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Naomi Rothwell-Boyd, May 23 2022

5 Proven Exercises To Map Out Your Career Path

How can you map out career paths?

If you're feeling stuck in your career, or if you're just not sure what the next step should be, don't worry - you're not alone. A lot of people find themselves in this situation at some point in their lives. The good news is that there are a few exercises you can do to help uncover your new career path.

As a career coach I've been using these tried and tested coaching techniques to help hundreds of my clients map out their careers path and make positive changes.

There are many different types of career paths, each one is unique to every person. Everyone has a different career and career goals and skills they have to use, and your career plan will be no exception. You'll need to figure out what's right for you.

In this blog post, we will discuss the 5 exercises that help the most people map out a career path so that you can try them too!

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1) Map Your Goals

The 3 Steps To Mapping Goals

Did you think I was just going to say "write down what you want to achieve" and that was it?

Nope! There are actually 3 steps to mapping your goals that make it a more scientific and disciplined exercise. For years goal setting has been espoused as a key exercise for high performers, but without these steps, it can actually do more harm than good.

The first step is to understand what your goals should be. There are different types of goals that you can set, and not all of them are created equal. The main types of goals you'll want to focus on are:

Writing down each of these constitutes each of the 3 steps. You start at the top with the Outcome Goals i.e. THE goal.

Step 1 - Noting "The Goal" / Outcomes Goals

You do need to write down you big primary goal. Sometimes this is referred to as "Your Mountain" or your "Big Hairy Audacious Goal", or other similarly appropriate adjective. However you think about it, it should be BIG.

You career goal might be something like "I want to be a thought leader in my field" or "I want to get promoted to Vice President".

You can have multiple Outcome Goals, but for the purposes of this exercise, focus on ONE primary career goal, the singular result you want to achieve in your time frame. Each primary goal is a signpost for your career path.

Step 2 - Identifying Performance Goals

This is the juicy part where we dig deeper than is conventionally done. It's time to identify and set key metrics that will demonstrate how you are performing against your desired outcome when working on your possible career paths.

For example, if your Outcome Goal is "I want to be a thought leader in my field", then some potential Performance Goals could be things like:

Step 3 - Create Your Process Goals

The last step is to create actionable items that you can do, starting today, that will help you move closer to your performance goals. These are your Process Goals.

For example, if your Performance Goal is to write and publish 12 blog posts in the next year, then some potential Process Goals could be:

Pulling it all together

You can and should repeat this exercise for every major career goal you can think up. By mapping your goals with these 3 steps you are also setting yourself up for better measurement, self discipline and therefore increasing your chances you'll stick with your own program and make progress over time.

Once you have your goals and their supporting performance goals and process goals, you can move on to the second main exercise.

2) Evaluate Your Reality

This is probably the hardest exercise for many people as it requires you to be brutally honest with yourself. You need to have a good understanding of your current situation in order to determine how reasonable your goals are.

You'll want to consider things like:

After you've considered all of these things, it's time to jump in and start working on your career change. Remember, the goal is to make progress every day no matter how small.

Useful questions to ask yourself when taking a look at your current reality could be:

Try not to sugar coat the situation and use it instead to be realistic about your short term expectations. Your long term expectations though should remain unchanged - steady progress will help you climb every step up your mountain.

3) Identify Obstacles

This exercise builds upon the previous one. Now that you've assessed your situation, it's time to pick out the real challenges.

These could be external factors like:

Or they could be internal factors like:

Everyone usually has some macro obstacles or challenges that are usually things they can't control in the short term. You need to focus on what you can control, so it's best to work around the obstacles and adapt rather than waste too much time and energy trying to change this macro situations first.

Some good questions to ask yourself when identifying obstacles are:

Again, this part of being pragmatic and sensible with your career path mapping.

4) List Your Options

Once you have a good handle on your goals, your reality and your obstacles, now comes the really fun part. It's time to start listing out your options.

