What Is a Career Path and How to Create Yours in 2024

4 April
15 min read
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Building a satisfying career can get overwhelming.

The job market is in constant flux, with new jobs popping up and old ones becoming outdated every day.

All this confusion can make your career goals feel impossible to achieve.

This is where creating a career path comes in.

By following a career path, you can find your place in a shifting job market and make strategic moves that take you to the finish line.

To help you craft your career path, this article is going to cover:

  • What a Career Path Is
  • Types of Career Paths
  • How to Create Your Career Path

… and much more!

Let’s get you on track.

What Is a Career Path?

A career path, sometimes called a career trajectory, is essentially the roadmap of your professional life.

Think of it as a series of jobs and roles you take on that lead you toward your ultimate career goals.

This path can be straight and narrow, leading directly to a specific goal, or it can be more like a winding road, with turns and detours that offer a variety of experiences and skills.

The beauty of a career path is that it's uniquely yours.

You decide where you want to go and what steps you need to take to get there. Whether it's climbing the corporate ladder, switching fields, or finding a balance between work that fulfills you and life outside of it, it’s all up to you.

Ready for the next step in your career path? Learn how to make a resume to help you get there!

Why Is a Career Path Important?

Career paths are crucial for giving your professional journey a clear direction.

This isn’t just about figuring out what the next job should be. It’s about envisioning where you’ve been, where you want to be in the long run, and mapping out the steps to get there. Think of it as a vision board for your career.

A well-defined career path helps you make informed decisions about your education, training, and job choices. This way, you can ensure that each step moves you closer to your ultimate goals.

A career path can also prepare you for changes in the job market and enable you to adapt by both leveraging the skills and experiences you already have and acquiring the ones you’re going to need.

Having a clear career path makes it more likely for you to find job satisfaction and success because you're pursuing opportunities that align with your skills, interests, and values. 

A career path also provides a sense of progress and achievement as you reach milestones along the way and contribute to your overall professional and personal growth.

10 Types of Career Paths

Career paths come in all shapes and sizes.

Whether you switch jobs frequently, rely on your learned skills, or have your own business, you’ll find a career path that reflects your experiences below:

Career Paths by Movement

#1. Vertical

The vertical career path is among the most common career paths. 

It involves moving up the professional ladder, often from an entry-level position to the highest one available. With this career path, you start as an intern and keep going until you end up as a CEO, collecting promotions and opportunities along the way.

However, climbing up the hierarchy isn’t the only option on a vertical career path.

You may reach a point in your career where you have different priorities, such as family, health, or a beloved hobby. Then, you might prefer taking a step back and going back to a lower position on the ladder.

If you want to focus on your passion for travel and photography, stepping down as the head of your department might be the next step in your vertical career path.

Vertical Career Path Example:

Intern → Junior Accountant → Senior Accountant → CFO → Financial Consultant → Retirement

#2. Horizontal

The horizontal career path is a great choice for anyone looking to become a jack of all trades.

Unlike the vertical career path, which tends to focus on a specific area, a horizontal career path can be a lot more varied.

Horizontal career paths are filled with sideways opportunities for growth. Here, changing job positions might keep you at a similar level, but it lets you learn a wide range of skills and gain different experiences and perspectives.

Horizontal Career Path Example:

HR Assistant (Recruitment) → HR Assistant (Training & Development) → HR Assistant (Employee Relations)

#3. Steady-state

Steady-state career paths are sometimes referred to as “the expert” career paths.

This career path is for people who are interested in excelling at what they do and continually developing skills without changing jobs.

Steady-state career paths can include taking on additional responsibilities or leading teams without necessarily being promoted or compensated.

A great example of this would be dedicated scientists who focus on a specific field of interest until they become the authority on the subject.

#4. T-shaped

The T-shaped career path combines the vertical and horizontal career paths.

This type combines deep expertise in one area (the vertical bar of the “T”) and a broad range of skills and knowledge in other areas (the horizontal bar).

For example, a software developer with graphic design skills and experience working in customer service is a prime example of a T-shaped career path.

