Artwork by: Katya Simacheva
Career development is the lifelong journey that starts when you are a child and continues beyond what most people consider retirement. It encompasses the processes of learning new skills, finding work that fulfills your goals and (hopefully) makes you happy, and continually advancing on your career path.
Developing your career can be overwhelming to contemplate. Most people blindly charge ahead without a long-term plan or vision of where they want their career to go. This approach might work for some, but meeting your goals for your career and your life may be driven more by chance and other people than by anything you do.
Career development is not the same as developing skill sets. You do need specific skills to be successful in any job, but building those skills is not necessarily going to develop your career.
Having a plan is key to accomplishing any objective, and your career is no different. There are many strategies for career development. Some have four, five, or even six phases or stages, but they are all very similar and any of them will give you a solid approach to developing your career. This article will focus on one methodology for coming up with an organized way to guide your career.
Here’s a list of the topics we will cover:
What is career development?
Why is career development important?
Having a vision for your career
What are the 6 stages or phases of career development?
What if my company isn’t helping with my Career Development?
How do I prepare for the future?
Developing a career is not as simple as it may first seem, but it depends on your circumstances and goals. The first step is knowing where you want to get to. Making a plan is crucial to achieving an objective, but just having a set of steps to get from one point to the next is meaningless if you do not have a clearly defined goal.
To develop your career, you must decide what your goals are and come up with a plan which includes how you are going to acquire the skills needed to progress your career. Then follow the plan. Simple, right? Not so much.
The most obvious advantage of career development is the prospect of advancement, which inevitably leads to higher positions, more responsibility, and more money. However, work-life balance should also be in your plans.
When you are deciding what your career goals are, it is important to make them clear and reasonable. Becoming emperor of the galaxy is probably not a good goal to have. Obviously, this is a silly example, but thinking seriously about where you are in your career and what your milestones are is serious business. It is good to have lofty goals, but be realistic about what you can reach.
When setting goals, it is helpful to follow the SMART method. For any goal you create, you want it to have the following characteristics. The goal is:
If you need further information on SMART goals and how to use them, then check out this blog called “Refining SMART goals to achieve results.”
Having good goals will not only make for a better career development plan, but they will also make you happier. It has been shown that having goals and achieving them satisfies a basic human need and makes you feel better about yourself.
Even students that are just starting out should have goals. Having a direction is motivating and keeps you focused. Just keep in mind that your goals do not have to be set in stone. Life happens and things change.
Let’s go back to that first step about having goals. Your goals are specific things you want to achieve in your career. You should look at the broader picture of your career and your life in general since they are both very connected.
Take some time and think deeply about where you want your career to go, from start to finish. How will this affect your work life and your personal life? Will it impact how and where you live? What about your family? These are all considerations you should take into account when you are coming up with a comprehensive plan for your career development.
If you are just starting your career, then having a vision of your entire career future may seem like an impossible task. Goals may change, and your vision of your career will probably change with them. That’s OK. The important thing is to start out with a vision in mind. You can always adjust your plans accordingly as your career and life change.
No matter what strategy you follow for your career development, it is important to remember your career moves in cycles. Knowing this and following a phased approach will enable you to better deal with the ups and downs in your jobs and, to a certain extent, your life.
Stage 1: Assessment. This first phase is about knowing yourself and your abilities. Be objective and make a list of your strengths and weaknesses. Document your experiences and skill sets. It is also essential to get feedback from others because they may see things about you that you do not. Career coaching is also a good thing to do during this phase.
Stage 2: Investigation. Now that you have a good feel for your capabilities, it is time to look around and see what your opportunities are. Don’t get discouraged if you are not sure where to start. Talk to people in your field and in other fields. Do some networking to learn what other people are doing and what the up-and-coming professions are. Your next option may be related to your field, or not. Your colleagues and other professional acquaintances will give you ideas.
Stage 3: Preparation. With some opportunities and options identified, you can begin to take steps to get yourself ready for your next move. Make your plans. You can do this while you are still in your current job. It may involve more training, education, taking on different projects, and additional responsibilities. Build your knowledge and experience in the direction that you want to go.
