What Is Career Development? Definition, Types, & Steps 🚀

  • Remote Working & Freelancing
Contra Tips
· 7 min read

Learn what career development is, why it’s important, and how to create your own career development plan. Discover tips for effective career development.

Building a career around your passion can be challenging when you’re just trying to make ends meet — but without considering what you want to do for the rest of your life, you may end up working a job you don’t like. That’s why you need to choose a career path that helps you focus on your career development.

In this guide, we’ll discuss what career development is, why it’s essential to invest in, and how to craft a career development plan in four steps. We’ll also take you through tips for effective career growth.

What is career development, and how does it work? 🧐

Career development is the conscious, lifelong process of continuously acquiring short-term skills to achieve long-term goals. This means choosing a path you’d like your career to follow, like becoming an HR manager, finding a job within that career, setting goals, and acquiring the knowledge to move up the career ladder one promotion at a time. These are essentially the stages of career development.

However, career development isn’t a straightforward path, and there are three common types of career development:

  1. Formal career development: This involves participating in structured activities –– including workshops and training programs –– and acquiring recognized certifications. This helps you gain skills for a specific career. 
  2. Informal career development: This involves acquiring knowledge through methods like mentorship, self-learning, and on-the-job experiences. But this type isn’t structured. 
  3. Protean career development: This is a more self-directed career path determined by an individual rather than an organization. It strongly focuses on personal growth and psychological success.

Importance of career development: Pros and cons 🎭  

Career development holds immense value for individuals and organizations alike, but not without a few drawbacks. Here are its key benefits and challenges:

Benefits 👍

  • Professional growth: Career development allows you to acquire new skills and knowledge, leading to enhanced abilities and better job performance.
  • Job satisfaction: It’s true that when you have opportunities to develop and progress in your career, you often feel more satisfied and motivated in your role –– which is what career development helps with.
  • Work-life balance: Effective career development can lead to better job matches, where you find roles that suit not only your skills but also your lifestyle and personal values, contributing to a healthier work-life balance.
  • Goal achievement: Career development provides a structured approach to setting and achieving professional goals, whether climbing the corporate ladder or transitioning to a new field.

Challenges 💪

  • Time and effort: Career development requires a significant investment of time and effort, which can be challenging if you already have a busy schedule.
  • Financial costs: Education and training can be expensive, posing a financial challenge, especially if you lack your employer’s support.
  • Uncertainty: There can be uncertainty and fear of the unknown when considering a major career shift.
  • Motivation: Staying motivated, especially in the face of setbacks or slow progress, can be a significant challenge. 

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How to create a career development plan: 4 steps 🪜

Now that you know more about what career development is and why you should learn new skills or improve the ones you have, let’s explore how to create a career development plan. Consider the following steps as a general career development plan template.

1. Assess yourself 🌟

Start by identifying your strengths, weaknesses, skills, personality type, and interests. This helps determine the skills you need to develop for your chosen career. Also, be honest about what you can and can’t do; otherwise, your action plan won’t be as effective. Next, determine your personality type and interests so they align with jobs within your career path you’d enjoy. For example, if you want to work in human resources, you’d most likely start as an HR assistant, but with training and education, you could skip that and start as an HR coordinator.

2. Define your career goals 🥳

A career development goal example could be setting a long-term objective (working in HR and eventually becoming the chief HR officer), followed by measurable medium-term goals (looking for positions or companies you want to work in or specializing in an HR segment to work on specific projects) to reach the big goal. This involves further identifying gaps in your skillset and the next position on the promotional rung.

Also, ensure all your targets –– whether short, mid, or long –– follow the SMART goal concept (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound). For example, a SMART goal for career development may be researching the experience/skills needed for a job, making a plan to acquire those skills, and sending your resume to the company. Setting SMART goals allows you to get the most out of your goal-setting and avoid wasting time and effort on objectives that won’t further your career or skills.

3. Create an action plan 📝

Once you set the big picture, create manageable tasks to get closer to achieving each goal, as well as a timeline to complete them. 

Suppose you want to be promoted to HR coordinator from an HR assistant. In that case, your action plan might be going for training in employee relations or benefits administration and acquiring the certificates within six months. It might also include seeking weekly feedback from your manager or volunteering to step in as the replacement HR coordinator while they’re on a planned vacation. 

Each task you complete gets you one step closer to the next career goal, so ensure these tasks are productive and beneficial for your long-term strategy. Also, your plan of action should continuously evolve as career development is a life-long process, which means you’ll need to revise your tasks based on what skills need to be learned next. 

4. Implement the plan 💯

Finally, schedule time to complete your tasks (studying, attending workshops, or reading relevant books) and track your progress to measure whether your time or effort is paying off. This allows you to reevaluate your goals or tasks and make changes where necessary. 

Tips for effective career development 🔥

Effective career development isn't just about setting goals; it's about the journey and the strategies you employ along the way. To make the most of your career path, here are a few critical tips to consider:

  • Network continuously: Building and maintaining professional relationships is crucial. Attend industry events, join professional organizations, and don't shy away from social media platforms like LinkedIn to grow your network.
  • Stay curious and keep learning: Adopt a growth mindset. Take advantage of online courses, webinars, and workshops to stay updated with industry trends and skills.
  • Seek feedback and learn from it: As mentioned, regularly asking for feedback from peers, supervisors, or mentors helps you evolve as a professional. Constructive criticism can be a powerful tool for growth.
  • Embrace change and adaptability: Be open to new opportunities and changes in your industry. Flexibility can open doors and foster resilience.
  • Maintain work-life balance: Balance your professional goals with personal well-being to avoid burnout. Remember, a healthy work-life balance is essential for long-term success.
  • Reflect regularly: Take time to introspect and reflect on your progress, reevaluate your goals, and adjust your strategies as needed. Self-reflection is a key component of personal and professional growth.

Develop your career with Contra 📈

Embarking on a successful career development journey requires commitment, continuous learning, and strategic planning. But remember, you don’t have to do it alone. Join Contra and begin your journey as a freelancer with confidence now. To get started, create a profile, share your portfolio, match with clients, and earn a minimum of $25/hour. 

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