T-Shaped Career Path Example:

Graphic Design Graduate → Customer Service Representative → Junior Software Developer → Software Developer with project management skills → Software Developer with UX/UI design knowledge

#5. Spiral

The spiral career path involves periodically changing your work field while still building upon what you've learned in previous roles.

In many cases, these changes lead to related fields that allow you to use your transferable skills.

That said,  you’ll likely still have to learn some things from scratch.

If you’re not afraid of changing things up down the line, a spiral career path might be the one for you.

Spiral Career Path Example:

Clinical Care Nurse → Public Health Nurse → Health Policy Analyst → Healthcare Administrator in Policy Development → Health Policy Advisor → Senior Policy Research

#6. Transitory

The transitory career path is the most flexible of all.

A key characteristic of transitory career paths is frequent changes in jobs and industries. This might border on job-hopping, and it’s usually driven by personal interests or changing market conditions, like inflation.

Transitory career paths are best suited for people who want to pursue goals that aren’t related to a career. Whether you dream of traveling the world or paying off a loan, work is just a means to an end, and you’re ready to move on to something else when a better opportunity arises.

Transitory Career Path Example:

Receptionist → Administrative Assistant → Freelance Writer → Server → Small Business Owner (Café)

Career Paths by Category


Some fields require a depth of knowledge to progress, or even just to get started. If you’re in such a field, you’ll likely follow a knowledge-based career path.

A knowledge-based career path is perfect for anyone looking to acquire and apply specialized knowledge or even pursue an advanced degree to further their career.

Knowledge-based career paths are common for those working in accounting, human resources, marketing, engineering, law, and more.

Knowledge Career Path Example:

Law Student → Law Intern → Law Clerk → Associate Lawyer → Senior Lawyer → Partner in Law Firm


Most physical, hands-on, and service jobs follow a skill-based career path.

Professions that are based on skill require a deep understanding of how the job is done and the ability to do it properly. No amount of education or theoretical knowledge can replace the skills necessary to complete it.

A lot of the jobs that tend to come with a skill-based career path are in fields like construction, the food and beverage industry, and many roles in the arts, such as acting or illustration.

These career paths are where specific skills are honed and applied, often through apprenticeships or vocational training instead of a university degree.

For example, a skilled carpenter might not have a formal degree, but their specialized skills developed over years of training and work are invaluable on their career path.

Skill Career Path Example:

Dishwasher → Kitchen Assistant → Prep Cook → Line Cook → Sous Chef → Head Chef


If you’re planning on starting and running your own business, you’re on the entrepreneur career path.

Entrepreneurs forge their paths, and their career growth depends on how successful their ventures are.

A common example of an entrepreneur's career path is starting a tech company. From then on, every step in your career path will be closely related to meeting your company's needs.

You’re essentially going to start as the founder and CEO, but over time, you’ll delegate more and more work to others, and your responsibilities will change, even if the job title doesn’t.


The nine-to-five work schedule isn’t for everyone.

For those who like being the masters of their “office” hours, freelancing is a great option. It’s the career path that offers, by far, the most flexibility and control over your career path.

Freelancers (also known as independent contractors) offer their skills and services on a project-by-project basis. They work across various industries, from babysitting to photography and home repair to cybersecurity consulting.

Want to see more examples? Check out 101 career paths for every personality!

How to Create a Career Path

Now that you know what a career path is and what it can look like, it’s time to create your own!

Just follow these 15 simple steps we’ve outlined to get there:

#1. Figure Out What You Want

The first step in creating your career path is to reflect on what you want.

Take this moment to do some deep self-exploration. You must understand your aspirations, desires, and what drives you.

Start by asking yourself some key questions to clarify your vision and goals, such as:

  • What do you want to achieve in your career?
  • Beyond work, what kind of life do you envision for yourself?
  • What are your core values that you don't want to compromise on?
  • What’s your ultimate goal?

These questions help you pinpoint more than just the job titles you might be aiming for. The kind of work-life balance, environment, and impact you want your career to have are just as important to figure out, if not more so.

Figuring out what you want is the foundation of a career path that's fulfilling, aligned with who you are, and successful.

