What Is a Career Path? How to Create Your Own

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Define your career path, explore your career potential, and begin charting a career path that aligns with your passion and life goals.

[Featured Image]: A woman wearing a blue blouse and glasses, with a pen to chin, thinking about her career path.

What is a career path?

A career path can be defined as a series of jobs that lead you closer to your career goals and vision for life. Some people follow a linear path through one field, advancing into roles with more responsibilities and higher salaries. Others shift companies, industries, or roles more frequently, and accumulate experience in a variety of roles.

You might be wondering what you can do to steer your career in the direction you desire. Should you stick to a linear path and seek advancement in a single field, or should you take on diverse roles and explore multiple paths? 

Both approaches can lead to fulfillment when you clarify your vision for the future. A linear career path could mean gaining deeper understanding of a field and becoming a leader or specialist, while a multi-directional career path could mean accumulating diverse knowledge and being able to adapt quickly to an ever-changing professional landscape.  

How to create your own career pathfinder 

Use the prompts below to chart a career path that aligns with your life vision and reflects your most authentic self.  As new insights and ideas surface, write them down and keep them handy. Update this career pathfinder as needed over the course of your career.

1. Define your vision.

  • What kind of impact do you want to make on the world?

  • What legacy would you like to offer future generations?

  • What projects do you want to complete and feats do you want to accomplish? 

  • What improvements would you like to see in your life?

2. Identify areas of untapped potential.

  • What areas of your education or training have you not yet used in a professional role?

  • What interests and passions have you not yet used in a professional role?

  • What sectors or social issues interest you? These might include environmental sustainability, social justice, or arts and culture. 

  • What personal attributes or traits would you like to learn more about and enhance? 

  • Based on job searches, what kinds of careers would allow you to explore your potential? 

3. Identify valuable aspects of your prior experience.

  • Where would you place yourself along a career trajectory? For example, are you just starting out, experienced and building more credentials, or seasoned and wanting fresh challenges?

  • So far, what direction(s) has your career taken?

  • In what direction do you foresee yourself steering your career going forward?

  • Which of your skills could transfer to roles in other fields or a more advanced role in your field?

  • What unique perspectives have you gathered, based on your experiences in prior roles or training programs? How might these perspectives apply to different career paths you’re considering? 

  • Based on job searches, what kinds of companies would value a linear career trajectory, and which might value a diverse career portfolio? [1]

A career portfolio documents your education, work samples, skills, and experience, and tends to be much longer than a resume. 

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4. Envision possible career futures. 

  • What would it be like for you to learn as much as possible about a career field and evolve with it?  

  • What would it be like to take on more responsibility in a career field, as you gain more experience and get promoted to advanced positions?

  • What would it be like to enter an emerging or fast-growing field, such as cryptocurrency or renewable energy? 

  • What would it be like to explore multiple fields, change careers every few years, and accumulate a diverse set of skills? 

5. Explore different career paths that may be aligned. 

If you foresee yourself taking a more linear path through your career, do an internet search of the different career fields you identified in step four. Look for information on salaries for specific job titles, job outlook, advancement opportunities, required skills and education, and industry trends. 

Below are two examples based on popular internet searches for specific career paths: Is finance a good career path? and Is technology a good career path? Career insights are taken from Glassdoor and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of January 2022. 

Finance career example: Financial analyst

A financial analyst in the United States earns an average yearly salary of $81,701 and could go on to become a company’s director of finance, earning $136,087. Financial analyst jobs are expected to grow 6 percent by 2030, which is about average, while financial manager jobs are expected to grow 17 percent, which is faster than average. 

Professionals in finance typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in business, accounting, finance, or a related field and should be proficient in Excel and financial modeling. 

Financial services industry trends include developments in decentralized finance, cryptocurrency, and digitization.  

Read more: What Can You Do with a Finance Degree? 

Technology career example: Information security analyst 

An information security analyst in the United States earns an average yearly salary of $103,960 and could transition into careers like information security engineer (average salary $115,853) or cybersecurity consultant (average salary $101,199). Jobs in information security are expected to grow 33 percent by 2030, which is faster than average.

Professionals in cybersecurity and information security typically have at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field, as well as certifications like the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) or Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA).

Industry trends include developments in airplane navigation and guidance systems security [2], as well as continued use of multifactor authentication and increased data security [3].

Read more: 5 Cybersecurity Career Paths and How To Get Started 

If you foresee yourself taking a more multi-directional path, do an internet search for skills, degrees, and trainings that could apply to multiple careers across industries. 

For example, an English major could use their writing, close reading, and analysis skills to enter a teaching career, and later switch to a career in content marketing, consulting, or even brand management.   

6. Determine the actions you may need to take. 

  • What additional training or education might you need for the career paths you’re interested in?

  • What freelance opportunities might you create to gain experience and exposure in a new field?

  • What enhancements do you need to make to your resume to best showcase your career developments?

Next steps 

Learn new skills, discover new opportunities, and chart a career path with more ease and confidence by earning a Professional Certificate in a high-demand field like data analytics, IT support, user experience (UX) design, project management, or cybersecurity. 

Ready to develop a career you love? Try this Career Discovery Specialization from the University System of Georgia, which covers how to research a career path, evaluate your strengths, and present your best self to potential employers. 

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Related articles 

Article sources

  1. Harvard Business Review. “Why You Should Build a “Career Portfolio” (Not a “Career Path”), https://hbr.org/2021/10/why-you-should-build-a-career-portfolio-not-a-career-path.” Accessed January 21, 2022.

  2. Mordor Intelligence. “Cybersecurity Market: Growth, Trends, COVID-19 Impact, and Forecasts (2022-2027), https://www.mordorintelligence.com/industry-reports/cyber-security-market.” Accessed January 21, 2022.

  3. Northeastern. “Cybersecurity Trends Emerging in 2022, https://www.northeastern.edu/graduate/blog/trends-in-cybersecurity/.” Accessed January 21, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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