Career development flourishes when you can create clear and realistic goals that encourage progress in your chosen profession. It involves continuously educating yourself and learning more about potential paths to improve your career. Understanding how career development works and what you can do to improve yours can greatly benefit your career regardless of your field.
In this article, we explain what career development is, provide seven tips to improve your career development and describe how to establish a plan to improve your career path.
What is career development?
Career development is the lifelong process of expanding your career. It may involve the following:
Determining your passions and skills
Setting career goals
Progressing within one company for several years
Switching careers as your interests and skills change
While you are ultimately responsible for your own career development, your employer may have an interest in your progression as well. Many companies invest time and resources into an employee, and to increase team member retention, they may offer additional training and educational programs for a specific role.
Tips to improve your career development
Consider these steps when planning your career development:
1. Explore your interests
You can explore your interests at any age. Doing this may help you decide what career to pursue or if you’re ready for a career shift. You can think about your favorite childhood hobbies or classes in school and reflect on which interests you return to throughout your life. Consider other occupations, perhaps those of your parents, older siblings and role models, that you find interesting. These may be helpful areas in which to explore career options.
2. Determine your ideal career
Finding a target professional industry or job is the foundation of an effective career development plan. The goals you create to advance your career will depend on your passion and values. Consider the following when choosing a job:
List your strengths: Make a list of strengths and interests, then think about what careers might match those traits. For example, if you’re good at resolving conflict and perform well in stressful situations, you could be a police officer or school counselor.
Determine values and purpose: Your core values are important, and you should choose a job that aligns with your beliefs. Finding a purpose in your work will increase your satisfaction and motivate you to advance your career.
Visualize ideal career: Visualizing your ideal career can help you develop an effective career development plan. To do so, consider your ideal job environment, work-life balance, salary and other factors important to you.
3. Set goals
Setting specific career goals can give you something tangible to work towards as you improve your career development. When setting career goals, it can be useful to set SMART goals. SMART is an acronym that includes the following:
Specific: A specific goal focuses on a clear outcome.
Measurable: A measurable goal includes metrics or milestones by which you can easily track your progress.
Achievable: An achievable goal is one that you can reasonably accomplish with the time and resources available.
Relevant: A relevant goal is one that aligns with your career and development trajectory.
Time-based: A time-based goal includes a timeline or deadline by which you can operate.
Keeping the SMART guidelines in mind can help you create effective goals that you may be able to achieve and track successfully.
4. Learn new skills
Acquiring new and relevant skills can help you progress toward your career goals. Here are four soft skills that nearly every position can benefit from:
Critical thinking: Critical thinking allows you to identify and overcome challenges by analyzing data and facts. To expand your critical-thinking skills, learn more hard skills related to your role to make it easier to identify and solve problems.
Emotional intelligence: This involves interpreting conversations and nonverbal actions of others and effectively communicating your ideas. This skill is key in conveying clear goals and understanding your coworkers, managers and customers.
Teamwork: Teamwork involves sharing ideas and assisting coworkers with tasks to achieve goals and create a cohesive and enjoyable work environment. When learning teamwork skills, make sure you listen to your coworkers and attempt to include them in activities.
Negotiation: This is a conversation that helps two or more parties reach an agreement and can be a useful workplace skill for solving coworker conflict or discussing a raise with your manager. Developing this skill can also help improve relations with your team and clients.
5. Expand your network
You can create a comprehensive professional network to help achieve your career goals. To expand your network, consider:
Attending conferences that relate to your field
Joining online professional networking groups
Scheduling informational interviews with successful professionals in your field
Joining a professional association
For example, if you are an executive assistant, you can attend an administrative professionals conference to not only meet other assistants but also to learn additional skills. Your network can help you find a job that fits into your career path or can help you form achievable goals.
6. Find a mentor
Mentors are advisors that offer young professionals advice and guidance while they progress in their careers. Your mentor could be any of the following:
A current or past manager
A member of your professional network
A co-worker with more experience
A mentor will provide you with a trusted, experienced perspective that can help you define your career goals. Consider meeting with your mentor weekly or monthly to share your accomplishments, establish more career milestones and maintain your motivation.
7. Enroll in your company’s career development program
Most employers want team members to expand the skills that are specific to their role or the business. These programs are ideal for high school and college graduates who want to gain valuable on-the-job training. If your current company has a career development program, consider enrolling. These programs may:
Provide courses to help you learn new skills
Include in-person and remote training options
Allow you to complete certificate programs to improve your resume
Offer tuition assistance for college courses that relate to your position