#2. Reflect On Yourself

Self-reflection is crucial to creating a career path worth following

First off, assess your education and skill level. This includes formal education, online courses, workshops, and real-world experience.

But don't stop there either. Think of the skills or knowledge you haven't had the opportunity to use yet. This untapped potential could be the key to your career path.

Understanding where you are right now in your career trajectory helps you set a realistic starting point for your journey. This step is about recognizing your strengths, acknowledging areas that need improvement, and pinpointing opportunities that align with both.

#3. Explore Your Interests

Next, it’s time to explore what’s out there by researching fields and roles that align with your interests.

Look into industries that fascinate you, job titles that catch your eye, and the day-to-day responsibilities of these roles. Consider even reaching out to professionals in these areas for informational interviews since their insights can provide a valuable insider perspective.

Use online resources, job search sites, and professional networks to gather information. Your research will help you understand what's out there and identify career paths that align with your interests and aspirations.

It's all about broadening your horizons and discovering where your passion meets professional opportunities.

#4. Set Concrete Goals

It’s time to shift your attention from broad reflections to concrete goals.

Consider where you want to be five or ten years down the road. Your goals should be clear, measurable, and realistic, so they can serve as milestones on your career path.

Think about the position you’re aiming to have, the skills you want to gain, and the impact you want to make in your chosen field. Setting these goals gives you a target to aim for and helps you stay focused and motivated along the way.

#5. Identify the Necessary Skills

After setting your goals, it’s time to identify the skills required to reach them.

Does the CEO position of your dreams require an MBA in Business? Then it might be time to consider hitting the books.

Look into the qualifications, skills, and experience that are required for the roles you’re aiming for. These could involve technical skills specific to your field, leadership abilities, or specific certifications.

Check out job listings for roles similar to the ones you’re after to figure out what you might need. Again, speaking with professionals in the field is always a great idea to get a clear picture.

This step in your career path is all about planning how to bridge the gap between where you are now and where you want to be.

#6. Gain New Expertise

Now that you've identified the skills and qualifications needed to reach your goals, it's time to focus on gaining them.

This could mean taking specialized courses, enrolling in university, attending workshops, or anything else that helps you develop new skills.

This step in your career path might seem tedious at first, but remember that it’s an investment in your future, not an obstacle along the way. The knowledge and skills you gain here will help propel you to your dream job at the end of your career path.

Whether it's sharpening your technical skills, mastering new software, or honing your soft skills, every bit of new learning helps you build a solid foundation for your future success.

#7. Network Frequently

Building and expanding your professional network is always useful.

A strong network can open doors to opportunities that aren't advertised, provide insights into industry trends, and offer support and advice from experienced professionals.

Start by connecting with peers, mentors, and leaders in your field through professional networking sites, industry conferences, and local meetups. There are tons of ways to network online, and if your LinkedIn profile isn’t up-to-date, you can choose from plenty of alternatives.

Networking is a two-way street. It's all about building relationships, not just collecting contacts. Engage with your network actively by sharing your experiences, asking questions, and offering help when you can.

As your network grows, so do your chances of finding the right opportunities, getting referrals, and advancing on your career path, so it should always be part of your overall strategy.

Are you short of a social butterfly? Check out our networking tips for introverts to get a head start.

#8. Discuss With Your Manager

We also recommend talking to your coach, supervisor, or manager.

Have open and honest conversations about your career aspirations. If you're interested in climbing up the ladder, tell them.

These discussions can help you understand how your goals align with the company’s needs and what steps you can take to prepare for future opportunities.

Your manager can offer guidance, recommend training or projects to broaden your experience, and provide feedback on your performance.

Expressing your career ambitions also shows initiative and commitment to personal growth, which can be beneficial for both you and the organization.

#9. Take Advantage of Training Programs

A lot of companies offer training programs, workshops, and courses designed to expand your skills and knowledge.

Take advantage of these resources while you can. They might prove invaluable for your personal and professional development.

Participating in these programs can help you gain new expertise and also demonstrate to your employer that you’re committed to growth and improvement.

#10. Look for Opportunities

As you progress on your career path, always seek out new opportunities that align with your career goals.

