Tracking Your Professional Journey: How to Move Through the 10 Stages of Your Career

Nov 19, 2014 - Joe Matar
Starting any journey with the end in mind makes perfect sense. But when it comes to career kickstarts, changes and progression, it’s important to think about the embarkation point and plan from there. Think of your career as your course through life. For some it’s a direct path, from point A to point B. For most others, it’s a myriad of avenues and turns, providing a variety of opportunities. If you’re at a point where you want to make a difference with your work, progress in your career and find happiness along the way, then it’s important to get a grasp of your career superhighway and take stock of where you are now and what’s next (and after that). Here’s an outline of 10 stages you might experience over the course of your career. (Click here to tweet this list.) You may follow a linear path or jump back and forth through different stages. Remember, any direction you move through them is perfectly fine, as long as you’re moving in a direction that makes sense for you. Always remember your career is yours to drive, and the choices you make are yours alone.

1. The early education and exploration years

The experiences you have when you’re just starting out will shape your future. Over your lifetime you’ll spend on average 100,000 hours at work according to Charles Handy, author of The Age of Unreason. So it’s important to seek out a job and career you enjoy. In this stage, you need to think about what that might look like and how you might get there. Remember saying “When I grow up I want to be…”? Kids might have no idea what they want to do when they grow up, but they will be very aware of things they enjoy doing; there’s no harm in dreaming. Draw inspiration from that childlike perspective; Think about your passions and how those might apply to your working life one day.

2. Continuing education

Even if you’ve been soul searching for a few years, you may still be wondering, “What’s next?” Start thinking hard about your options and what would make you happy. If you really have no idea, then think about:
  • People you admire
  • What you love spending your time on
  • Experiences you’ve enjoyed
Use your answers as inspiration to brainstorm roles that could be a good fit for you. To move on from this stage, try picking up a part-time job, looking into contract work and attending new networking events to help you decide the right path. It’s also time to work on practical, everyday and essential employability skills such as time management and commerciality, which are key to securing your dream job.

3. First role

You’ve secured your first job! Remember this is a marathon, not a sprint. So be prepared to put the work in and learn essential skills and knowledge before you’re ready to move on. While you dominate your first job, continue to keep an eye on the next move and work towards it. Make sure you have regular one-on-one discussions with your manager and make sure to bring up your career goals. If this isn’t part of your conversations, you run the risk of getting caught up on the day-to-day and losing track of the goals. Keep track of your goals to make sure they’re front of mind. You may even want to keep a career notebook where you jot down aspirations, track progress and make plans. This will help you develop a firm grasp on goal setting and keep you focused on getting there.

4. The “on a roll” stage

You’re learning, progressing, happy, engaged and “on a roll.” You’re making a contribution and working towards future goals. Enjoy this time and make the most of all the opportunities that come your way. But also take time to reflect on what you’re learning and what you’d like to develop while you’re in a good place. Then use low-cost or no-cost learning tools such as mentoring, online tutorials and videos to boost your knowledge base. Make time to have big picture conversations with trusted advisors. By doing so, the opportunities to move to the next level in your career will reveal themselves. Your next move may be through a promotion, returning to school to continue your education, a company or career change or even staying here until it’s time to retire.

5. Add ons

When you’re happy and engaged, you should still keep your options open. Start thinking about additional activities you can do to give back. Do you feel you need a new challenge or want to acquire skills that don’t fall within your current duties? How about becoming a mentor? Offering to help with on-boarding new hires? Taking on a work experience student, non-executive directorships, sabbaticals for travel or charity work? Choose whatever will keep you motivated and excited. Expanding your talents will help you progress.

6. Dissatisfied

Career or job dissatisfaction starts as a mild irritation. Then before you know it, you’re unhappy at work. If you’re becoming less engaged, think hard about what you can do to reignite your spark. If it has something to do with relationships at work, particularly with your boss, man up and deal with it appropriately and assertively. If you’re unable to remedy the situation, then you’ll have some tough decisions to make. Being unhappy at work is not good for your health, for the organization or for your colleagues, friends and family. Spend time understanding why you’re feeling like this, then create a list of pros and cons before making your next move. This is your time to be brave and do what it takes to return to stage 4, even if that means taking the leap and moving on from a stable job.

7. Career break

Taking a career break may or may not be your own choice. Either way, make the most of this time to update your skills, reconsider your options and refocus your efforts. If leaving your job was your choice, be sure to have a few end goals in place to avoid losing momentum. If you were laid off or let go, you may have lost confidence, need to update your skills or want to reassess your options. Use this time wisely; refocus on your strengths and experience and explore your values to get you back to job-readiness.

8. Change companies

Even if you love your chosen career path, it may be time to consider switching jobs. If you’re feeling stuck in a dead-end job and are unable to resolve the issues you face day-to-day, decide how you can move on. Start by identifying the type of business you want to work for. Even as you prepare your resume and target your dream companies, remember the “grass is always greener on the other side” cliché. Will you really be better off and happier in the long run if you switch companies?

9. Change careers

Career changes can happen at all stages of the journey – even when you’re happy and enjoy the work you do. If something isn’t sitting right inside, find a trusted advisor to talk through your thinking. It may be worth investing in professional coaching to help you find answers. If possible, test out your ideas by doing some interim or part-time work, volunteering or job shadowing before you take the plunge into a new field.

10. Winding down

Unless you’re financially blessed, it’s likely this period will occur towards your twilight years. The superhighway doesn’t have to end here though – many jump back into the earlier stages as they reinvent themselves later in life! Enjoy! Jane Sunley (@JaneSunley) is the CEO of people engagement specialist, Purple Cubed, and author of UK best seller “It's Never Ok to Kiss the Interviewer: And Other Secrets to Surviving, Thriving and High Fiving at Work.” Visit for access to free career advancing tools and advice.