Mapping Your Career Path

These days, mapping your career path is more difficult because of flattened organization structures, and a challenging economy. In the book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg – the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook – she writes that she is constantly asked how she mapped her career. When Sandberg looks back at her career, from where she started, to where she is today, she admits that she would not have been able to initially connect the dots. According to her, “A jungle gym scramble is the best description of my career.”

A jungle gym is a piece of playground equipment that is a structure of joined bars or logs on which children can sit, hang or climb to the top. In tough economic times, Sandberg suggests that instead of focusing on a ladder with an upward trajectory that takes you the top, it makes more sense to do a jungle gym scramble. This jungle gym scramble could be taking lateral moves, changing industries, functions and departments, always with the aim of making yourself more marketable and valuable to an employer.

Sandberg also recommends that instead of mapping your career path, you should have a long-term dream and an 18-month plan. This advice is not at odds with having a fulfilling career or one that you are passionate about. But having a long-term dream and an 18-month plan require that you have clarity around where you are trying to go with your career, and not on how you get there. Having clarity around where you’d like to ultimately take your career is not that easy to do, but the task becomes much easier when you give yourself the opportunity to work in diverse positions, on a variety of “side” projects and temporary assignments, as well as volunteer in roles you are curious about. Participating in these activities allows you to test drive a variety of career option.

As of 2010, the average American between the ages of 18 and 46 has had 11 jobs. When you have “tested” many roles in your work-life, you are in a better position to decide on your long-term dream, and subsequently create an 18-month plan. If you decide to map your career path, build in flexibility, so that you can perform the jungle gym scramble just like Sheryl Sandberg.


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