These can be internal tasks or projects within your current company, as well as external job opportunities.

If you feel like you're not where you want to be in your career, it might be time to start your job hunt.

Keep an eye on job boards, industry newsletters, and professional networking sites like LinkedIn for openings that match your aspirations and expertise.

Don't hesitate to apply for positions that interest you, even if they seem like a stretch.

Each new role or project is a step in your career path and helps you move closer to your ultimate career goal, whether by gaining relevant experience or honing your skills.

#11. Find Mentors

Find people in the industry that you admire, whether they’re part of your current organization or outside of it.

A mentor is someone who can offer guidance, share their experiences, and provide insights that help you navigate your career path.

They can offer advice on professional growth, help you tackle challenges, and open doors to new opportunities through their network.

Keep an eye out for people who are not only successful in their field but also willing to invest time in your development. Establishing a mentoring relationship can speed up your learning and give you a much clearer perspective on how to achieve your career goals.

#12. Stay Flexible

The further ahead in your career path you are, the more important it is to remain open to change and take on new challenges.

The job market and industries evolve rapidly, and so should you. Embracing change in your role or industry can lead to unexpected opportunities for growth and development.

Being flexible means being willing to step out of your comfort zone, try something new, and adapt to unfamiliar situations.

This adaptability can make you more valuable to your current employer and more attractive to potential future employers. Every new experience is a chance to grow, so take advantage of the opportunities that come your way, even if they weren't part of your original plan.

#13. Track Your Progress and Adapt

It's important to regularly revisit your career path and track how well you're advancing towards your set goals.

Adaptability is the key to success. Circumstances change, and you might need to change your approach. Make sure you’re sticking to your core values and that your career path is still meeting your needs.

If you find yourself grinding relentlessly at a 'temporary' job you hate, you might burn out and lose sight of the bigger picture.

As such, be ready to adjust your goals if necessary. For example, if a role you were aiming for no longer aligns with your aspirations or if an unexpected opportunity arises that fits your career path better, revise your plan.

This flexibility can help you stay aligned with your end-game career goals while navigating unexpected changes in the job market.

#14. Share Your Achievements

As you progress in your career, it's important to communicate your achievements to the right people, whether they're your supervisors, colleagues, or mentors.

Don't shy away from sharing your successes and the contributions you've made to projects or the organization. This isn’t about self-promotion; your goal is to build a solid reputation that can open doors to future opportunities.

A good reputation can lead to recommendations, promotions, and invitations to work on more significant projects. Making your value and achievements known ensures that the people making hiring decisions that affect your career path are aware of your potential and the impact you've already made.

#15. Negotiate Promotions and Raises

If you want to further your career, you need to know how to advocate for yourself.

Always practice in advance and, when the time is right, get ready to negotiate promotions and salary increases.

Gather evidence of your greatest accomplishments, research your worth on the job market, and be clear about your expectations.

Negotiation isn’t just about asking for a raise; it’s about showing why you deserve it, so present your case confidently. Focus on your contributions to the organization and how you’ve met or exceeded the expectations of your role.

31 Career Path Examples

Now, you have a good idea of what a career path is. But you might still be struggling to picture yours.

Don’t worry! We’ve prepared a list of career path examples to help inspire you.

Check them out:


  1. Sales Associate → Sales Manager → Regional Sales Director → Vice President of Sales
  2. Marketing Assistant → Marketing Coordinator → Marketing Manager → Director of Marketing → Chief Marketing Officer
  3. Junior Software Developer → Software Developer → Senior Developer → Team Lead → Software Development Manager


  1. Graphic Designer (Marketing) → Graphic Designer (Product Design) → Graphic Designer (User Experience)
  2. Customer Service Representative (Banking) → Customer Service Representative (Technology) → Customer Service Representative (Healthcare)
  3. IT Support Technician (Education Sector) → IT Support Technician (Corporate Sector) → IT Support Technician (Non-profit Sector)


  1. Senior Research Scientist → Senior Research Scientist with specialization in Molecular Biology → Senior Research Scientist focusing on Genomic Sequencing
  2. Senior Accountant (tax) → Senior Accountant (forensic)
  3. High School Biology Teacher → High School Biology and Chemistry Teacher