For some people it may be easy to list out options, while others may find it more difficult. But the key here is to list as many options as you can think of no matter how crazy or impossible they may seem.

You can always narrow them down later, but for now just get everything out of your head and onto paper (or into a document).

Let your imagination run wild

Try thinking of ideas in these four distinct buckets:

Stepping stone jobs are the jobs you could walk into today if you needed to, the ones that on the same experience level or perhaps a little lower. They might be in the same industry or field as your current job, or they could be something completely different.

Aspirational jobs are ones that you could do with a bit more training or experience. They might be in a similar field to what you're doing now but at a higher level, or they could be something entirely different.

Dream jobs are the ones that you might not be able to do today, or even in the next five years. But they're the jobs you really want to do, the ones that excite and inspire you.

Crazy jobs are just that - crazy ideas that might not be possible or realistic but that you love anyway. They're the ones that make you think "what if... ?"

Some people find it helpful to brainstorm with someone else at this stage, while others prefer to just sit and think on their own. Whichever method works better for you, make sure to list out as many ideas as possible. Don't limit yourself here.

5) Choose A Way Forward

Let's recap where you should be by now. You've set your primary goals, along with defining the performance goals you need to hit to get there and laying out some process goals for achieving them.

You've then evaluated your reality as objectively as you can to ensure expectations are realistic.

Then you've identified the macro obstacles you will need to work around in order to make progress without letting them stop you.

And now you've listed out loads of different options you might be able to pursue, from the small easy ones to massive crazy ones.

You've done a lot of great work to get here, and so now it's time to narrow down your focus and place some bets. You need to choose a way forward.

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No more excuses

It's time to commit to taking some actions. Remember, a goal without a plan is just a wish.

You need to start somewhere, and the sooner you start taking action the sooner you will see results.

But how do you choose which actions to take when there are so many options?

The key here is not to try and do everything at once. That's a recipe for overwhelm and eventual failure.

Instead, you need to be strategic in your approach. Look at the different options you have and try to identify which actions will have the biggest impact for the least amount of effort.

You also want to be thinking about which actions you can take today that will lead to more actions down the road.

For example, if you're looking for a new job then sending out a bunch of applications is a good way to start.

But if you're thinking about starting your own business then perhaps researching the market and writing a business plan would be a better place to begin.

Remember, the goal here is not just to take some action but to take the right action. So be strategic and think about what will have the biggest impact given your current situation and resources.

Set deadlines

Part of taking action is also setting deadlines. This is important for two reasons.

First, it ensures that you actually do take action and don't just keep putting it off.

Second, it helps to focus your efforts so that you don't try and do too much at once.

If you're looking for a new job then setting a deadline of sending out ten applications per week is a good place to start.

And if you're thinking about starting your own business then perhaps setting a deadline of having your business plan finished in two months is a good goal.

Remember, the key here is to be realistic in your expectations. If you set deadlines that are too aggressive then you're just setting yourself up for failure.

But if you set deadlines that are too easy then you're not challenging yourself enough.

It's a delicate balance, but with a little trial and error you should be able to find a good rhythm.

Celebrate your successes

Finally, don't forget to celebrate your successes along the way. This is important for two reasons.

First, it will help to keep you motivated and focused on your goals.

Second, it will remind you that progress is possible and that you are capable of achieving great things.

So make sure to take the time to celebrate each and every success, no matter how small.

This can be something as simple as buying yourself a new book or taking a day off to relax.

The important thing is that you take the time to pat yourself on the back and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

After all, you deserve it!

Conclusion - A Careers Path Is A Work In Progress

These exercises can and should be repeated regularly in the long term. It's massively helpful for a guiding a job search and career development.

Your career growth in whatever industries you end up working in will depend on how disciplined you are with mapping out your career path.

There's an easy acronym used in the Coaching industry to help remember them:


I hope this framework proves to be a useful tool for you as you continue on your journey.

If you would ever like to talk with me as a professional career coach then check out more information here.

Written by

Naomi Rothwell-Boyd

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