Career development is the process of building knowledge, experience, and skills that will help an employee reach long-term career goals. Career development is different from employee development, which is more focused simply on gaining skills and experience, often in areas that will benefit the employer. Career development, on the other hand, is guided by the employee’s vision of their future career.
Assessing Your Current Career Situation
In order to develop in your career, you need to have a good understanding of where you are now. This assessment should be a thoughtful process in which you evaluate your personal interests and values, identify your strengths and weaknesses, and review your current skills and experience.
Setting Career Goals
The next step is setting goals for where you want your career to go. Building on your career assessment, you’ll identify objectives that align with your personal and professional ambitions. Both long- and short-term goals are crucial; long-term goals guide the big picture, while shorter-term goals help you take the steps you need to take to arrive at your ideal future.
Your career development goals should be unique to you and realistic—but also involving some stretching and growth. Career development goals can include objectives such as:
- Working within a specific company or industry
- Achieving a leadership position
- Becoming a subject matter expert/thought leader
- Starting a business
Setting goals is an important first step, but you’ll need an action plan to achieve them. Your plan should be realistic and detailed, while allowing you to adapt and change course along the way as needed.
Acquiring Relevant Skills and Knowledge
Your short-term career development goals should center around gaining relevant skills, knowledge, and experience. Identifying your skill gaps—what you’re lacking to realize your long-term career goals—is a critical first step. Once you assess those gaps, you can explore training and education opportunities that can help you put those career development building blocks into place.
For any given skill or area of expertise, learning opportunities abound. These can range from workplace-sponsored training to self-paced online learning to interactive digital experiences such as webinars.
One-on-one personal training represents one of the most valuable and rich ways to learn. This can include job shadowing, coaching, or mentoring. All of these situations offer real-life experience, personalized guidance, and the chance to develop career-changing relationships. Networking is another invaluable learning opportunity based on one-on-one interaction and building relationships.
Leveraging Career Resources
Successful career development means making the most of career resources that can help you land opportunities. You’ll need to have a good grasp of basic best practices for tasks such as:
- Resume and cover letter writing
- Job search strategies
- Interview preparation and techniques
- Using professional organizations and job boards
Navigating Career Transitions
Career development is a work in progress throughout the lifespan of a career. While it’s important to set long-term career goals at the beginning of a career, career development is also key for people navigating career transitions.
Whether you are contemplating a professional change of pace or circumstances are making it a necessity, you can use the career development process to create a well-thought-out plan for moving on in a new professional direction. This means exploring your options and interest in different industries and roles and adapting transferable skills. Most of all, it involves overcoming challenges and embracing change—something that we will all have to do over the course of our careers.
Building a Professional Network
While you need to have the right skills to develop your career, professional relationships are also important. Consistent and strategic networking can help you meet the people who can help you reach your long-term career goals.
Old-fashioned in-person networking at industry events, conferences, and mixers is still a great way to grow your professional circle. You can also network online via virtual events and through social media such as LinkedIn.
Successful networking is about more than meeting people who can help you; it’s also about meeting people who can use your skills, connections, or advice. Acting as a resource for others will help you build a positive reputation and strong business connections over the course of your career.
Continual Learning and Development
Continual development is key to creating a rewarding lifelong career. There’s always more to learn, and there are always more ways to learn it. Workshops and seminars—whether sponsored by your employer, industry groups or others—can help you do a deeper dive into particular topics.
Another option is continuing education. Opportunities can range from specific certifications that can be completed quickly to advanced degrees that can take years to earn. Each learning opportunity should map to your long-term career development goals.
You can also keep learning through performance reviews and feedback. Mentoring is a great source of constructive feedback. Within a mentoring relationship, you can receive honest feedback and guidance from a trusted mentor who is rooting for your success and committed to helping you learn.
Balancing Work and Personal Life
Your personal happiness and satisfaction are important elements of career development goals, so you need to think about how to balance your work and personal life in a way that feels right to you. It’s easy to focus so much on the end results that you forget to take care of your needs.
Career development is a marathon, not a sprint, and you won’t be able to finish the race if you find yourself sidelined because of burnout. If you want to reach your long-term goals AND arrive there happy and healthy, it’s crucial to add self-care to the equation. Protect and prioritize your own well-being by identifying what self-care means to you and establishing well-defined work-life boundaries.
Evaluating and Adjusting Career Development Strategies
Career development is a journey. While you may envision that journey as a straight line when you make your plan, every career has its twists and turns. You’re allowed to change your short- and long-term objectives along the way, and there will be times when you have to adapt to circumstances beyond your control.
While you may not be able to control every factor that affects your career journey, you can make deliberate decisions at each step. This requires you to have a good awareness of where you are in your journey.
This awareness comes from regularly evaluating your progress and achievements. Take a good look at what you’ve achieved (or not) and what you’ve learned from that experience. This can help you identify areas where you can improve, which will become new short-term career development goals. This assessment can also inform the adjustments you need to make in your long-term career development plan.
Career development is key to getting where you want to go in your career—and to find personal satisfaction and accomplishment. Effective career development starts with deliberate planning, and while it should be your plan, it’s not a solo effort. Along the way, people in your professional life—managers, colleagues, mentors, and more—will be instrumental in helping you realize your career dreams.
For organizations, mentoring is a proven and effective practice to help employees succeed on their career development journeys. Learn more about how Chronus mentoring software can help you offer this support while maximizing mentoring’s benefits to the organization.