Career Growth vs Career Development
Updated 13 November 2020
Though often used as interchangeable terms, career growth and career development are actually two distinct concepts, each one focused on a separate aspect of professional progression.
Whilst they may address different things, the two go hand in hand and, though possible, it is rare to come across one without the other.
In this article, we explore each in turn, what sets them apart, and how best to achieve both for a successful and rewarding career.
What Is Career Growth?
In basic terms, career growth is the process of climbing the career ladder. Most often achieved through promotion, it is the action of advancing from your current post to a position of higher standing.
For example, if you start your working life as a junior designer and three years later become lead designer, you have achieved career growth. The next step on the ladder may be the head of design or creative director.
Though promotion is the most common form of professional advancement, your career growth plan may involve moving from your current employer to a higher-level role within a new organization.
The term career lattice is also used in reference to career growth. This term is a modern interpretation of organizational structure and suggests growth is no longer a case of simply moving up but may also involve sideways steps.
For example, a sales executive may become a sales and marketing executive, before advancing to sales and marketing lead.
To summarise, career growth is moving from point A to point B, gaining increased responsibility as a result, and forms the basis of many long-term career goals.
What Is Career Development?
Career development is an ongoing process that involves self-awareness and improvement.
When you develop in a professional context, you improve your knowledge, skill-set and relationships. These improvements equip you for career growth.
For example, in an entry-level marketing role, you may start out with a focus on written content only, but over time, you learn to produce visuals and video, boosting your skill set and broadening your horizons.
You may start your career with little to no managerial experience but go the extra mile to develop leadership skills that set you up for future promotion.
These are just two examples of career development, and there are many ways in which you can improve your professional self as you work towards career growth opportunities.
What Is the Difference Between Career Growth and Career Development?
The distinctions between career growth and career development can be laid out in a few ways:
Growth can be measured, whereas development is more about quality. It’s easy to quantify a promotion as it comes with a change of title and increase in pay. By contrast, development doesn’t necessarily have a measurable outcome. It’s more about identifying strengths and weaknesses, making changes and striving for improvement.
Growth is the ‘what and where’, development is the ‘how’. The position you intend to hold in five years' time is your career growth path, how you get there is by setting short term career goals that constitute your development.
Growth is rooted in strategy, but development is transformative. To achieve growth, you’ll need to plot and plan your progression up the career ladder. To achieve development, you’ll need to consistently build on yourself to become a better, more well-rounded and more confident employee.
Growth is achieved in the long-term, development is ongoing. You may not succeed in your career growth plan for several years, but you’ll undergo development continually.
Why Is Career Growth and Development Important?
Work is a predominant aspect of life for most people, and without advancement and progression, a career can become stagnant. This may lead to boredom and frustration, and in severe cases, negatively impact an individual’s quality of life.
Together, growth and development make up the foundations of a successful career plan, one that brings increased satisfaction, enjoyment and reward.
The key thing is to focus on them both together.
Career growth and career development should be viewed as two parts of a whole.
If you focus solely on growth, you’re only looking forward and neglecting to take pleasure in the here and now of your profession. Also, growth is rarely achievable without development, as the latter is the driving force behind the former.
Career development may well be obtained without growth, but there’s little reward in taking steps towards self-improvement without a measurable result as a consequence.
In finding a balance between the two, your professional life becomes one in which you find daily fulfillment whilst working towards an ambition beneficial to your future self.
Key Tips for Achieving Career Growth and Development
How you achieve your professional objectives will be entirely dependent on your circumstances; however, the following tips are applicable for almost all cases and should provide solid insight as to how you can improve your career growth prospects.
1. Set Goals
Growth in itself is of course a goal, but to realize it, you need to consider what other goals you need to achieve along the way and what career strategies you need to implement.
Without a clear path to ambition, growth is a distant reality that’s likely to remain out of reach.
Your goals could be as simple as better timekeeping, or more involved like joining a professional network or organization.
Ideally, you’ll have a mix of goals that combine to make you a more well-rounded individual and thus a more valuable employee.
2. Seek Out Learning Opportunities
Though career development occurs in many ways, further learning is one of the most effective, so seek out all opportunities available to you.
These could be self-directed, such as taking an online video course in your spare time or subscribing to industry publications.
They may be more official, like gaining an advanced qualification or professional accreditation.
You could also ask your employer for information on any available upskilling opportunities in the workplace.
There are also learning opportunities available outside of what you might call traditional education. Industry conferences and events are a great place to broaden your knowledge, hear from key opinion leaders and discover new innovations in your field of work.
3. Share Your Ambitions
In communicating your career growth and development plans to family, friends and co-workers, you give yourself more chance of turning them into reality.
