Skip to Content
An HR Glossary for HR Terms

Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms

page leaf

Career Path

What Is a Career Path?

A career path is a list of steps to take in your professional life for progressing into different or more advanced roles at work. It’s a series of jobs and experiences that help employees reach their ultimate career objectives and future goals. 

When an employee creates their career path, they are not the only one who benefits. Employers also benefit when employees are more engaged in their job and long-term relationship with the company. This improves not only employee morale, but employee profitability as well.

What Are the Different Types of Career Paths?

The definition of a career path can be vertical or horizontal, depending on a person’s opportunities, preferences, and aspirations.  

Vertical career paths include either advancement to higher-level positions or movement to a lower-level position, depending on an individual’s desire for increased or decreased job responsibility and time commitment.

Horizontal career paths include lateral movement either within an organization, an industry, or across multiple industries, depending on an individual’s desire to learn new skills or have different experiences. 

What Are Examples of Career Paths?

Career paths can take many different routes throughout an employee’s professional years, but here are four examples of different career paths that an employee can take:

  1. Vertical Construction Career Path = Construction Laborer ↗ Supervisor ↗ Foreman ↗ Project Manager ↗ Construction Manager 

  2. Horizontal Construction Career Path = Construction Training Director → Occupational Health Officer 

  3. Vertical Human Resources Career Path = Human Resource Assistant ↗ Human Resources Specialist ↗ Assistant Director of Human Resources ↗ Director of Human Resources ↘ Human Resources Consultant

  4. Horizontal Human Resources Career Path = Assistant Job Recruiter → Human Resource Assistant → Benefits Assistant → Insurance Agent Assistant 

How Do You Choose a Career Path?

To choose a career path, an employee must consider their personality, career goals, and future plans. 

Here are three steps to take when assisting an employee with making intentional, strategic choices for their career path:

  1. Reflect on your personality. What are your core values? What type of work brings you fulfillment? Do you enjoy specializing in one or two niche areas, or would you rather be a generalist? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? What type of people do you enjoy working with? 

  2. Decide on a few career goals. Do you want to eventually become an executive, or will you be happier with a less demanding position? What job classification do you strive to have listed after your name on a business card? Is there a specific salary you want to earn (and by when)? What is your preferred work schedule and location? 

  3. Determine any future plans that must work into your career path. Are you willing to go back to school if needed? Are you planning to take any significant amount of time off for a life event? Are you determined to retire early? 

Answering these questions will guide your employee toward or away from certain career paths that do or do not fit their personality, career goals, and future plans. 

How Do You Create a Career Path?

To create an effective and fulfilling career path that will meet your employee’s goals and objectives, they should follow these six steps:

  1. Identify core values.

  2. Focus on fields and niche areas of passion.

  3. Assess current education level and skill set.

  4. Outline career goals.

  5. Consider basic salary needs and desires (and a timeframe for meeting compensation goals).

  6. Write up a five-year career plan listing all skills, experiences, and job titles that must be met within desired time frames. Do the same with a 10-year career plan.

Career pathing is often done by an employee during a performance review under the guidance of their manager or HR representative. 

How Do You Follow a Career Path?

To successfully follow a determined career path, an employee must be willing to continually learn new skills, network with peers, and occasionally take a lateral (or backward) move in order to get ahead in the long run. They also must be willing to adjust goals if their needs or preferences change along the way.

We use cookies to improve your browsing experience. By continuing to use this website, you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy.