Career woman in conference room

How to Choose a Career Path

Learn about different career paths and how charting a path will show you what next steps you can take, no matter what stage of your career you’re in.

What is a career path?

Think of career paths as more of a theme that specific definitions fall under. For example, career pathways have more to do with your educational background, interests, and skills to get you started in a particular field. There is also a personal career path and an organizational one, which breaks down into vertical, diagonal, and horizontal tracks, known as the career lattice. That’s to say, there are a lot of different career paths, so let’s break them down:

Career Pathways 

Often you will start the path to a successful career during college or even high school. Your university can be instrumental in developing a career pathway. You can chart a plan toward a successful career early with the courses, extracurricular activities, internships, etc., you pursue during your higher education. Think of this as a path from study to employment.

Advisors, mentors, and professors can help guide you toward a career by encouraging you to discover your passions and help you map out a plan for job sustainability and fulfillment.

Often, career pathways are broken down into clusters or interest areas. College programs usually fall under these interest areas and help you narrow down your pursuits. 

A Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies degree is a great way to receive a broad-based education that helps you define your interests. The curriculum structure is three-tiered, with General Education as the first tier, a base cluster of three concentrations as the second tier, and the focus cluster as the third. The base and focus clusters of courses are chosen from a set of focus areas which include:

Personal career path

A personal career path can be understood as a sum of your jobs, skills, and experiences in a field that gets you closer to your future career goals. You create a personal career path based on your expertise and, more importantly, passion for a particular field. A personal career path can lay the foundation of your career without being restricted to one organization. 

Tips for creating a personal career path:

  • Set goals
  • Identify your skills and interests
  • Research different career paths
  • Network with people in your field
  • Get experience
  • Stay up-to-date on industry trends

The Princeton Review also offers a career quiz to help you determine the right career.

Indeed also offers an excellent overview of career clusters and what pathways fall under each set. This helps answer the question, What are different career paths?

Organizational career paths

  • Vertical career path: A vertical career path happens when you’re already in a particular role and move to a higher position within your current company. These types of moves will often come with higher pay and more responsibilities. Think of it as moving from a specialist role with no direct reports to a manager or supervisor position where you manage one or more specialists. This career path is developed with your manager to climb the vertical ladder within your company.
  • Horizontal career path: A horizontal career path enables you to progress in your current position through specialization but without changing jobs. These moves help create value for you and your company by increasing your knowledge in your current position, thus making you a true expert or specialist. 
  • Diagonal career path: A diagonal career path is more uncommon because you are moving from your position in one company to a higher-level position in another. When you move between companies, you will likely take on a role that requires similar experience, skills, and responsibilities to your previous job. Most career moves are either vertical within the same organization or horizontal between organizations. 

Why is it important to have a career path?

Whether you’re just starting in a career pathway or looking to move up vertically in your current company, it’s essential to consider what you are passionate about and excel at. Exploring your potential and charting a course that aligns with your goals, no matter the stage in your career, having a plan helps you focus on what you want out of your job. Even if your career path changes at a certain point, it’s vital to be proactive and take steps to achieve your goals.