7 Proactive Ways to Take Charge of Your Career Development

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k
April 16, 2024 at 10:36PM UTC

Once upon a time, people would, for the most part, spend lengthy tenures at their companies, often working there for their entire careers. Nowadays, this is less common. A 2018 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report revealed that the median job tenures for women and men were four and 4.3 years respectively. As you might guess, the median job tenure was significantly higher for people aged 55-64 than it was for those between the ages of 35-34 — 10.1 years compared with 2.8 years.

Today, the emphasis is less on jobs and more on careers. That’s why career development is so important. While career development was always essential for growth, the meaning of work has changed significantly over time, and with it comes the need to find and nurture a career path and identity.

What is career development and why is it important?

Career development is the work a person puts into shaping her career trajectory and identity. It begins well before her first job, starting with ideas about what she wants to do and other work-related goals. It then spans the entire course of her career, including into and after retirement. 

There are many parts of career development, such as education and training, promotions, certifications, skills-building and more. There are also numerous activities a person might undertake to enhance her career, such as taking part in workshops and training opportunities, applying for new jobs, networking, leaving a current job, exploring new roles and so on. 

Career development is so important because work plays a vital role in our lives. Your work should align with your values and uplift and fulfill you. Some people have trouble finding jobs that truly excite them, and part of career development is considering what kind of roles and opportunities will make you happy. After all, we spend a considerable percentage of our lives working, so it’s essential to find work that isn’t a chore but feels worthwhile and aligns with your personal goals. (Is all work perfect for everyone all the time? Of course not. But you should strive for something that makes you content at least much of the time.)

What is a career development program?

There are different types of career-development programs, but typically, the term refers to a program an employer implements to help employees grow in their careers in order to facilitate recruitment, retention and employee satisfaction. Examples include formal mentoring programs, training opportunities, courses offered onsite or online, education reimbursements and seminars.

What are the five stages of career development?

Donald Super defined five stages of career development that contribute to a “self-concept” that evolves over time. They include:


This stage occurs during childhood and adolescence, when young people are formulating their sense of self. This is when they begin to develop ideas about what they might like to do for work and explore areas of interest, as well as consider their strengths.


During the period from adolescence to young adulthood, people explore their interests through education and hobbies. Typically, this period ends around the time people begin their entry-level jobs.


Establishment takes place between young and middle adulthood, when people become firmly situated in their careers. While it’s a time of growth, people generally begin to have a clear direction and picture of what they want to accomplish. It may involve career changes, but it also means greater responsibilities and comfort with their lives and careers. 


Usually beginning in a professional’s 40s, Maintenance is a time when someone has reached a career plateau to an extent, having attained many of her original goals, and has achieved a level of comfort with her professional life. She may help others along their career paths as a mentor or advisor, but she’ll also continue to nurture her own career and boost her skills.


Many people are retiring later than their predecessors now, so the Decline period could take place in someone’s 60s or 70s (or even later). Retirement doesn’t mean the end of career development, though. Someone can keep learning and growing through side projects, volunteering and exploring new or old passions.

How can I improve my career development?

1. Think career, not jobs.

It’s important to think about the big picture. People are changing jobs at unprecedented rates, so you can’t go into your first job thinking it will be your last. Even if you’re happy in your current role, continue to look for ways to prepare yourself for future opportunities, such as maintaining an up-to-date LinkedIn profile, taking courses to boost your skills and seeking out networking opportunities. Take some time to consider what you want to accomplish over the course of your career, too.

2. Find a mentor.

A mentor can help you hone your career goals and suggest ways of attaining them. While you might be able to find a mentor at your current company, think about other people who can advise you. For example, you could reach out to someone you admire on LinkedIn and suggest getting a cup of coffee (don’t outright ask them to be your mentor if you haven’t even met them, though).

3. Plan out your career trajectory.

What does your ideal career path look like? Set some goals to help you map out what you want to achieve professionally. Not everything will go according to plan, of course, but it’s important to take some time to consider what you’d like to happen to help you understand the steps you’ll need to take to realize it.

4. Become an expert in a niche.

Make yourself indispensable to any employer — or go out on your own as an entrepreneur or freelancer — by becoming an expert in a particular area. Casting too wide a net might mean you’re spread too thin. By focusing on one area and learning the ins and outs, you’ll make yourself a go-to person at any job and better set up opportunities to contribute to your employer and your own career path. You can do this by reading, taking classes, attending conferences and generally looking for niches that aren’t heavily occupied by your colleagues.

5. Take advantage of your company’s resources.

You probably won’t stay in one place forever, but while you’re there, make sure you’re taking advantage of the resources they have to offer, whether they’re mentorship opportunities or Lynda.com classes. 

6. Ask for feedback.

According to a 2016 Gallup survey, only 15% of Millenials routinely ask for feedback in the workplace. This is an important part of career development because it will help you better understand your strengths and weaknesses and enable you to grow. Not all feedback will be constructive, but hopefully, you’ll find a way to learn from it no matter what.

7. Keep learning.

Always look for opportunities to learn, whether formal or informal. Take a course. Gain a new certification. Go back to school. Even just ask someone who’s further along in their career if you can shadow them. The smallest things can contribute to your career development and add to your skillset.

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