How to Map Out a Path to Your Career

How to Map Out a Path to Your Career

There are many factors to take into consideration when choosing a career, so it can be difficult to (correctly) decide what to do. In this take I’ll go through some factors to consider and ways of figuring out what career you want.

First, let's differentiate between a job and a career.

Job: something you do to in the short term to earn cash.

Career: a long-term pursuit of a lifelong ambition; a succession of jobs in the same field.

Some people use the two interchangeably but they are different. Careers are about building on experience and advancing your job skills and knowledge. You can apply for a job, but you can’t apply for a career. A job is given to you; a career is made by you.

With that out of the way, let's go over some factors to consider when choosing a career or a job within a career.


1. Interest Level

Pick something that you’re interested in, that you’re passionate about. What is it that you like about a certain career? Are you more interested in the theory or practical applications?

How to Map Out a Path to Your Career

2. Health and Safety

If you are concerned about your health then a career with safety hazards or that is strenuous may not be to your liking.

How to Map Out a Path to Your Career

3. Environmental Conditions

Do you want to work inside, outside, or a mix of both?

If you have to work outside then you may have to deal with hot, cold, wet, or humid conditions. Do you want that?

Do you want to work in an office, in a lab, in the field, etc.?

Will you be an entrepreneur or will you have to report to other people?

4. Income

Is the job high-paying or low paying?

What’s the minimum you need to meet your standard of living?

What is the typical entry level salary? What is the median salary?

Or will you be paid by commission instead of salary? Or some mix of the two?

How to Map Out a Path to Your Career

5. Hours

What’s your preference? Regular hours, shift work, on call, seasonal, contract, part time, full time – which do you want?

How many hours are you willing to work each week?

6. Location

Will you have to move away for work?

Where would you be willing to work?

Would you have a long commute?

7. Labour Market / Availability

Is there a demand for these jobs?

Is that demand increasing or decreasing?

Can you create your own job?

How to Map Out a Path to Your Career

8. Education Level Required

Is a Bachelor’s degree enough or do you need a Master’s degree or PhD?

How easy will it be to enter into this career? Consider the relative importance between education and experience. If employers value experience over education then it can be difficult to get started on your career path.

How to Map Out a Path to Your Career

9. Benefits

Can you get an RRSP, insurance benefits, medical claims, etc?

10. Travel

Will your job require a lot of travel?

Do you want that or would you rather stay in one location?

11. Job Growth

Will there be opportunities for promotion? Or is it a ‘dead end’ job with a cap on how high your salary will be?

How to Map Out a Path to Your Career

12. Transferability

Is there a variety of jobs you can choose from within a certain career?

Does your chosen career path have a lot of transferable skills? If so, then this would open up your employment options and make it easier to switch careers later if you want to do so.


Now that you know which factors to consider, how can you compare careers and enter into the career of your choice? I have a few strategies you can try:

1. Choosing a career

A) Weighted Average

For comparing different careers, take the above factors (and add in any others I’ve missed) and decide on the importance of each one.

Ex: Is income more important than your interest in the subject?

On a scale of 1-10, 1 being least desirable 10 being most desirable, rank how the career meets what you want for each factor.

If you’re willing to do the math then give each factor a weighting percentage (the total should add to 100%) and give each career a number between 1 and 10 for each factor. Multiply it out and add up the sum. The career with the higher sum would probably be more to your liking.

I'll give an example using 5 of the above factors and two imaginary careers:

How to Map Out a Path to Your Career

From the weighting factors you can see that I place more importance on interest level over income, with lesser importance for environmental conditions and location. Career B has a lower income ranking than career A (4 vs 8 ) but a higher ranking on interest level (9 vs 6) and health and safety (8 vs 2). From the sum total, B gets a higher score meaning that despite its lower income you would probably be happier with this career.

There is probably no such thing as an ideal career; you will have to make trade-offs so you have to consider which factors are more important to you and how each career meets your criteria. It may seem a bit cumbersome to do a weighted average but you're making a big decision here so you should try to be as detailed and thorough as possible.

B) Job Shadowing

How can you know if you would like to work at a certain job without having done it before? I think it would really help if you could job shadow someone. Do they still do take your kid to work days? That would be a good opportunity. Or you could try to arrange something with a company, though I think they would be reluctant to let someone job shadow because if anything bad happens to you then they could be held liable. At the very least you could try to interview someone who is in a job that you're interested in.

To decide on a career it may be a good idea to do this for multiple jobs in the same career field.

2. Entering a career

A) Networking

Sadly, a lot of the time it’s not what you know it’s who you know. Ideally people would be hired based on merit but that’s not always the case. Get to know people while in school: classmates, teachers, potential employers, etc. Get whatever edge you can get.

How to Map Out a Path to Your Career

B) Start from the Endpoint / Plan Backwards

The end is in the beginning.”

This is a strategy I would sometimes use for solving those maze puzzles you often find on the back of cereal boxes. Work backwards from where you want to go to where you currently are. This will help you plan what you need to do to get into the career of your choice.

How to Map Out a Path to Your Career

An example of how you can use this strategy is to pretend you’ve already finished school and have to look for a job. Look up jobs online and see what the requirements are – what education level do you need, what experience level, what certifications, etc. Then you can plan how to meet each requirement.

From your first step you’ve set a direction – will it take you where you want to go?”

C) Flow Chart

Once you’ve decided on a career, you can create a flow chart of which steps you have to take to get there. Also, you can take into account any obstacles that could arise and how to get around them or even prevent them from occurring in the first place. For example, what would you do if your job search isn’t going well? You could take up a part time job to get some income whilst allowing you time to continue your job search and/or you could move back home with your parents to help save money.

A flow chart could also be used to help decide on changing jobs:

How to Map Out a Path to Your Career

I hope this take will be helpful to you. I came to write it because I'm thinking of changing careers, but you can get it right the first time. Good luck.

How to Map Out a Path to Your Career
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