How Do You Plan a Career Path?

by Connor Harrison - January 11, 2019
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Your plan for career growth may be to enter the workforce for the first time, be promoted into a more senior role, or make a lateral move. No matter what stop you are at on your professional journey, you should start strategizing now. But with so many possibilities in this competitive talent market, how do you know which career path to take?

In addition to accurate pay data, Salary.com offers users tools to map out their job paths. Whether you are looking at an accounting career path, an IT career path, or a nursing career path, we can provide guidance.

Let’s pretend you are an entry-level web designer, with just two years of experience in your current role. As you browse jobs on Salary.com, you’ll see that our database contains many web design-focused jobs. In this case, the right match for your job path will be our Designer I – Web role. This title reflects your current level within your organization and the years of experience you have in your current role.

Starting Your Career Path in Web Design, for Example

Let’s take a look at a brief job description for the Designer I – Web role as presented on Salary.com:

“Designs web pages that meet specifications and established design standards. Determines size and arrangement of illustrative material and copy. Selects style and size of type, and arranges layout based upon available space, knowledge of layout principles, and aesthetic design concepts. Produces graphic sketches, designs, and copy layouts for online content. Contributes to development of user interface, animation, and general web page functionality. May require an associate's degree. Works under moderate supervision. Typically requires 1-3 years of related experience.”

And here is the salary range:

The average base compensation for this role is $57,452. This range provides an accurate idea of where your pay stands compared to the external market. Plus, you can use the tool to adjust the average price for this role based on your unique background and the details of your job, including your education, skills, and the location and company size of the organization you work for. Customizing the range in this way will deliver the most accurate view of the market possible, and help you understand how developing in your current role, adding new skills and competencies, or pursuing additional education can potentially impact the amount of money you could be making on your career path.

How Can You Progress Your Career to the Next Level?

Assume you’ve been at your entry level web designer job a few years now and are ambitious to move up the job path. A look further down the page for Designer I – Web shows this role’s career path:

In a typical career path, the next job “up a level” is Designer II – Web. You’ll notice that this job requires a more thorough skill set and gives you more responsibility, reflecting career growth:

“Designs web pages that support the organization's strategies, goals, and online presence utilizing established design standards. Designs and develops user interface features, flow, and navigation that reflect user preferences and enhance usability. Produces graphic designs, animation, and copy layouts for online content. Has knowledge of web technologies and tools such as HTML, Shockwave, Photoshop, Illustrator, Adobe Flex, Adobe Flash, and JavaScript. May require an associate's degree. Typically reports to a manager. Has gained proficiency in multiple competencies relevant to the job. Works independently within established procedures associated with the specific job function. Typically requires 3-5 years of related experience.”

In your Designer I – Web role, you’ve likely developed most of these competencies. If you feel you are already executing or capable of doing the job of a Designer II – Web, that’s a big plus to bring to the negotiating table during your performance review. Of course, the Designer II role fittingly pays more. The average salary is $66,572, which is more than $9,000 higher than the average for Designer I.

Looking Ahead to Manager- and Director-level Roles on the Job Path

Looking ahead in your web designer job path, you may be curious what roles you could qualify for. Let’s take a look at the career path guide for Designer III – Web.

After moving up on the job path to the Designer III – Web role, the next role on the path is Interface Design Director – Web! In this leadership role, you would take on a great deal more responsibility than you did as a Designer I, II, or III, but the job functions (ideally) build on what you’ve already learned and practiced throughout your career. And, the average salary for this role is $160,073. Talk about future planning!

Moving into a director-level role requires an expert skill set, as well as experience managing employees. Hopefully, in the Designer II – Web or Designer III – Web, you were given the opportunity to perform more advanced job functions, and also to supervise and manage more employees.

But what if you don’t want to climb up this job path? Some people are actually quite content at their current level, but still enjoy advancing their career growth.

Should You Make a Lateral Career Move?

The beauty of today’s strong, interconnected job market is that you do not necessarily need to stay on a linear path upward as your career advances. You have options – and you should definitely explore them.

Let’s go back to the Designer I page. A look at “Similar Jobs” further down the page will display additional roles that may require related skills and job functions that you have already acquired. For instance, perhaps Interface Designer – Web would be a nice change, and one where you already have most of the required skills:

This role is in another job family, but a look at the job description shows similarities to the Designer I and Designer II descriptions we looked at earlier:

“Designs html prototypes, visual interfaces and interaction of web-based applications. Designs and evaluates visual human interfaces utilizing user-centered design principles. Implements the user interface design. Works with the product development team to design online user experiences. Ensures user experience is formulated to achieve the goals of the online entity. May require an associate's degree. Typically reports to a manager. Typically requires 0-2 years of related experience. Works on projects/matters of limited complexity in a support role. Work is closely managed.” 

Based on this description, you may feel that your experience as a Designer I – Web makes you a good candidate for the Interface Designer – Web role. And, as you can see on the "Similar Jobs" guide, it offers a significant 51% pay increase, from $82,957 to $104,571, as well as its own options for upward mobility.

So, What is an Ideal Career Path?

The truth is, there is no right way to choose a career path. It may turn out that following a linear path up the ladder is what's best for you. But in the example above, a lateral move increases your salary and is not unsavory on a resume. By broadening your horizons, you are opening up more doors at the beginning of your career, giving you more options as you begin to move up. Plus, you are gaining more experiences, which can be rewarding in many ways.

If you click through on the career path starting with Interface Designer – Web, you will arrive at a familiar role in upper management: Interface Design Director – Web:

As you work your way through your career path, you'll notice a lot of paths lead to similar destinations in upper management. It is you, your experiences, and your ability to perform a job at a high level (rather than the exact job itself) that will put you in the best position to reach all of your goals for the coming year – and into the future.


As you undergo career growth, you may decide to relocate for a job. Find out how much you can expect to be paid in a new location with our Cost of Living Calculator.

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