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  1. Blog
  2. Career Development

Choosing Your Career Path: How to Plan & Pivot Your Way to a Dream Career

Even if it looks different than you thought it would

Woman sitting in the middle of the road and laughing
Photo courtesy of Brooke Cagle

Most career paths start with questions—lots of questions. 

What do I like to do?

What am I good at?

How do I pick a career?

Choosing a career path isn’t easy. In fact, Catherine Okafor, career coach at Elevate 30 Coaching & Consulting, says choosing a career path or pivoting into a new one can be overwhelming. You can make it easier by understanding the different parts of a career path and knowing what your options are. (Spoiler alert: your options are endless!)

What are the different parts of a career path? 

A career path is a set of jobs you pursue to meet your professional goals. These jobs are typically progressive in nature, allowing you to “climb the ladder” in your field. For example, a linear career path in social media marketing might look something like this:    

Social Media Coordinator > Social Media Manager > Director of Media > VP of Digital Marketing

While this may look pretty basic, there are a lot of not-so-basic parts of following this career path, including education and training.  

Your education includes what you studied in high school, college, or trade school. For instance, if you pursue a business administration degree, your studies may lead you down a career path in operations, sales, or human resources. Each of these career paths include a wide range of occupations. By choosing one of them, you can embark on a career path that involves an interrelated set of skills, responsibilities, and opportunities.  

Training—which includes internships, job shadowing, and returnships—enables you to learn about various career options, gain experience, and develop transferable skills. Transferable skills give you maximum flexibility in choosing, changing, or advancing your career path.

Examples of transferable skills include: 

  • Written communication

  • Verbal communication

  • Relationship-building

  • Public speaking

  • Customer service

A strong network is also central to your career path. “Developing healthy relationships with other professionals is so helpful as you navigate your career,” Okafor says. “I always encourage my clients to not only make new connections with folks but to also keep in touch with them in order to sustain the relationships. The best advice I’ve received regarding your network is ‘build your network, stay connected with your network, and cheer your network.’” 

Okafor adds that knowledge is a cornerstone of your career path. “Knowledge is power and it’s important to always seek knowledge to ramp up your skills and stay current on trends within your respective field. This can simply mean reading books, attending a professional development event, attending networking events, etc.”

Read more: How to Write a Professional Development Plan & Why You Should

How to choose your career path

To make it easier to pick a career path, Okafor says to focus on three key areas: values, interests, and strengths. “They are essential in not only understanding who you are as a professional but laying the foundation down of where you want to go within your career.” 

Consider doing an activity or assessment that helps you determine your values. “In helping my clients brainstorm and name their values, I walk them through an activity where they begin to free-write on career-related questions that I ask them. I try to have them focus on their previous and current education and career experiences, the ways in which they show up at work, and their career goals. By writing this down, they are able to have a visual representation of certain themes that pop up. Some of the most common values I’ve noticed are: authenticity, growth, creativity, autonomy, and diversity. Having an understanding of what your professional values are, helps you (and your future employers and colleagues) understand who you are.”

Read more: 7 Essential Questions for Reflecting on Your Career

According to Okafor, knowing your strengths is equally vital to choosing a career path. “In order to understand what types of positions align nicely within your career path, you must know what your strengths are. It’s also good to build your awareness of this during interview time as this is likely a question that will come up, so be ready! Being able to clearly articulate your strengths will definitely make you a stand out candidate. Bonus points if you are also able to name your areas of growth and the ways in which you are building your skills and competence within each growth area.”

From there, investigate your interests by asking yourself a few basic questions. “What are you naturally curious about? What excites you? What is something that you have little to no experience in but want to research and read books about?” Okafor says. “Having an understanding of your interests can help guide you to various career pathways that align well with your interests. It is also helpful to have awareness of this to help give you options for various pathways so you can open up your eyes to an abundance of opportunities.”

Use reputable resources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics and CareerOneStop to find potential careers. Speak with a career coach to help evaluate your findings and design your career path. Be prepared to talk about your interests as well as previous work experience and new careers you might like. 

Is it okay to choose a nonlinear career path? 

Women are increasingly choosing nonlinear career paths, which means that you can build your own version of success—even if it doesn’t look like the “typical” picture of career progress. Okafor champions women who choose to build non-traditional careers. “Simply put, walk in your truth, always show up as your most authentic self, and never compare your journey to someone else. That’s it!”

The same is true for changing careers. According to an InHerSight study in 2019, 73 percent of women want to change careers. Okafor, who asserts that women are in control of their careers, has personal experience in transitioning careers. “I pivoted from higher education to tech. I don’t have a formal education in technology; however, it has always been an interest of mine. The innovation and creativity of it all aligns with some of my values so I decided, why not pursue it? I’m not against stepping back into the field of higher education, but I was simply ready to try something new and step outside of my comfort zone. I connected with those within my network for support, and I attended networking events to meet new people within the field, and had informational interviews with them to see if it was a pivot that I really wanted to pursue. I would advise other women to do similarly as I did: Do your research, be clear on your values, strengths/areas of growth, and network!”

Read more: Ask a Recruiter: How Do I Discover My Hidden Talents?

Ultimately, you can always change your mind about your career! Okafor says it’s normal to feel fearful or doubtful when choosing a career path or changing careers. “Honestly, those two feelings may come up for so many people and those are valid feelings. However, we can’t allow our fears or doubting ourselves to hold us back on the pursuit of our career goals. When fear and doubt come up with my clients, I allow them space to talk it out so we can unpack where and when these feelings come up. The majority of the time, my clients come into our work together not fully understanding their greatness or sometimes, imposter syndrome. For women, it’s important for us to keep track of our accomplishments so that we can 1) remind ourselves of the value that we can bring to any employer, 2) we are badass! And we are capable of being paid our worth and have the potential to step into any leadership role.”  

Read more: What to Do if You Want to Change Careers, But Don’t Know How

About our source

Catherine Okafor is the founder and career coach at Elevate 30, a coaching and consulting firm. Elevate 30's mission is to help women elevate within their career by providing them with career coaching support to help them reach their career goals. Catherine is a former higher education professional now working in fintech. When Catherine isn't helping women reach their fullest potential, you can find her catching up on some of her favorite Netflix and Hulu shows.

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