What Is Career Development? (2023 Review)
Whether you are a graduate seeking your first job or already working, successful career development enables you to plan ahead and take control of your future.
Career development is an ongoing process that asks you to assess:
- Your personality, talents, needs and wants
- Careers that you are interested in, attracted to and/or suitable for
- Changes in your requirements, skills and interests over time
- Developments in your life status
- What educational and experiential changes you need to make to meet your goals
The process requires a level of self-awareness and a willingness to regularly check back with both yourself and your progress.
To find out how career development differs from career growth, read Career Growth vs. Career Development.
To you as an individual, career development is important because it allows you to take control of your career, map a future that fits with your developing needs and ultimately work in a job, or series of jobs, that bring you satisfaction and suitable rewards.
From an employer’s point of view, the implementation of career development in the workplace can lead to an engaged, efficient and happy workforce.
Career development is an ongoing process of assessment, planning and application.
This process can be split into five stages:
Self-assessment is key in discovering which careers you are best suited to, and also which careers interest you.
Your self-assessment should cover:
What is your personality type? Are you an extrovert (energized around large groups of people) or an introvert (energized by time alone)? Are you creative? Do you take an overview, big-world approach to problems or are you more detail-oriented?
What are your interests? These may be hobbies, such as sports or writing, or a topic that you are drawn to. For instance, you may be interested in politics or technological advances in the world of computers.
What skills do you have? You may be surprised by how many skills you possess that could easily transfer to a work environment. Skills that are particularly prized by employers include leadership, communication, problem-solving, data analysis and negotiation.
What qualifications do you have? Whether it is a high-school diploma, degree or vocational qualification, an assessment of your current education will not only point to what careers you are qualified to pursue, but also indicate further qualifications needed for particular roles.
What about your personal values? Do you want to work in the charity sector? Is it important for you to work for an employer who promotes green energy and seeks to highlight environmental issues?
What are your life needs? Are you available to work on a shift pattern that may include hours during the evening or on a weekend, or are you restricted by childcare or other caring responsibilities? What salary do you need to support yourself and what employee benefits would be the best fit? For instance, health insurance and a pension arranged through your employer will not only help you plan for your future but will also be one less thing to arrange and pay for from your salary. Do you want or need to work in the area where you live, or do you have the option to change locations?
As with career development itself, the process of self-assessment is not a one-off investigation. As you progress through life, your interests, skills, qualifications and needs will generally change and this, in turn, will alter your career plan.
If you would like to learn more about your personality, read Personality Tests for more help on this topic.
Now that you have carried out your self-assessment, you may have arrived at several suitable careers. Even if you are still unsure what job you are suited or attracted to, it can be useful to investigate what different career paths entail.
Useful sources of information include:
- Recruitment adverts, which will generally list the roles and responsibilities that are involved in a job
- Company websites can be an excellent source of information on not only what a job entails but also current developments in that industry; for instance, accountancy or healthcare
- Trade magazines, such as US Banker
- Careers advisors
- A work experience placement or an internship
- Speaking to people who already work in that job or industry
Beyond the roles and responsibilities for each career, you should also seek to learn how many hours you would generally work, likely salary and benefits, career progression, and availability.
For instance, Steve is interested in working as an investment banker. Through his research, he discovers that the career path for investment banking is generally to start as an analyst before progressing to associate, director, then managing director.
He finds out what the role of analyst entails and discovers that the starting salary for the role in the area where he lives is around $70,000 with both a starting bonus and an annual bonus.
For more information on investigating careers, read How To Use Career Exploration.
Now that you have carried out your self-assessment and investigated possible career paths, the next step in your career development process is to set goals by creating a career plan.
Your career plan will include:
- The date when the career plan begins
- Your current status; for instance, a computer science graduate, junior marketeer or sales director
- A personal statement that describes who you are and what you want to achieve in the next stage of your career; for example, ‘a self-motivated, conscientious, accountancy graduate looking for an entry-level position working in the banking sector’
- Short-term goals (for the next three to six months), medium-term goals (up to two years from now) and long-term goals (over two years)
- The steps you can take to work towards your goals with a deadline for each step
A short-term goal might be to find our first job or update your resume.
