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14 Types of Career Path

A career path is a series of steps in your career whereby you take on new roles, responsibilities and/or accountabilities. A career path can be viewed from a historical perspective as represented by your resume or a future perspective as represented by a career plan. A career path often has a clear direction as individuals typically seek to progress towards more rewarding positions with each step. The following are basic types of career path.


Becoming more specialized such that your skills are increasingly rare and focused on a particular job. Individuals often specialize in skills that are in high demand or that they find interesting. For example, a network support engineer may seek to become a network security specialist if this type of skill set is in high demand. Specialized skills can raise your value to employers who need your exact skills. Overspecializing in obscure areas can make it difficult to change jobs.

Proprietary Knowledge

Proprietary knowledge is information that is useful to a single organization, product or service. For example, learning a software product based on the technology of one vendor as opposed to learning a programing language that is used by thousands of products and organizations. Proprietary knowledge also includes the processes, politics, procedures and systems that are unique to an organization. Proprietary knowledge can improve job security as an organization needs people who understand its internal workings. However, it doesn't always translate well to roles at other firms and can lead to trained incapacity.


Developing a solid understanding of first principles in multiple areas such that you can work with many people and understand their business or profession. This can make you highly marketable as many roles require working with diverse stakeholders. Generalists can fit into a wide range of roles and easily change jobs. For example, a business analyst may understand the basics of marketing, operations and information technology such that they can work with stakeholders from many business units to produce outputs such as requirements. Initially, generalists may find it difficult to demand a high salary as compared with a specialist who exactly matches a critical need. However, generalists tend to make good managers and executive managers and may do well with time.


Developing in your profession to be more knowledgeable and productive. This typically implies that you produce higher quality work.


Taking on accountability for resources and/or the performance of teams. Managers may be responsible for strategy, planning, budgets, processes, systems, controls, business functions, projects, performance management and stakeholder management. Management is a common career path in most professions. For example, a teacher may become a school principal.


Influencing people to get them moving in the same direction. This is associated with management but can also extend to experts in an industry, profession or field that are respected by peers and looked to for direction.

Executive Management

Executive management includes the CEO who is accountable for the performance of a firm and leadership of organizational functions such as finance, marketing or information technology. These are high profile roles that are often political and high pressure. In many organizations, compensation is an order of magnitude higher at the executive level. As such, competition for these roles is high and typically requires social status, extensive relationships, personal resilience, reasonable leadership abilities and industry knowledge. In large firms, many employees try to reach the executive level without ever achieving this goal. In some cases, a senior manager at a large firm may be able to transition to an executive position at a far smaller firm to gain executive experience.


Governance roles such as a Board of Directors often offer high compensation with minimal time commitment. These roles typically require a high profile in an industry, relationships and social status.


Roles that involve creativity such that there is a great difference in value from one work product to the next. For example, product development roles where one product may fail and the next may generate blockbuster revenues. Creative roles tend to be competitive as they are viewed as personally fulfilling. In some cases, creative careers paths are associated with low pay due to the level of competition involved. However, as there is a significant different in quality between one professional to another, some creative professionals do earn unusually high incomes.


Research includes any role focused on investigation, analysis, experimentation and discovery. This is viewed as personally fulfilling and can be competitive. For example, an information technology firm may do research in artificial intelligence to produce algorithms, models and techniques. Such roles typically require expert status in a domain and an advanced education.


Roles that involve developing cultural capital, relationships and the ability to influence. For example, a salesperson with a large network of contacts in an industry who is good at closing deals . Sales tends to be open to people with diverse backgrounds as it is all about your social abilities. For example, an extroverted engineer who easily establishes rapport may make a switch from the IT department to sales. As sales teams directly contribute to revenue, compensation can be high.

Career Change

Taking on a role that is dissimilar from your historical career path. This can be driven by necessity, a desire to change or a plan to gain diverse experience for some future role. For example, it is common for executives to seek experience running different departments in key positions such as CFO, CMO and CIO to prepare for a CEO role.

Second Career

A completely discontinuous career change that many require education and a leap into the unknown. For example, a carpenter who becomes a hotel manager.


Starting a business that has a unique value proposition. This often leads to reduced work-life balance but increased job satisfaction as you are typically doing something you want to do. Starting a business is high risk and potentially high reward. Many entrepreneurs fail but may find they gain valuable life experience nonetheless.
Overview: Career Path
A series of steps in your career whereby you take on new roles, responsibilities and/or accountabilities.
Related Concepts


This is the complete list of articles we have written about careers.
Career Change
Career Development
Career Direction
Career Goals
Career Interests
Career Management
Career Planning
Career Risk
Creative Jobs
Job Growth
Work Attitude
Working Life
More ...
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