How to Map Your Career Path Before It Starts

3 ways to get started in the right direction.

BY DIANE PADDISON LIFE October 29, 2012

Where are you headed?

Maybe you’re already on track for your “dream job,” or maybe you don’t even know what your idea of a dream job looks like yet. 

Either way, now is a great time to start thinking critically about your professional future.

Know Yourself

First things first—you need to know yourself. This isn’t actually as easy as it sounds. Sure, you are yourself, but how often have you really focused on critically understanding your professional strengths, values and limitations? 

To really do this well, you’ll need to invest in some serious—and honest—self-evaluation, and you may want to consider some psychological-type tests like the Myers-Briggs Personality Type test.  Tests can help you see yourself in a different way and may identify areas of importance that you haven’t considered.

In addition to strengths and values, you also need to recognize your limitations.  Romans 12:3 sheds some light on this:

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.
Author and pastor Rick Renner explains that the word “soberly” is the Greek word sophroneo, which means to think sensibly; to think reasonably; to think realistically; to think rationally; to think practically; to keep in proper measure; or not to think beyond the set boundaries. 

In other words, don’t pretend to be more than you are! Recognize your God-given abilities and use them. But when you come to the edge of your limitations, be willing to say, “This is too much for me.”

Shape Your Goals

Once you fully know your strengths, values and limitations, then you can put them to use to define some more concrete goals for your career.

Create a list of at least 10 key workplace characteristics.  Think beyond the type of work you want to do to include the culture of a company, the work team and the elements of the job that best fit you.  Are you naturally competitive like me?  It might be crucial to have some element of “pay for performance” in your ideal compensation structure.  Do you have—or plan to have—a family?  Work flexibility and family-friendly culture may factor high on your list.

Plan a Strategy

Finally, you need to think strategically. Coming out of business school, I knew that I wanted to aim for the “C-Suite” (CEO, CFO, COO, ect.). 

One of my professors, Dr. Salhman, warned me that to get to the C-Suite, your area of expertise must be in the company’s main line of business.  This advice stuck with me and when I found myself working in and enjoying marketing consulting for an international accounting firm, I realized that I would need to make a change.  I was gaining some valuable job experience, but I knew that marketing couldn’t make me a key leader in an accounting business.   So I made the best of the situation and moved on when the right opportunity presented itself.  

Maybe your goal is to become a partner at a law firm, or to become the principal of a school someday.  Consider (investigate if necessary!) what strategic steps you can take now to help set you on the right path.

Adapted from a post on www.4wordwomen.org.

Diane Paddison

DIANE PADDISON

Diane Paddison has held several executive positions for corporations, including Chief Operating Officer for two Fortune 500 companies, Trammell Crow (now CB Richard Ellis) and ProLogis. She is currently the Chief Strategy Officer at the commercial real estate firm Cassidy Turley, and the founder of 4word, a national nonprofit designed to connect, lead and support young professional Christian women to fulfill their God-given potential.

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