What is a Career Path?

by May Bleeker-Phelan, 26 Aug 2022

Your career path storyline

career path illustration ©May Bleeker-Phelan 2022, www.tidalshine.com

In the standard view a career path is the route into (or through) a particular career.

This is a useful perspective when you are trying to decide on a career and want to know the 'way in' or what academic or other qualifications are needed to proceed in a particular career.

Many helpful resources exist on this level if you are a student doing career exploration. Some are provided in school via career education programmes such as Xello or organisations such as Morrisby.

Below are some links to example career paths available online:

Opthalmology career path
Art therapist career path

If you are already in a career and considering options or looking at career development, another useful way to think about a career path is as a "storyline".

Your career pathway is the story of how you came to do the work you do and also of how your career is evolving.

You tell part of this story when people ask you 'what do you do?'.

You actively craft your career storyline when you make decisions or take actions that move you closer to the lifestyle, job or way of working that you desire.

The universe is made of stories, not atoms. - Muriel Rukeyser (The Speed of Darkness)

Is a series of jobs a career path?

The series of jobs you have done so far is certainly part of your career path, but it isn't the 'whole story'. Opportunities that come your way or that you have a hand in creating, significant career events (many of which will be beyond your control) and things that fail to materialise also form part of the narrative. There are also your hopes and dreams and future selves to explore.

Career progression can be haphazard. For most people it is a process of adapting and growing through a series of challenges and changes.

A career path develops with inputs from many sources. Career development researchers refer to these as your career resources.

Just like your life story, a career path storyline is never fully complete. It is always in the process of being written. Although context and life opportunities play a major role in how careers develop, as the author of your career development you always have the option to influence things through your intentions and actions.

Whenever you face a crossroads, an opportunity or a point of choice in your working life your career path storyline has the potential for renewal.

You have not grown old, and it is not too late - 
Rainer Maria Rilke (The Book of The Hours, translated by Robert Bly)

Tips for crafting your career path storyline

A career path usually involves some kind of movement towards aspirations, goals, and milestones. Some of these might be academic, or related to skills development or personal growth. Others may relate to pay or meeting family needs. One of the first steps to career development is clarifying your vision for yourself and identifying goals that are important and personally valuable to you.

Understanding what resources you have to draw on to enhance your career is an important part of managing your career path.

The acronym STORYBOARD captures the required actions needed for shaping and directing your career. Read more about it on these pages:

Self Directed Career Development: Craft your own career
10 Resources Critical for Career Success
Map Your Career Resources

Real-life career paths

For interest I've provided some examples of real-life career paths. These describe a combination of qualification milestones, opportunities arising, jobs held and significant career events:

Matriculation (equivalent of British A-Levels)
Certificate in Office Management - (online college)
Diploma in Office Management (incomplete)
Receptionist - Security Industry
Admin Assistant (temp)
Administrative Assistant (full time)

Financial Accountant
Matriculation (equivalent to British A-Levels)
B.Comm Honours degree in Marketing (incomplete)
Academic switch to Industrial Psychology degree (incomplete)
Receptionist (temp) - IT Industry
Bookkeeper (same company)
Financial Assistant (same company)
Credit Controller (same company)
B.Comm Honours in Business Management - part-time studies
Financial Accountant
Chartered Institute of Management Accountants qualifications (achieved whilst working)
Financial Manager

Source: Anonymised client data

Art Conservationist

Scholar doing A-levels searching for compulsory work experience placement
Head Teacher introduces the idea of art conservation
Secured 2 weeks work experience in a conservation studio as part of A levels compulsory work experience
Foundation Degree in Art and Design - Local College
Fine Art and Art History - University Degree
Postgraduate Diploma in Easel Painting Conversation - The Courtauld Institute
Experience and exposure to work methods gained through paid research trip abroad, working in multiple museums and conservation studios, including abroad. Producing a post-graduate thesis and collaboration with other museums.
Postgraduate degree cost covered by 7 scholarships. Assistance obtained from The Courtauld Institute in applying for these scholarships.
Conservation Fellow position at The National Gallery London (gained skills, knowledge and opportunities through working alongside top conservators in their field).
Future prospect: Painting Conservation Intern - The Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California

Source: Art Conservation: What other career combines art history, scientific investigation, artistic ability and detective skills? By Kendall Francis, Conservation Fellow, The National Gallery, Career Matters April 2022, Issue 10.2, p12

From this last example you can see the vital role that environmental and social resources play in shaping someone's career path. If these resources are not automatically part of your everyday landscape then developing a clear idea of the resources you need to develop can help you find ways to move ahead on your chosen career path.

Career Storyline Exploration Workshop

Register your interest below (this is not a booking form).

Creatively explore the narrative of your career path and create your career resource map.
This is a 2-hr pilot workshop conducted online.
Cost: free of charge

Once sufficient interest has been registered an email will be sent with workshop dates and further information.

Register Your Interest
Career Storyline Exploration Workshop

Please note that all fields followed by an asterisk must be filled in.