As a leader, you want to support your team members’ career growth.

Some team members will have a clear picture of their career trajectory, but others will be less sure. And for those employees, it’s important for you, as a manager, to help them determine where they want to go in their career—and how to get there.

How To Successfully Guide Your Employees Down A Career Path

But how, exactly, do you do that? How can you help your team members forge a career path that’s not only a good fit for their skills, talents, and goals, but also provides the kind of fulfillment and enjoyment necessary for building a long-term career?

Walk Your Employee Through The Possibilities

You can’t help your employees define a career path if they don’t have a clear understanding of what paths are available for them to take. “Many employees have not had time to think through or plan out their careers,” says Mikaela Kiner, executive coach and founder of HR consulting firm Reverb. That’s why “the first step in helping them is to explain what career options are available.”

If your team isn’t aware of the growth opportunities within your organization, walk them through the different possibilities. For example, the career paths available to them “might include growing in their current role, working toward a promotion, or making a lateral move into a different speciality area or department,” says Kiner. 

Once your team understands the different ways they can grow and evolve, they may have a better idea of which direction they’d like to pursue—which can help you figure out the best way to help them define and pursue their ideal career path.

Ask The Right Questions

Sometimes, understanding the different career paths available to them can help your team members gain clarity on the direction they’d like to head. But sometimes, all the options can feel overwhelming—and they may have no idea where they’d like to go in their career.

In that situation, asking the right questions can help your employee get to the root of what they want from their career—and what path they need to take to get there.

“Starting with open-ended questions about how employees see themselves, their strengths, goals, and how a job integrates with their personal goals such as family, hobbies, and volunteering is a good start,” says Diane Gayeski, PhD, Professor of Strategic Communications at Ithaca College and principal of consulting firm Gayeski Analytics

The “right” questions will depend on the employee and where they are in the career, but some questions that could help your employee get a broader understanding of what they’d like their career to look like in the long-term include:

  • What activities and tasks energize you—both inside and outside of work?
  • What about your job feels the most rewarding for you?
  • Are there any skills or strengths you have that you don’t feel are being utilized in your current role—and, if so, how would you like to incorporate those skills or strengths into a future role?
  • What does the ideal work-life balance look like for you?
  • What do you need from your career to feel happy, engaged, and fulfilled for the next year? Five years? Ten years?
  • What would you change about your current role and why?

These kinds of questions will give you and your team valuable insights on what their ideal careers looks like—insights you can use to help them define a career trajectory that feels true to them. 

For example, let’s say you’re working with your Marketing Assistant on defining their career path. After asking open-ended questions, you may discover that, while they enjoy the creative elements of marketing, they’re actually more passionate about data—which could mean that they’d be better suited to take the Marketing Analytics route than to grow into a more creative marketing role. 

Or maybe your team member shares that having time to pursue their passions outside of work is more important to them than climbing the corporate ladder—which would help you eliminate more demanding roles from their ideal career path.

The point is, sometimes, you have to dig deep to uncover what your team members want from their career path—so make sure to do that digging by asking the right questions.

Set Up Meetings With Other Employees On Your Team Member’s Desired Career Path

Your employee might think they want to pursue a specific career path, but it’s hard for them to know if it’s the right path for them without any first-hand experience. So, if you can, coordinate opportunities for them to gain that first-hand experience.

Kick things off by assigning your team member a small task related to the role they want to pursue. Then, if they feel like it’s a good fit, partner them with a person within your organization that actually holds that role to give them a more in-depth experience of the career they’re interested in.

“Job shadowing is a way that employees can experience first hand what they do and don’t enjoy,” says Kiner. “Work with other teams to arrange for your employee to shadow people in different positions.”

Connecting your team member with people who hold the jobs they think they want to pursue can give them invaluable insights into the reality of the role and whether they’d like and/or be well-suited for it—which can help them define a career path that’s both realistic and enjoyable.

Define The Path And Create An Action Plan

Once you and your team member have a better idea of the direction they’d like to take their career, it’s time to actually map out an actionable plan to get there—or, in other words, help them create their career path.

Use the information you and your team member uncovered during the discovery process to define what role they’d ultimately like to achieve in their career—and then reverse engineer exactly what it will take to get there.

For example, let’s say your Marketing Assistant ultimately wants to advance their career and grow into a role as the Director of Marketing Analytics. First, work together to define a career progression that makes sense for that role (for example, Marketing Assistant -> Marketing Analytics Manager -> Senior Marketing Analytics Manager -> Director of Marketing Analytics). From there, expand on how they can advance into each of those roles by “listing out the skills and requirements an employee will need to meet their goal—then identifying specific actions that will help them get there,” says Kiner. 

For example, to get promoted from Marketing Assistant to Marketing Analytics Manager they might need to learn a specific data analysis tool—and so they might invest their time in taking a course to get up to speed on the software to get them prepared for a promotion. Or maybe the Marketing Analytics Manager position requires a lot of public speaking—something your Marketing Assistant is uncomfortable with. In that case, you might suggest seeking out opportunities to build their public speaking skills by presenting within your organization—and set a goal number for how many presentations they’ll give each quarter.

As you’re mapping out your team member’s career path, it’s also important to set realistic expectations around what they can achieve—and how long it will take to achieve it. For example, if you know that it generally takes at least a few years for assistants to get promoted to more senior-level positions, you’ll want to work that into their outlined career path; otherwise, your employee might get frustrated when they feel like they’re not progressing quickly enough—which could leave them to look for growth opportunities outside of your organization.

If you want your team member to succeed in growing their career, they need a clear, actionable path from where they are now to where they want to go—so make sure you’re helping them create that clear, actionable path.

Check In Regularly

When it comes to creating a career path with individual team members, “a single conversation isn’t enough,” says Kiner. If you want to set your employee up for success in the long-term, “it’s important to have frequent check-ins,” says Gayeski.

Regularly checking in with your employee to see how they’re progressing on their career path is a must for a few reasons. First, people are constantly changing and evolving; the career path that feels like a fit today won’t necessarily be the right fit six months or a year from now—and regularly checking in gives you and your team member the opportunity to adjust their path as necessary.

Providing ongoing support in shaping your employee’s career path can also help with retention

“Having periodic career conversations also means you stand a better chance of helping someone land a job inside the company—[instead of them] having to seek growth opportunities elsewhere,” says Kiner.

Aim to schedule at least one career path conversation with your team member each quarter. And in between those meetings, take advantage of off-the-cuff opportunities to discuss how they’re progressing—and if there’s anything you can do to support them. 

“It doesn’t have to be a formal meeting; in fact, ad hoc conversations over coffee or in between meetings are often the best time to develop a trusting relationship and ongoing mentoring,” says Gayeski.

Help Your Team Member Build The Right Career Path For Them

As a leader, you want to do everything you can to support your employee’s career growth—and helping them create a career path is a great way to do that. And now that you know how to help your team member create a career path that feels right for their skills, goals, and ambitions, all that’s left to do? Get out there and help your team define their path—and set themselves up for long, successful careers.

How to create a realistic and enjoyable career path for your team members