  1. Graphic Designer specializing in print → Graphic Designer with web design skills → Graphic Designer with user experience expertise
  2. HR Specialist → HR Specialist with a focus on Talent Acquisition → HR Specialist with Compensation and Benefits expertise
  3. Digital Marketing Content Writer → SEO Content Writer → SEO and Social Media Manager


  1. Elementary School Teacher → Curriculum Developer → Educational Consultant → School Principal
  2. Mechanical Engineer → Project Manager in Engineering → Sustainability Consultant → Renewable Energy Project Manager
  3. Environmental Scientist → Environmental Policy Analyst → Director of Sustainability Programs → Non-Profit Organization Leader


  1. Retail Associate → Personal Trainer → Nutrition Blogger → Wellness Coach
  2. Construction Worker → Real Estate Agent → Interior Design Student → Home Staging Professional
  3. Cashier → Travel Agent → Customer Service Representative → Event Coordinator


  1. Bachelor’s in Psychology → HR Intern → Master’s in Human Resources → Talent Acquisition Specialist → Head of Human Resources
  2. Undergraduate in Computer Science → Graduate in Data Science → Data Analyst → Machine Learning Engineer
  3. Biotechnology Technician → Biotech R&D Project Manager → Biotech Product Manager  → Biotech Industry Consultant


  1. Construction Apprentice → Skilled Carpenter → Construction Contractor → Construction Project Manager
  2. Barista → Beverage Manager → Food and Beverage Director → Hospitality Consultant
  3. Automotive Repair Apprentice → Certified Automotive Technician → Master Automotive Technician → Auto Shop Owner


  1. Business Plan Developer → Startup Founder → Small Business Owner → CEO of a Growing Startup
  2. Software Developer → Tech Startup Co-founder → Head Developer → CEO (with less tech responsibilities)
  3. E-commerce Startup Founder → Small Business Owner → E-commerce Consultant → Angel Investor in Retail Startups
  4. Indie Game Developer → Game Studio Founder → Industry Speaker → Mentor for Upcoming Game Developers


  1. Freelance Journalist (local news) → Freelance Writer (national publications) → Freelance Author (books and guides) → Writing Workshop Instructor
  2. Independent Graphic Designer (logos and branding) → Freelance Art Director (advertising campaigns) → Creative Consultant (brand strategy) → Speaker at Design Conferences
  3. Freelance Wedding Photographer → Freelance Commercial Photographer → Photography Course Creator → Photography Blogger and Lecturer

15 Useful Skills to Create a Career Path

You’re set to create the career path of your dreams!

Here are some essential skills that can help you along the way, regardless of your field:

  1. Adaptability
  2. Time Management
  3. Communication
  4. Problem-Solving
  5. Leadership
  6. Networking
  7. Critical Thinking
  8. Teamwork
  9. Project Management
  10. Creativity
  11. Conflict Resolution
  12. Analytical Thinking
  13. Self-Motivation
  14. Continuous Learning
  15. Strategic Planning

Key Takeaways

You’ve made it to the end of our article!

By now, we’re sure you have an idea of what a career path is and how to create yours.

Before you go, let’s just recap some of the most important things we mentioned:

  • Career paths help you figure out your exact goals and a clear way to achieve them.
  • There are different career paths out there depending on your individual needs or abilities, and yours can be as unique as you need it to be.
  • Start creating your career path by reflecting on your personal and professional aspirations and setting a clear direction you can follow.
  • Be ready to work on your weaknesses and acquire new skills that you’ll need down the road. Don’t just treat this as an obstacle; every learning experience is an opportunity for growth.
  • Build and leverage a professional network. Seeking mentors and engaging in industry communities can open doors to opportunities you never would have expected.
  • Embrace change, and be ready to adapt. Treat every challenge as an opportunity for growth, and be ready to adjust your goals as necessary.
  • Advocate for yourself by communicating achievements, negotiating promotions, and raising. At the end of the day, the person who’s responsible for your career path and reaching your goals is you.