Stage 4: Commitment. Once you’ve targeted a role or type of work you want to do, and have your action plan ready, it’s time to commit. Be laser-focused on your plan. Leverage your professional network and take your next steps to move your career forward.
Stage 5: Retention. This is the phase where you have achieved a major milestone. You’re now a respected professional within your industry. The level of knowledge and experience make you are proven, expert and leader. This is a wonderful level to reach, but it also tends to make people complacent and bored. Don’t let this happen. Continue to look ahead for more opportunities and always keep learning.
Stage 6: Transition. If you have plateaued in your current position, it is time to consider moving on. Deciding to make a change at this point in your career can be tough. This is where you go back to your career vision. Are you where you want to be? What’s next? If you have additional things you want to achieve, then this is when you make that decision.
As we mentioned before, your career is cyclical and so is your life. When you get to stage six in your career development, then you go back to stage one and begin again.
If you are in a scenario where your current employer is not being supportive of your career development, then there are things you can do to develop your career independently.
Follow the career development steps. It may be more difficult to do this without cooperation from your company, but it is still possible.
Look for relevant conferences to go to. This will help you can stay on top of current trends, advances, and learn from industry leaders.
Continue to cultivate and grow your network. This will provide you with more advice and with possible job opportunities.
Developing your career can be exciting, but it can also be stressful and time-consuming. Remember to keep your work-life balance. Your well-being should always come before your career goals.
If you are considering a job with a new employer, be sure to ask about their approach and tools for career development.
Today, all employers know people are looking for career development. Any employee that feels their career is going nowhere will be demotivated and usually will not stick around.
A good employer will offer regular feedback on job performance. They should also provide access to career path software, training, and upskilling opportunities.
Beyond these things, some companies even have mentoring and job shadowing programs.
Look for these things to ensure that you have the best options available to propel your career forward.
Being prepared for the next step in your career is not always simple. If you have a clear picture of where you are going and are on track, then it may be as easy as taking the next step in your plan. However, if you are feeling unhappy with your current job or are uncertain that your career is going in the right direction, then you need to take a step back and reevaluate.
Self-assessment. Take the time to sit with yourself and think about your situation. Consider if you are in the right role or profession or even industry. If the answer to any of these questions is no, then where do you want to be? The answer to this question will determine your next steps.
On-the-job training. If you think a different role would better suit you, then see about working with someone that performs the job you are interested in. Follow them and closely observe what they do. When you find something that seems like a fit, then locate someone in that area that can mentor you on changing roles.
Set short-term objectives. Don’t get bogged down thinking about retirement or even long-term goals. Where should you be in one year? What do you need to learn? Focus on your next step in that direction.
Learn new things. No matter where you are in your career, you must always be striving to gain additional knowledge. Even if you think you have learned everything possible in your current job. Study a different role, or possibly go back to school and get a degree (or an additional degree).
Move laterally. Moving up is not always the best choice. To broaden your perspective and knowledge base, consider changing to a lateral position. This is a good way to go if you are considering changing your career path.
Having a plan for your career is essential to being successful.
Your first step should always be to look at the big picture for your life and your career. Once you know where you are and where you want to go, then building a plan for your career development becomes much easier.
There are a number of approaches to creating a career development plan. There is no right or wrong way to do it, just as long as you have a plan that you can follow.
Stick to your plan, but be flexible and prepared to adjust the plan as your life changes.
Don’t depend on others to drive your career. Be the owner of your own destiny. Always be looking for new opportunities to advance your career down the path you have designed.
And finally, don’t just focus on moving up the ladder. Do what you enjoy and what makes you happy!
Garland is a writer and technology consultant that lives in far west Texas, USA. He is semi-retired from a successful 25-year career in the Information Technology industry, and now spends his time writing for various websites (mostly career development related). Garland holds a bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Finance, and a master’s degree in Economics and Computer Information Systems.