Planning for the future is never easy, especially when it comes to your career path. This is especially true for young professionals and those just starting out with their careers. If you’re feeling pressure with mapping your career path, just know that it takes an average of 4 – 6 jobs to find “the one” position or path that you will stay with long term. To help make life easier, there is a lot you can do to help you find the right career path for long term success.

Understand What You Want

The process of mapping out your career path begins with you and your wants, needs and desires from your professional life. Anyone can say, “I want to be rich,” but what does that really mean to you? You need to take a hard look in the mirror and evaluate your strengths, weaknesses and interests. This self-reflection is a good process to go through every 2-3 years, as your life changes and takes shape.

Start by writing out what you want from your career. Do you want to own your own business? Do you want to make it to the C-Suite in a large corporation? Think through the big picture and imagine the life you strive to live. Now ask yourself several questions:

  • What are you doing to move your career towards your long term goals?
  • What steps are you taking in the short term to get you there?
  • What more can you be doing?
  • Are your goals realistic (not everyone will win the lottery or go to Harvard) and fit who you are?
  • If you’re not happy with the way things are now, are you able to make the necessary changes to get on the path to your long-term goals?

They say nothing is certain in life except for death and taxes and that’s certainly true of your career path. It’s important to remember that you need to remain persistent and adaptable as life takes its turns. You should always be improving yourself, whether that’s through additional education or gaining experience through volunteering or interning to get your foot in the door. You have to walk before you can run and this is important to remember when it comes to your long-term career path.

Make Your Way Up the Ladder

Many people make the mistake of pausing their career evaluation once they’ve landed a job. However, a key to your long-term success is how you perform and the connections you make in each of your jobs. Take the time to get to know your co-workers, colleagues and bosses. Building relationships with the people around you is not only important in your day-to-day work, it’s imperative when you’re looking to move up the ladder in an organization. Look to co-workers that may be rising stars or who have already reached positions you are interested in. Learning from mentors who have already achieved what you are looking to achieve will always be valuable. As they say, “it’s not what you know, but who you know.” When you put in the effort to consistently improve your skills and knowledge, you will be rewarded for it.

Evaluate Your Current Position

Once you’ve been at a job for a year to a year and a half, I would recommend evaluating your position within your group, company or business to see if it is leading to your goals. If you don’t want to see your career plateau, never allow yourself to become complacent. With each year or each new job you should be continually stepping up in your career. Think of your career as a big moving staircase – up 5 to 10 steps and then coming to a landing that can take you up another 5 to 10 steps. Your long-term goals are at the pinnacle of the stairs and it is ultimately up to you to determine what path will get you there.

Always Stay Open to Opportunity

Even if you are happy where you are, always stay open to new opportunities. Afterall, it never hurts to listen, but you can lose out big-time if you close yourself off. While working for an investment bank in the IT department, one of my business partners received a great piece of advice, “Always be looking!” When you look or listen you gain information.

  • Are you doing the right things in your current job that are valuable to other companies?
  • Are you working on a good or bad project or a good or bad boss?
  • Are you still learning and gaining skills in your job or is the market passing you by?
  • Is the new opportunity offering you more – career satisfaction, work/life balance, potential to move you up on the corporate ladder or potential to get promoted in the near future with more responsibilities or more compensation?

It never hurts to look and consider. You never know!

However your career evaluation takes you, always leave yourself open to opportunity because you never know when that great opportunity may come along. It may not happen at the specific time you want it to, but you never want to miss it when it does come your way.