In recent years, the career planning process has changed considerably: We are defining career success differently, people are increasingly seeking purpose at work, and career roadmaps have evolved to accommodate people who are switching industries, pursuing unconventional careers and incorporating more of their passions and hobbies into their career paths.
Even if you are working toward a career that doesn’t follow one particular path, you can use this guide to create a career roadmap that will balance your personal and professional interests and help you achieve your version of success.
What is a career roadmap?
A career roadmap is a plan that includes where you are going in your career and how you will get there. You can use a career roadmap to guide your education and training as well as the types of jobs you pursue. You may find a career roadmap most useful when you are:
Transitioning from one career to another
Pursuing a new degree, certification or credential
Recovering from a layoff
Preparing to graduate from college or vocational school
Planning to start a side hustle (like nearly 39% of people in the U.S.)
You can write out your career roadmap in a notebook or physical planner, or by using a digital option such as Apple Notes, Trello, Evernote, or Notion. According to a study conducted by psychologist and professor Dr. Gail Matthews, participants who recorded their goals were 42% more likely to achieve them.
Once you decide where (and how) to capture your roadmap, include three main components to help you achieve a career that is both personally and professionally fulfilling.
1. Clear action steps
Define action steps that will enable you to get closer to your ultimate goals—here are some examples:
Complete a project management training course
Find a mentor
Earn a certification
Start a side hustle
Advance to a leadership position
Each action step points to a goal or objective you can work toward in your career. You may find that your action steps evolve as you gain more experience, develop new interests or learn more about different job opportunities.
Make your goals time-based to help ensure that you will hold yourself accountable for reaching them. Establishing a deadline for your action steps can also help motivate you. In his analysis of the Goal Setting Theory of Motivation, Professor Fred C. Lunenberg of Sam Houston State University suggests that giving yourself a deadline drives you to complete your goals.
Here, you can see an example of the same action steps we identified earlier but with a defined timeline.
Complete a project management training course by January 1st
Find a mentor within the next 3 to 6 months
Earn a certification by the end of the year (December 31st)
Start a side hustle by the end of spring
Advance to a leadership position before the end of the fiscal year (June 30th)
While it is important to include a specific deadline for each of the action steps in your career roadmap, it’s also important to remember that your deadline may change. Lunenberg suggests that deadlines that are too strict can negatively impact the quality of your work.
When your goals or circumstances change, you may need additional time to take each step. Alternatively, you may experience periods where you can dedicate more time to your goals, accelerating your anticipated deadline.
In either case, maintain some flexibility in your career roadmap for unexpected life events, potential roadblocks and even a change of heart. When these events come up, adjust your timeline and use your roadmap to guide your next step.
3. Useful resources
Every solid career roadmap includes reputable resources that contain useful information. You can include any resources that you find helpful—start with people, places and things.
Connecting with new and existing contacts is not only useful for job searching but for building your career roadmap as well. Consider the coworkers, mentors, industry experts and career coaches in your network, then tap these people for guidance.
You can ask them how they’ve built their careers, seek feedback on your resume or request introductions to key people in their networks. Be prepared to add value to the relationship by offering to advise on a topic you know well or introduce them to someone in your network.
Online “places” you include in your roadmap may come in the form of databases or career blogs.
O*Net, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook and Indeed Career Guide are helpful resources for exploring potential careers, assessing your interests and getting solid advice.
Each “place” should include reliable, data-driven information that helps to improve your roadmap.
The “things” you use in your career roadmap can range from self-paced online courses to professional development resources like industry associations, webinars and conferences.
Adding these resources to your career roadmap can help you identify opportunities to build your experience and engage with like-minded professionals who are working toward their own career goals.
Include a combination of people, places and things in your career roadmap to research and explore the requirements, challenges and benefits of each action step in your plan.
Career roadmap template
In addition to the three main components of a career roadmap, your plan should include your starting point and your ultimate goal. Whether you are building a roadmap at the beginning of your career, toward the end or somewhere in the middle, a starting point and ultimate goal can give you a stronger sense of direction.
The template below includes all five parts of a career roadmap, along with prompts for what you can include in each section.
What is my current job title or function?
How many years of relevant experience do I have?
Who is my current (or most recent) employer?
What are my most marketable skills?
Clear action steps:
What additional education or training do I need to move forward?
What do I want to do next?
What opportunities are available to me?
When do I want to complete each step?
What are some potential time constraints I should be aware of?
Which people, places or things can I use to research my next steps?
Where do I want to end up in my career?
What is my ideal job title, function and industry?
What do I need to feel fulfilled or accomplished in my career?
Career roadmap example
Review this example to get an idea of what your career roadmap could look like.
Project coordinator for a nonprofit organization
Four years of relevant experience; seven years of experience overall
Skills include risk management, client engagement, analytics and research