Whether you want to run your own company or snag the corner office at your current job, you probably have an end-goal for your career. But do you really know what you need to do to get there?
"It's important for people to see the steps that are actually involved [in reaching their career goals]," said Ryan Porter, co-founder of career planning platform Raise Your Flag. "I hear so many students say things like, 'I want to be a fashion designer' or 'I want to be a snowboard instructor.' Thanks to 30- to 60-minute TV shows, these young career planners often assume things happen much quicker than they actually do."
To get a realistic handle on what it's going to take to achieve your career aspirations, it helps to create a "roadmap" outlining the steps you need to take to reach your goals. Career experts shared their advice for mapping out a path to your ultimate dream job. [5 Ways to Take Your Career to the Next Level]
Know where you want to go
You can't start mapping your route if you don't know the destination. For your first step in planning out your career path, you should create a detailed personal vision statement of where you would like to be at various points in the coming years, said Joyce Maroney, director of the Workforce Institute at workforce management solutions provider Kronos.
"You are ultimately responsible for your own career — not the boss, not the mentors, not the career services office at the school you attended — you," Maroney told Business News Daily. "Before you can chase that dream job, you need to articulate what success means to you, including the aspects of your life outside of the job. Only once you have a clear vision of where you want to be in the next one, five and 20 years can you construct a roadmap to get there."
If you're making a career change and trying to plan a path to your new goals, think about why you want to switch directions before you take that first step.
"When considering a professional change, the best first question to ask is, 'Am I running toward something or away from something?'" Maroney said. "If it's the former, go for it. If it's the latter, the change you need to make may just be a change in manager or company, not your current career track."
Focus on the tools you need
You may have a list of companies you want to work for or titles you want to have during your career. These aspirations make a good starting point, but it's more important to know what skills you'll need, and how to build them.
"When mapping out your future, rather than focusing on companies and positions, think about the skills and expertise necessary to pursue your dream career," said Kirk Baumann, vice president of career services at student-focused entrepreneurial community Enactus. "While you cannot control whether you will be hired at a specific organization, by equipping yourself with a killer résumé, you will be poised to be a top candidate when exciting jobs become available."
Ryan Carson, co-founder and CEO of tech skills education platform Treehouse, agreed that being a "doer" is better than fixating on titles and promotions.
"When creating a good career map, these aren't necessarily things you should focus on, because it distracts you from actually doing," Carson said. "Being a doer, whether it's [through driving] creative projects or offering advice, shows high social intelligence — that you can work with people, develop or offer something meaningful to a situation, and make partnerships happen."
Find a guide
Networking with people in your chosen field, especially those with positions you hope to hold, can be immensely helpful in career planning efforts. By identifying one or more mentors and asking about their academic and professional backgrounds, you'll be able to explore potential paths to your career destination.
Maroney noted that asking a lot of open-ended questions when you network can reveal some of the untold stories behind your dream career.
"Most people like to talk about themselves," she said. "These informational conversations are your opportunity to make sure that you understand the rewards and the costs of performing that role. Every job has its highs and lows."
Be open to changing your route
You might hit some detours along the way, or your destination may change completely. In any case, your path isn't set in stone, and you'll need to be able to adapt to any roadblocks you may encounter along the way.
"Planning out a career path will not necessarily lead you to your dream job," said Carson. "Your ideals about that dream job will probably change. Being flexible, adaptable, open to learning new skills and a creator of something, whether it be an idea or tangible object, are some of the most important pieces to being successful in any career."
Even if you take a wrong turn, it's never too late to adjust and learn from the experience.
"So many people are paralyzed by the thought of making a career choice because they are afraid of getting it wrong," Porter said. "The good news is that you can make changes. Everybody chooses occupations and takes stops along their career paths that they aren't excited about. The point is to make a decision and do something. Learn from that decision and what it means to your career path, and then make better decisions from that point forward."
[Thinking about a career change that requires going back to school? Visit our partner site's "Classes and Careers" calculator to figure out which school and program is best for you.]
Originally published on Business News Daily.