Career Trajectory: What It Is, the Different Types & Why It Matters

CoachHub · 12 September 2022 · 6 min read

What is career trajectory?

Career trajectory refers to the journey your career takes as you move through different roles, companies and stages of your professional life. 

The various jobs, achievements and accomplishments you achieve will define the trajectory of your career. With a little guidance and planning, you can identify your most important objectives and experience a career trajectory that is fulfilling and meaningful to you. 

There are many metrics one can use to plot their career trajectory such as salary, achievements, promotions and number of companies. Different industries call for different metrics. An entrepreneur may judge their success on the number of successful ideas while a salesperson may judge their career based on their salary. 

Imagine your career trajectory is plotted on a graph. The bottom left point is when you enter the workforce and the top right is later on in your career. Your career trajectory is drawn with a line from left to right, mapping each point in your career. What points would you like to see on your graph and what factors would determine the high and low points?

trajectory

The different types of career trajectories

Horizontal

Your career trajectory may hit a plateau indicating a lack of progress towards your career objectives. This would result in a horizontal line across your graph. Horizontal career growth, however, may not always represent a stagnant career. You may account for horizontal lines or plateaus at points in which you decide to switch careers or roles and foresee a period where acquiring new skills and knowledge will slow down your career. If given adequate planning and consideration, horizontal lines in your career trajectory will not necessarily represent a failure but rather a time devoted to pursuing education and upskilling. 

Vertical

A vertical career trajectory can be understood as climbing the ladder within a chosen industry. This type of career growth is defined by attaining the promotions and titles that position you at higher points within the company. Pursuing a vertical career path may be a trajectory that is straightforward and easily satisfying. The risk of this path, however, is the ceiling at the top. You may find yourself at the height of your career only to find that the title you sacrificed heavily for is not as rewarding as you thought. 

Forbes compares the two types of trajectories, presenting a vertical path as a pursuit of “flashy new job titles” and the horizontal path as “a way to create value”. One path makes for an attractive graph and Linkedin profile while the other is an opportunity to expand your knowledge and skill set. 

Forbes argues that moving horizontally in an organization rather than vertically is more valuable in the long run. The experience gained by being a part of different roles, teams and departments gives you a wider insight into company operations and is ultimately more enriching to an individual than a change in title. 

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Why is career trajectory important?

Understand your current position 

Having a clear trajectory will allow you to understand if your current role is the right fit for you. It will force you to reflect on where you are and where you will be if you don’t make any changes. Having an honest appraisal of your current position will highlight what is working and what is not. You may be enjoying your current industry but be better suited to working in a different area. You may be enjoying your specific role but be more fulfilled in a new sector. 

Know where you want to be in the future

Defining your career trajectory allows you to consider not only what accomplishments you want to work towards but also what you need from your professional life in the future. If you want a family one day, can you find a job with flexible work hours? If creative freedom is important, can you find a role that offers more independence? Knowing exactly how you want your career to develop will enable you to see the changes you need to make and decide your next steps. 

Define actionable goals and objectives

Knowing what you want is the first step in knowing how to get there. A career trajectory will show you what steps you must take to achieve your goals and provide you with an actionable plan. Setting realistic objectives with achievable milestones will help you to bridge the gap between where you are in your career and where you want to be. 

 

How to make a career trajectory plan

Making a career trajectory plan is about answering these three simple questions: 

  • Where am I? 
  • Where do I want to be? 
  • How do I get there? 

These questions can be daunting and the answers may not be so obvious to you. Being unsatisfied with your career can make you feel stuck and prevent you from seeing the opportunities that are available to you. Career progression may not be an easy topic to discuss with your manager as you may fear voicing your lack of fulfillment in your current role. Seeking mentorship or coaching during this time can help highlight the way forward and bring much-needed clarity to your future aspirations. 

 

How can a talent development coach help?

Having a fresh perspective and a professional guide can be exactly what you need to get out of a career rut and move towards your goals. The following list explores a few of the many ways professional coaching can help:

Highlight potential career pathways 

There may be many avenues your career could take that you are unaware of. A talent development coach will have a wide perspective on many fields and will be able to provide you with fresh ideas. A coach can give you a larger overview of where your knowledge and skills could be valued. This may inspire an entirely new direction for your career that you never would have known is available. 

Shares valuable knowledge and experience

The experience and insights a talent coach can offer are invaluable. A coach has most likely been working with several people in a similar position and will have unique insights into what you need to do to increase your chances of getting new opportunities. With an experienced and informed perspective, you will get the guidance you are looking for to advance in your career. 

Source of motivation and accountability 

A talent development coach can help you define achievable, short-term and long-term goals. Together you can establish realistic timelines for your objectives. This can be a source of urgency to motivate you to work towards your career goals. A coach can push you towards deadlines and encourage you when feeling uninspired. 

Identify your ​​most valuable skills (and weaknesses)

Being able to frankly and accurately evaluate your strengths and weaknesses individually can be tough. Having a coach can show you exactly what value you bring and what points to sell yourself on. This can open up new potential paths to pursue and highlight new areas for future growth. Having an independent party help you identify your strengths and weaknesses will bring you new insights into your skillset that may not be possible if done alone. 

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In conclusion 

Your ideal career is available to you. Knowing what is important to you and knowing how to achieve your goals is all you need to design an inspiring career trajectory. Consider the value a talent development coach can offer you in defining your ideal professional path. Their professional expertise, objective appraisal and encouragement could be the source of support you need to ensure your career heads in the best direction for you.

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