life planning is a tricky endeavor. You may know exactly what you want to do with your life and where you want to go. That is, you know that today. As you grow as a person, however, those ideas may change. In addition, life doesn’t always flow nicely according to the plans we make. When it comes to career planning, it helps to have an idea of where you want to end up. You can even set down a timetable to work towards and plan out the steps you need to take to get to that goal. It is important, however, that you allow yourself permission to change those steps if an opportunity arises that can help you along your path. You also need to give yourself permission to completely change paths if your development sees your goals changing. Career paths can be either planned or opportunistic.
Examples of Planned Career Paths
A planned career path is one that follows a predictable path. You have always wanted to be a surgeon. In high school, you load up on all the science courses you can and enter college as a pre-med major. You attend medical school, get your degree and then do your internship in surgery. You get a position at a hospital in the Surgery Dept. Everything has been designed to advance you directly to where you want to be.
Examples of Opportunistic Career Paths
An opportunistic career path is one that isn’t what you set out to do but fell into accidentally and found it was more to your liking. Say you have always felt you wanted to be a nurse. You go through all the training and become a RN. On weekends, you volunteer at a local hospice, spending time not as a nurse, but talking with patients and family members. You find you have the ability to calm fears and help people accept difficult situations. You start thinking that becoming a counselor is something that will be more fulfilling so you go back to school and take classes in counseling and enter that field.
Your Career Path is Simply The String of Roles You Take in Establishing Your Career
Regardless of the path being straight or being full of turns and even corkscrews, your career path is simply the steps you take to get from Point A (where you are) to Point B (your ultimate goal). Every path is as individual as the person who follows it.
This blog post is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is created between the author and reader of this blog post, and its content should not be relied upon as legal advice. Readers are urged to consult legal counsel when seeking legal advice.