A medium-term goal could be to gain a promotion or finish a course of training.
A long-term goal might be to reach a level of salary that will enable you to buy your own home outright.
Set up your career plan for twelve months and check your progress regularly throughout the year. Tick off each step or goal as you complete them, making a note of the completion date. Add what steps you need to take as a result and any new goals.
When the twelve-month period comes to an end, assess your career plan:
- What did you achieve?
- What have you still to achieve?
- Are uncompleted steps and goals realistic and are they still relevant?
Your assessment should be carried out hand-in-hand with developments outside your career plan.
For instance, has your employer’s situation changed in a way that affects your career with them? Perhaps they intend to relocate or even close the office that you work in.
Your circumstances may have changed. Perhaps your child is now old enough to get themselves to and from school without the need for you to be there to drop them off or collect them. Alternatively, you may be unable to continue to work long hours due to ill-health or the need to care for an elderly relative.
Now, write your career plan for the following twelve-month period.
For more information on creating a career plan, read Career Plan Templates.
This stage is all about progression:
- Progressing along a natural career path, such as Steve’s career in investment banking where he progresses from analyst to associate
- Achieving a higher salary, bonuses and commission, or improved employee benefits
- Landing a promotion
Certain factors may be out of your hands (for instance, where a set number of years’ experience is required in a role before a promotion can be achieved), but one key factor in the career development process is the ability to be proactive.
Your career progression may depend on obtaining a new qualification, increasing your knowledge in a particular area of your industry, or having actual experience of a work environment or task. Working through the process of career development, you can plan ahead with these challenges in mind.
Sue works in a junior role at a marketing agency. She has been involved in a variety of marketing tasks but has discovered that her real interest lies in copywriting. To better her chances of landing a copywriter role, either with her current employer or elsewhere, she takes on extra copywriting work in her department, joins a business networking group for copywriters and signs up for a copywriting course.
Stage five in the career development process brings all of the previous stages together.
Managing your career involves:
- Self-assessment as your skills, education, experience and life needs develop over time
- Career investigation to check that your current career path is still a good fit and where you want to be, or whether a change is required
- Maintaining your career plan and regularly returning to it to check that it remains relevant
- Assessing your skills, knowledge and experience to discover whether you need to learn more and seek out new experiences
The key to managing your career is the realization that things change. Your skills will develop. Perhaps you will obtain new qualifications and training. Your life needs may alter; for instance, if you become a parent. There may be developments in the industry you work within that affect the job you currently hold or the job you are progressing towards. Your focus may shift from being the best you can be in your current role to your retirement plans.
With each change, it will be necessary to re-assess your career plan and alter your goals accordingly.
For more information on planning out your career path, read Career Planning Tips.
Within the career development process, you will have examined the following factors which might affect your career development:
- Skills and qualifications
- Personal values
- Life needs and responsibilities
- Life and work experience
These are all internal factors; for example, things that are specific to you. You may even have a level of control over a number of them.
For instance, with sufficient funds, you can add to your qualifications. Of course, another internal factor is your work performance.
External factors are generally out of your control. They include:
- The entry requirements for a job; for instance, number of years’ work experience and qualifications
- The amount and arrangement of hours linked to the job
- Salary range and employee benefits
- Job availability
- Geographic location
- The current economic situation
- Developments in the industry you wish to work in
When carrying out your career development assessments, any relevant external factors should also be considered.
For example, you require a level of salary that your chosen career does not offer in your geographical location. You should consider if moving to a new area where you can achieve that salary is a valid idea.
Or developments in the industry have meant that the job you are interested in has no future and will cease to exist within the next ten years. Now is the time to consider how to reframe your skills, qualifications and experience for a role, in the same industry, which does have a future.
Career development can make the difference between following a career progression that meets your current, changing and future needs, or simply drifting from job to job as employers and the economic climate make decisions for you.
It requires a commitment of time, effort, self-assessment and implementation but, in return, career development can lead to a rewarding career path that you control.