Job Basics: The Path

upward path stair

Last we met, we discussed how your  first goal should be, well, having a goal to get to. A job or position or career that you knew, understood, and knew enough to reach for. That gave you something to plan for and something to start doing right away.

So once you have a career goal in mind, as noted, you should research it and understand it. This lets you create a path to that goal.  Thats the next thing to explore in Job Basics

This may sound simple, but that simplicity is deceptive. It is easy to treat career paths as obvious, as ordained, or as something “everyone” knows. Real life, however, is filled with roundabouts, distractions, short cuts, and surprises. If it seems easy, there’s a good chance you don’t know what the hell you’re doing – or you’re very lucky.

Let’s not assume luck or competency, but focus on what you need to know and do to have a path to your goal.

KNOW – What you need to do

You should know what is necessary to get to your ideal career, your goal. This should be something you can list in detail – if you can explain it to someone else who doesn’t know much about your chosen path, then you’ve got it.

What you need to do could consist of:

  • Degrees you need to get.
  • Experience you need have.
  • Portfolios you need to put together.
  • Personality traits appropriate to the job you can cultivate.
  • Locations you should probably move to.
  • Internships that would help.

. . . and so on.

How do you find this?

* As mentioned, career books. They often list specific skills, degrees, and advice if they’re any good.
* Career websites and sites dedicated to certain careers. Be careful of sites selling something – I find industry sites, professional associations, and news sites are most useful.
* Talk to people in the profession. Always the best thing.

Remember – if you can explain it in a way that makes sense, you have a good idea of what your path requires.

KNOW – How to get there

So you know what you have to do in areas of education, experience, etc. You then need to know how you’re going to make all of these things happen in the right order.

How will you pay for school? How are you going go get an internship? How are you going to publish that first novel? How are you going to relocate? How do you pay the bills until things are in order?

Each important component that you need to fulfill should be something you research and understand how you achieve it. You should also understand the usual order of components – do you get this certification on the job or before it, etc. You should, in short, understand how all the things that lead up to your career goal tie together.

For instance, say you want to be a fiction writer. Well, people rarely start out as successful fiction writer – which rarely pays all the bills anyway, but you want to take a shot. You realize that a general writing career is the step before that, so you plan for that. Getting that career is best with some experience and a degree, and you could get some writing experience by taking on more tech writing at your job . . . and so on.

How do you figure this out?

  • Talking to people (yeah, I’m going to keep saying this). Real life individuals are the best source of information – find them locally, look for professional associations, write people you admire, etc. They have real, solid advice and can provide you with good ideas – and it builds your network.
  • Look to people you admire. The people doing careers you want – famous or obscure – are excellent role models even if you can’t talk to them. A good biography, a personal web page, etc. can teach you many things.
  • Again, career books. Just pick good ones.
  • Reliable job counsellors and coaches.

MAKE – A plan

You should have a career plan. It should be written down in one form or another and evaluated regularly to make sure you’re making progress. If you don’t have a plan, you probably won’t get there.

One of the things that makes it challenging for people to create such a plan is that how do you know if it’s enough. Trust me, you can over and underplan and both are kind of a pain.

I find there are three good rules of planning:

  • Can you explain your plan in a way that makes it sense? Explain it aloud to yourself, and then try it on someone else. If it makes sense alone and in front of someone, that’s a good sign. It’s a lot like explaining your career traits earlier.
  • You can point to specific measures of success – getting a degree, finishing a certification, getting a publishing deal, etc.
  • Can you right now, look at your career plan and decide on something that takes five minutes or less you could do right now to advance your career? Order a book? Write someone? If you can do that you have a good sense of a plan.

(By the way, when you’re down or directionless, one of these “five minute” activities is a great way to get back on the path.)

I also strongly advise reading books on good organization, specifically Getting Things Done.

DO – Measurements

You also need to measure your progress in your plan – if you can’t measure progress then your plan isn’t very good or you need to be better at it.

It doesn’t have to be anything huge or complex. “Get paid $100 for an art commission” is a great milestone just to prove you can do something. “Be at a company for three years or more” is another. “Got the book out on time” is fine. Have something to measure, even if it seems simple (a simple thing like a deadline has major repercussions)

If it’s the wrong measure? Well,drop it and add another later. But measure first just so you get in the habit and start learning.

You should update these measures regularly to make sure you’re going somewhere.  Keep a spreadsheet/plan.

To give a personal example, I’ve set my heart on getting two certifications in the next three years to get me to my next career stage. I’ve been at this a long time – I’m still measuring.

In some cases you should measure just out of curiosity to test things out. Can you get so many art commissions in “X” time and so on? It’s fun to play with measures just to get better at it.

KNOW – When things are done

Any plan also has to have goals that can be completed – that’s part of measurement. Getting a degree is something that can be completed. Publishing a book is the same way – book out, done.

This ability to say “done” keeps you from being lost in never finishing things or measuring poorly, or meandering. The ability to make a set of tasks distinct, with a beginning and an end, lets you get things done because they’re not ambiguous.

HAVE – Plan A2 but Not Plan B

Should you have a plan B for your career? I’d say no.

A Plan B can divide your time and attention. You’re really trying to make two plans and can only carry out one, so your attention will be divided. You might not achieve either of them.

Instead I reccomend having Plan A be broad enough that it has some variants and options – Plan A2 as it were. Now for some peope laser-like, obsessvie, focus on one goal may work – I’m just not going to count on it for most people.

So make sure that your Plan A has a few points where you can take different options that still relate. You might not be a game programmer but may program graphic software. You might not be a writer but can work in advertising. You might not be a famous chef but do darned good running cafeteria services.  You may not act, but you work in video supply.

A “Plan A2” is close enough to Plan A they’re nearly the same, but give you options.

However, there’s one thing to keep in mind . . .

HAVE – Fun Backup Skills – And Fun Ones

One thing that I do advise is do not get so focused on your career that it’s all you can do. Now some people may manage that, but I’ve encountered a few too many folks who were overspecialized and having career issues as well as others.  Sometimes being something requires you to be more, if you get my drift.

You want do basically do other things what you like and are good at, but aren’t necessarily part of your career directly. I write a lot on my job as I do it as a hobby – but it started as a hobby. I know other people in editing who do social media for fansites. You do other things for fun that may relate to your career but aren’t your career.

These give you several advantages:

  • You keep a fresh perspective on things as you’re not so locked in your vision you loose perspective.
  • You have new skills to enrich your current job – and can put them to use there.
  • They are something you can leverage if a sudden career change is in order.

Thus you may not have a Plan B, but you keep a diverse enough skillset that if all your variants of Plan A fail, you’ve got a few other things you’re good at just in case. It also gives you some ideas if you need a sudden career chance as you’re sick of things.

By the way, many good backup skills are hobbies. They’re fun and productive.

So you got a path – and a few possible directions. Next you need to get growing.

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at, publishes books on career and culture at, and does a site of creative tools at He can be reached at