What Is Career Development, and Why Is It Important?

November 7, 2023
By Nelson Connects

Are you plodding along in your job, counting the hours to the end of the workday?


This could be a sign that you’re stuck in a career rut and need a plan to get your career out of the doldrums. That’s where a career development plan comes in.

Great careers are much like great relationships — they require effort and commitment.


Career development is an intentional process employees embark on to advance in their careers. This may involve acquiring the knowledge, skills, and experience needed to bring you closer to your career goals.


In this article, find out:

  • Why career development is important

  • How to set career goals.

  • Where to find support to help you reach your goals.

Understanding Career Development


Career development goes beyond job titles and salaries. Most people need a purpose in life. With a large portion of our time spent at work, having something to strive for can make our jobs more meaningful and bring greater personal fulfillment.


Your employer’s contribution to your professional growth is important, as they can provide the necessary training, mentoring, and opportunities to move your career forward. However, if your employer isn’t investing in your growth, nothing stops you from championing your own career path.


Why Career Development Matters


If you’re thinking of changing jobs or embarking on a new career, you’re not alone. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor (BLS), the average person holds approximately 12 jobs during their lifetime.


Career statistics show that, on average, people change jobs every four years. Most (around 39%) seek a higher salary, but the two other top reasons are:

  1. To pursue a different field or career (21%).

  2. To improve their chances of upward mobility (20%).

Most people quit their jobs for the following reasons:

  • Stagnation — they’re not learning anything new.  

  • Feeling uninspired — they’ve lost their passion for their job.

  • No career progression — they’ve hit a dead end in their career.

Employers can play a significant role in employee satisfaction levels by creating a space for employees to grow. A survey by Better Buys shows that organizations that provide professional development opportunities increase employee engagement by 15% and employee retention by 34%.


Employees are more motivated, productive, and happier when their employer supports their career goals. But don’t rely solely on your employer to advance your career. You should develop a personal career development plan with short and long-term goals.


How to Set Career Development Goals


To establish a career development plan, you need goals and targets. Start with the end in mind. Determine your end goal and set out the steps you need to take to reach it.


Next, identify why you have those career goals. Is it because you want to earn more, learn new skills, or move into a leadership position?


Make sure your goals align with your values, interests, and strengths. For example, if you value continuous learning, your job search may focus on organizations with a strong training and development program.


Once you know what underpins your career goals, you can develop your plan. To set goals, you can use the SMART technique. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.


Specific: Don’t set vague goals, like “become an accountant.” Do you want to be an accountant or a certified public accountant? There are two different paths to each one, so be specific.


Measurable: Add milestones that you can measure your progress against.


Achievable: Are your goals realistic and achievable? Don’t bite off more than you can chew.


Relevant: Are your goals relevant to achieving your long-term goal? For instance, if one of your goals is to improve your business writing skills, taking a creative writing course won’t provide the writing skillset you need.


Time-bound: Create a realistic timeline of all the milestones you need to reach as you progress toward your goal.


Where To Find Career Development Support


You can reach your professional goals faster with support. Here’s where to seek career development support:


1. Approach your current employer


Achieving your career goals doesn’t necessarily mean finding another job. Perhaps your current employer is unaware you’re interested in a more senior position or moving into a different role.


Discuss your career aspirations with your manager. They may be happy to create an individual development plan (IDP) to support your internal growth. This may involve career pathing, skills development, networking, and mentoring.


2. Find self-help resources


There are plenty of resources to help you along your career development path. You can find information and tips from:

  • Career and industry blogs

  • Podcasts

  • Seminars and webinars

  • Books

  • Online courses

  • Professional groups and associations

3. Work with a mentor or career coach


Mentoring and coaching can offer valuable insights and advice to guide your career development journey.


Coaching and mentoring are different. Deciding which one to pursue depends on where you need the most support.


Mentors have typically walked the path before you. They are professionals with experience who are successful in the job or industry you wish to pursue. Mentors can provide direction, help you navigate obstacles, and connect you to people and opportunities to help you reach your goal faster.


A career coach isn’t necessarily an industry expert. Their role is to assess your current situation and help you formulate and execute a career plan. A coach can assist you in aligning your goals with your values, interests, and skills. They can also help you overcome limiting beliefs and identify hidden competencies you aren’t aware of.


4. Register with a recruiting partner


If you are seeking a new job, signing up with a recruiting firm can help make your search easier. Find a recruiting partner, like Nelson Connects, that takes a collaborative approach with job seekers. Our relationship with you won’t end when you are successfully placed; we’ll continue to support you throughout your career journey.


Key Takeaways


A great career doesn’t happen by accident. Building a fulfilling career requires a plan and the commitment to see it through. Setting career development goals means you’re playing an active role in growing your career. Your career development plan should be fluid, shifting, and changing as your career unfolds.


Need help finding a job that aligns with your career goals? Connect with a recruiter today.

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