Kept inside your own head, you’ve only yourself to turn to for motivation, but with others in the know, there’s a support team to keep you on track.
It’s also a chance to learn from others. More experienced team members can offer advice and help you develop the key competencies you may need to achieve your ambitions. They may even be kind enough to take the time to help you master a new skill.
Above all, share your plans with your direct managers. After all, these are the people that will largely dictate your career growth, and if they’re not aware of your hopes and expectations, they can do little to help you out.
4. Become a Negotiator
Knowing how to negotiate is a key skill that will help you achieve both career development and growth.
In the first instance, you may need to come to some sort of arrangement with your boss that allows time to focus on further learning, or you may look to them for funding.
If you can negotiate on terms you stand a better chance of both parties benefitting from the agreement.
In terms of growth, it may come to the point where you want to counter a job offer.
Whether you’re seeking a little extra pay, flexible working hours or slightly more responsibility, knowing how to negotiate will help you land your ideal position.
5. Ask for Feedback
You may already have a fixed idea of what your own strengths and weaknesses are, but this may not be reflected in the thoughts of others. By asking for feedback, you gain an impartial perspective on your abilities and, when that feedback is constructive, you also gain valuable guidance for improvement.
Ask for regular performance reviews that address your overall progress, but also look for feedback on individual projects and tasks.
This doesn’t always need to be from your direct managers. Many companies operate an open door policy, whereby senior members of staff are willing to give you their time.
Use this to your advantage. The more informed you are about where your strengths and weaknesses lie, the better you’re able to structure your career development.
6. Learn from Mistakes
One of the most constructive ways to develop is to recognize your mistakes and learn from them.
It’s not always easy to admit when things go wrong, but taking ownership of your actions is an important part of both career development and growth.
Mistakes will happen, but it’s how you handle them that counts.
Take responsibility, evaluate what went wrong and ensure they never happen again. Employers will respect you far more for this than if you attempt to avoid the issue, shirk responsibility and repeat the same errors over and over.
In learning from mistakes, you also develop your problem-solving skills. As one of the key capabilities employers look for, these are highly beneficial to your career growth plan.
7. Be Inquisitive
The people that achieve successful career growth are those that show a keen interest, not just in their work, but in the work of others and the overall operations of their organization.
Ask questions and seek to understand the part your role plays in your company’s goals. Explore innovations that could be beneficial and keep a check on what your competitors are up to.
The more inquisitive you are, the more you can bring to the table in terms of overall company growth.
When a promotional opportunity arises, it’s far more likely to land at the feet of someone that has contributed beyond their day-to-day responsibilities and has demonstrated a vested interest in collaborative success, as opposed to their own professional agenda.
8. Work to a Timeline
Career growth can take several years to accomplish, and it can often feel like you’re getting nowhere in the short-term.
When this happens, it’s easy to go off track and neglect your goals.
With that in mind, one of the top career planning tips is to keep your objectives on schedule by working to a detailed timeline.
This not only helps you get to where you want to be, it can help you get there faster.
By setting realistic milestones along the way, you break your ambitions down into bite-sized chunks, giving yourself focus and drive.
The more milestones you reach, the closer your end goal appears and the more enthusiasm you’ll have for getting there.
9. Be Open to Change
As discussed previously, career growth is not always a case of simply climbing up the ladder. In today’s working culture, it can also involve moving sideways.
This may not be part of your initial plan, but if the opportunity arises be open to it.
For example, if you’re offered an internal secondment to another department, instead of dismissing it offhand because it doesn’t fit with your current path, ask yourself what potential career growth opportunities it may bring.
Having set goals in mind is important, but so too is flexibility. By weighing up the pros and cons of a sideways step or career change, you may find it more beneficial than your current trajectory.
10. Understand your Company’s Growth Policy
The final tip for achieving career development and growth is to get to grips with how your organization operates.
It may be that there’s a set pathway for progression, such as is the case in a sector like investment banking, where your career growth plan is essentially laid out for you.
However, there is an increasing number of industries where the career ladder is not so clear cut; like emerging technologies, where constant innovation creates new job roles all the time.
It may be that your company emphasizes staff retention and internal promotion. Or they may look externally to fill new openings.
Understanding different kinds of corporate culture allows you to adjust your career growth plan accordingly.
For example, if internal promotion is not something likely to occur, you know you need to focus on securing a higher-level role within an alternative organization.
Career growth and career development should be viewed as two parts of a whole.
Development is the process by which you improve as an individual, subsequently improving your prospects, and growth is the reward you gain for your efforts.
Your personal circumstances will dictate your career growth plan – some people may only wish to reach a certain level, while others will aim for the top.
Whatever your end goal, draw up a plan that shows where you want to be and how you intend to get there and you’ll find your career becomes a far more rewarding experience.