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Career mapping can give you a clear picture of the road you need to travel to success.

Drawing the Map of Your Career: The Basics of Career Planning

What you want to do in your working life is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. But yet, many people don't take the opportunity to really sit down and think their choice through. When workers fail to proactively manage their careers, they are leaving their future to fate and may not be in a position to take advantage of the opportunities that may come their way. However, it doesn't have to be that way. Creating a career plan -- which allows you to take stock of your interests, personality, education, strengths and weaknesses -- can be a great way to hold the reins of your career in your hands, and have a roadmap of where you want to go and what steps you need to take to realistically get there.

How to create a career map

Crafting a career map can make your career journey as satisfying as your career destination. The following tips can help you get started.

Know yourself. One of the first things you need to do to map out your career path is to be in touch with who you are. What do you like to do? What do you dislike? Are you introverted or extroverted? What are you good at and what tasks do you feel you need to improve upon?

If you can't answer these questions off the care of your head, there are ways you can brainstorm to come to the answers. For example, you can make a list of your past jobs and note what you liked about each one and what you disliked. Also, taking certain personality tests -- like the Strong Interest Inventory and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator -- can help make your preferences more clear to you and help you choose jobs that match them.

Research. Start by exploring a variety of careers, paying particular attention to salaries offered, job growth outlook and education required. When you've come up with a list of careers that may be right for you, do as much research as you can about what those jobs actually entail. By perusing job boards, conducting informational interviews, and shadowing a professional in a specific job, you can really get a sense of whether or not a job is a good fit for you.

Evaluate your education. If you already have a post-secondary education, you may have studied it because you had a real passion for the subject matter you were studying. But sometimes, it's important to gain real-world skills and knowledge in order to start a career. It doesn't necessarily mean you have to earn a four-year degree, but sometimes a professional certification or non-degree coursework may be necessary to reach your goals. You can find out if you need additional education by looking at job advertisements and reading through the websites of professional organizations in your field.

Re-evaluate. Everyone changes, and as we get older, our interests and priorities are likely to evolve, which can also translate into some kind of career change. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, people are likely to change jobs on average every five years, and a survey conducted by Future Workplace in 2012 found that Millennials (those born between 1977 and 1997) think they'll change jobs every three years or so. Whether the change is deliberate or based on necessity caused by losing a position, it's always good to re-evaluate your career before you make the next move.

The don'ts of career mapping

Career mapping can open up a world of ideas about your professional life -- if you do it right. But sometimes, says career expert Dana Manciagli, author of "Cut the Crap, Get a Job," people make common mistakes that can actually limit their career mapping, which in turn limits the opportunities they are trying to develop. The following don'ts are mistakes to avoid when creating your career map.

Don't let your current education limit your career goals. "It's great that you got your degree, but people overthink that now because they have a communications degree, they have to go into communications. People should open their mind up to all the possibilities out there and really strive for something that they think they'd enjoy doing 8 to 5," said Manciagli. "Many of these jobs are not based on a specific degree, they are based on your competency and confidence. When it comes down to it, your resume, cover letter and interview must exude the confidence that you can do the job. And that goes back to functions and skills, not industry."

Don't forget your current job. Manciagli says that oftentimes, workers who are new to their careers, or considering a career change, are so busy thinking about their next move that they neglect the job they already have. But the most important thing is to do your best now -- because if you don't do good work in your current position, you may not get those other opportunities you're looking for.

Don't throw out all of your experience. If you're thinking about changing careers, in most cases, it may not be a good idea to start from scratch, says Manciagli. Make a list of the jobs you've had and the industries you've worked in. Oftentimes, the best way to make a career transition is to either keep the type of job you currently have and change industries, or get another position in your current industry. If you change both, you may be making it harder on yourself to transition to your next move.

It would be silly to embark on a journey through unknown territory without a map or GPS. You'd end up wandering around, either never getting to your final destination or taking way too long to get there. Consider this scenario as you chart the course for your future.

Sources:

"Career planning the second time around," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Accessed June 23, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/opub/ooq/2009/summer/art02.pdf

CIO, "Career Mapping Offers a Clear Path for Both Employees and Employers," Rich Hein, December 05, 2012, http://www.cio.com/article/723040/Career_Mapping_Offers_a_Clear_Path_for_Both_Employees_and_Employers

Dana Manciagli, personal communication, June 20, 2014.

"Develop Your Career Path," University of Alaska Fairbanks, Accessed June 23, 2014, http://www.uaf.edu/career/faculty/forms/pdfs/CS_Guide/Mapping_Your_Career.pdf

"Explore careers," Mapping Your Future, Inc., Accessed June 23, 2014, https://mappingyourfuture.org/PlanYourCareer/

"How to Map Your Career Path," IQ Matrix, Accessed June 23, 2014, http://blog.iqmatrix.com/map-your-career-path

"Job Hopping is the 'New Normal' for Millennials: Three Ways to Prevent a Human Resource Nightmare," Jeanne Meister, Forbes, August 14, 2012, http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeannemeister/2012/08/14/job-hopping-is-the-new-normal-for-millennials-three-ways-to-prevent-a-human-resource-nightmare/

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