You wouldn’t head out on a long road trip without first planning your route. So why wouldn’t you apply that same thoughtful approach to charting your professional advancement? Whether you’re just starting out, feel as though your career is beginning to idle or you’re clearly stuck in a rut, creating a career map can be highly beneficial.
What is a career map? It's a written plan outlining where you are in your career, where you ultimately want to go and the specific steps you could take to reach that objective.
Here are five navigation tips to put you on the path toward meaningful professional progression:
1. Pinpoint a destination
Many people make the mistake of engaging in career hoping rather than career mapping. But as author Lewis Carroll once noted: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”
Identify your primary professional objective and put it on paper. Be introspective and detailed when defining your ambitions. Sure, “I want to advance my career in the accounting industry and earn more money” is technically a goal, but it’s far too vague.
Is your objective to move up into a managerial role with your current employer? Do you want to transition into a more specialized area such as forensic accounting? Maybe you want to put yourself in position to make the jump to a Big Four firm. Regardless of your goal, make it specific and measurable.
2. Know your starting point
You need to understand exactly where you are before you can decide how you’re going to get where you want to go. Do a candid assessment of both your hard and soft skills. In what areas do you excel? Which aspects of your job excite you the most?
And while it’s certainly a less enjoyable exercise, put your weaknesses under the microscope. Are skills gaps or bad habits hampering your effectiveness? Could the lack of in-demand industry certifications hold you back?
Be honest about your strengths, shortcomings, likes and dislikes. This self-review can help you crystallize your long-term goal and give you insights into the specific steps you’ll need to take to achieve it.
3. Ask for directions
Make your interests known to your manager and ask for input and assistance. Does your career plan align with where your boss sees you going? Can they point you toward training opportunities or assign higher-profile projects that will prime you for the job you seek? Are there avenues to get there you hadn’t considered?
It’s obviously beneficial to work for an employer who communicates potential career paths and helps you reach that next level, but you’re the one who must take control of the wheel. That’s why you might consider trying to find a mentor. Mentors can provide ongoing support, objective feedback, real-world insights and tips on who to network with. If your company doesn’t have a formal mentoring program or you’re looking for a job outside the company, ask a member of your professional network whose opinions you trust if they would be willing to work with you.
4. Pay attention to career map mile markers
For some people, a lofty goal can seem overwhelming and unattainable, so break it down into a series of smaller ones. Establish clear-cut objectives and action steps — and set deadlines for accomplishing these interim goals.
For example, if you want to become a departmental supervisor, key steps might include completing a leadership training program or returning to school for an MBA. You also might pursue a leadership role with the local chapter of a professional association.
Whenever you reach a milestone, take time to reflect on and savor the achievement. Acknowledging your successes along the way helps you maintain momentum as you inch closer to your ultimate objective.
5. Stay driven
Any trip worth taking likely includes some bumps and wrong turns along the way. Don’t allow these inevitable disappointments to diminish your determination. When you run into a roadblock, regroup and move on. Career progress requires not only planning, but also drive and discipline. Focus on the lessons learned from your setback — then put your foot right back on the pedal.