Global HR Glossary

All about career paths

It's important to understand how an employer can contribute to an employee's career path.

  • Definition

  • How to

What is a career path?

A career path refers to the professional journey an individual takes throughout their working life. This progression might be a linear route, moving upward in a specific field, or it could involve switching industries or roles. It's usually marked by a series of jobs, experiences, and skills acquired over time, aimed at achieving personal and professional goals.

Career pathways are not solely the responsibility of the employee. Employers also have a crucial role in supporting employee career growth. Your company should support opportunities for skill development, provide regular feedback on performance, and foster safe spaces for career conversations.

By considering the aspirations and capabilities of employees, organizations can assign suitable roles for each individual to help them succeed. Aligning their personal goals with those of the organization will create a mutually beneficial relationship that promotes employee retention and satisfaction.

People may change careers altogether or stay with a single expertise, but all paths fall into two major categories:

  • Vertical

  • Horizontal

A vertical career path refers to a traditional model of career progression where an individual advances upward within a specific field or organization. Employees typically move from entry-level positions to higher roles such as supervisor, manager, director, and eventually, executive positions. Every vertical move involves more responsibility and a more complex set of skills but is rewarded with higher compensation.

An employee following a horizontal career path moves across roles or departments within the level of their expertise. For example, a marketing specialist could , or they may move from one department to another, such as sales or operations. This type of path allows employees to diversify their skills and knowledge while staying within their current level.

Regardless of which path your employees take, it's essential to be open to new opportunities and continuously learn and develop skills.

How to create a career path for your employees

It's crucial to engage in open and transparent communication with your team members. Regular discussions about individual career aspirations, skills, and interests can provide insights into your employees' goals and help align them with your organizational objectives.

Employers should also invest in performance reviews and assessments to identify strengths, areas for improvement, and potential growth opportunities. Constructive feedback and goal-setting discussions can aid employees in understanding where they stand within the organization and how they can progress. Offering mentorship programs or pairing employees with experienced colleagues can also provide valuable guidance and insights, helping them navigate their career paths more effectively.

Providing training and development opportunities is another key aspect of supporting employees on their career journeys. This could include workshops, courses, or certifications that enhance their skills and knowledge. Employers should encourage continuous learning and make resources available for employees to stay updated in their respective fields.

Furthermore, creating a culture that values internal promotions and advancement is essential. Clearly defined promotion criteria, opportunities for skill-building within the company, and the recognition of achievements contribute to a positive and motivating work environment. When employees see a viable and rewarding career path within the organization, they are more likely to remain engaged and committed to their roles.

Next steps
To better manage your employees' career paths:
  • Establish transparent career paths within your organization, outlining potential progressions and growth opportunities.

  • Prioritize ongoing training and skill development programs to empower your employees with the necessary tools for career advancement.

  • Provide consistent feedback and performance evaluations to help your employees understand their strengths and areas for improvement. Align their goals with your company's objectives.

  • Clearly define the criteria for advancement, ensuring that your employees understand the expectations and requirements for moving to the next level in their careers.

  • Recognize that career paths may evolve, and be adaptable to changes in employee aspirations, market dynamics, and organizational needs.

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