Career Mapping: Sometimes you have to make plans.

Melissa Mbazo-Ekpenyong
5 min readApr 11, 2017

When I was in High School, I remember planning which subjects I would take that would set me up for University. I was intentional about studying topics that were interesting and would allow growth in the areas that mattered to me. I probably couldn’t have articulated my planning processes back then but at the back of my mind, I always had a plan that I followed. On some days I was planning how to become a doctor and on other days, I would be working towards a journalism career. There were always plans afoot!

Then one day, I graduated University, secured a job and stopped planning. I fell into a comfortable space where getting through my task list was king and taking naps was secondary. Then recently, I remembered how important it is to make plans and so much so within your career. While going through the process of introspection as I was mapping out my career, I identified tips that might make the process easier for you. I’ve outlined these eight tips below.


1. Stay busy but not too busy to plan

When you are fully immersed in your work, it’s often difficult to take a step back and reflect on the work that you are doing, the growth that you have gone through and the path that you want to take. It is easy to be so engrossed in the everyday tasks and doing them well that you can forget to take a step back to reflect on the bigger picture. At least once a month, take a breath and take stock of your progress, seek feedback and incorporate it into the vision that you have for yourself and your future.

2. Don’t be scared of the five-year question

Every time someone used to ask me what my five-year plan was, I would be overcome by fear and dread. Mostly, because I didn’t have an answer and every time I tried to dedicate time to finding an answer I would psyche myself up until I avoided thinking and talking about any long term goals. I’ve realised that this fear makes it almost impossible to plan your life and comes from a phobia to commit. I used to think that if I told someone my plans, that meant that they were set in stone and everyone would expect me to accomplish exactly what I said I would. Growing up has made me realise that there’s nothing wrong with changing your mind after making plans but there has to be something to change your mind about if you want to progress.

3. Map out the skills that you want to develop

As you get used to the everyday tasks within your role and team, it is important to take the time to map out the skills that you want to develop. Always ensure that the work that you are doing is corresponding to the skills that you want to develop. For example, it’s important for me to learn how to use excel because that’s a useful tool through almost every career path that I might decide to pursue. It has also always been a goal of mine to improve on my public speaking capabilities. Now that I know the skills I want to develop, I always check if I am using the opportunity to practice these skills within my work.

4. Use a career mapping tool to plan ahead

Another challenge that I faced, was finding the right tool to arrange my thoughts in a manner that incorporated all the important aspects that contributed to my career goals. Below is a rudimentary tool that I created that tracks my career through a 5-year timeline. Included in this timeline are the skills that I want to develop, the roles that will help me develop those skills, the projects that could catalyse the development of those skills and the academic qualifications necessary to supplement my skills. This matrix would look different to everyone depending on their goals. It will also constantly go through iterations as career objectives change or evolve. This was my very first attempt at mapping my career and the version of this tool that I have today, no longer looks this way because my goals have evolved over time.

Career Mapping Tool

5. Be proactive within your work

Once you have mapped out your career path, including the skills that you want to develop, you can’t just look at your amazing plan or let it sit in a folder somewhere in your computer, you have to make it work and put in the work. One way to do this, is to be proactive with your manager or your team and scope out projects that are directly aligned with the skills that you want to develop and ask to work on them. For example, if it’s excel that you love then ask your manager if you can help him or her with the departments budgeting process. If you are looking to have more leadership roles in the team, ask your supervisor if you can chair some of the team meetings. You have to be proactive about how you grow and develop professionally.

6. Be proactive outside of your work

When I was in University, I derived the most joy from all my extra curricula activities. Signing up for societies, clubs and off campus jobs always gave me perspective and a breath of fresh air. I have found this to be true within my working career as well. Don’t let your work consume you completely. Look for internships that contribute to your career path. Read books on the topics that fascinate you. Sign up for short courses that keep you curious and hungry for more knowledge. Spend time investing in who you want to be outside of your work.

7. Find a mentor who challenges you

You don’t have to think through everything alone. There are people who have done this before you. They have the skills and knowledge to help you navigate through the process and challenge you when you are not challenging yourself. Without a mentor or a sounding board, you are in danger of not seeing different perspectives and working outside of your comfort zone.

8. It might all change anyway

After all these plans and dedicating time to your well thought out career path, it might all change and that’s OK. As you grow, your skills, interests and passions will also change. Be ready to start again and enjoy the process each time.

Leave a comment below if you would like a copy of the career mapping template.

Happy Career mapping!