Find your Coach
Back to Blog

A roadmap for career development: How to set your course

May 31, 2022 - 17 min read


Jump to section

What is career development?

Why is career development important?

Phases of career development

9 ways to develop your career

Career development starts now

Career development starts young … very young!

Children imagine what they want to be when they grow up. Ideas are tried on, developed, and set aside. New options are contemplated. As we move through our teen years, these musings can become more serious as we decide on:

  • Post-secondary education 

  • Internships

  • First real jobs 

And so the process of career development starts — and never really ends until retirement (perhaps not even then). 

Let’s look at how career development typically occurs and how this will impact your career planning processes. We’ll discuss the main factors affecting professional development and how to choose a meaningful career journey.

What is career development?

Career development is the lifelong process of learning new skills, finding purpose in your work, and advancing along your career path

Career development is different from the development of specific skills, though it often includes this.  For example, a career counselor might advise that you undertake some workshops particular to your chosen field. This would contribute to your career development.

Career development is also different from career growth, which is more about the big-picture vision you have for your career. To achieve your career growth goals, you need to develop your career by gaining new experiences and skills.

Why is career development important?

Setting yourself a reasonable goal or two can make you happier. That’s because the reward systems in our body are triggered when we move toward our goals.

There is also a financial element to consider. Employees who hold higher positions (whose careers are further developed) will typically earn more. Sitting down with a career advisor is a good way to determine which career paths might fit best with your temperament and goals.


Phases of career development

Life is cyclical, and so is your career. Understanding the phases of career development will help you find your way throughout your career planning. Whether you’re fresh out of college or considering a career change, these phases apply. 

What are the 5 phases of career development? 

  • Experiment with options 

  • Develop skills

  • Pursue opportunities

  • Level up

  • Mastery (and boredom?)

Now let’s dive in a little deeper. 

1. Experiment with options

During the career development process, some people get overwhelmed with too many options. But if you want to find a job you’re passionate about, career exploration is a key part of the process.  

There are many ways to test out your career options. Just keep these two principles in mind:

  1. Be open when looking for opportunities to experiment. You might stumble across a career option you weren’t even thinking about.

  2. Remember, your career path doesn’t have to be linear. It's hard to plan for a career change, so there may be steps forward followed by steps back. The important thing is for you to get closer to the type of work you really want to do. 

2. Develop skills 

If you want to develop your career, you’ll need to build your skillsets. Whatever your career aspirations, you’ll need to have certain experiences to move forward. 

Let’s say you want to transition from the accounting side of your industry to the sales side. You may know enough about your company’s product to manage account situations. However, you’ll need to grow your sales acumen. You can make a lateral move to a sales role at the same level as your former job. 

Then, you can take advantage of development opportunities to grow your sales abilities. Over time you’ll gain the skills you need to succeed and get promoted

3. Pursue opportunities

In other words … “get after it!”  When you’re sufficiently skilled for new employment opportunities, ask for a promotion and new responsibilities. If your current role doesn’t have growth potential, start applying for new jobs

Here are a few ways to look for new career opportunities: 

  • Get active on LinkedIn: you can reach out to recruiters or catch up with people from your network that are hiring. 

  • Use your other social media platforms: Instagram and TikTok are huge these days, and companies you follow might be hiring.  

  • Talk to human resources about your professional development goals: they might loop you in your company’s learning and development initiatives, which can help you get your next promotion.

  • Work on career development planning with your manager: they’ll be excited to hear you’re motivated to grow in your role and might even offer some ideas to help you get ahead.

4. Level up 

You’re closing your skill gaps and looking for new career opportunities. Now, it’s time to really focus on leveling up. What are your overall career goals? What do you want to achieve, both in the long-term and the short-term?

Here are a few ways to start taking career development to the next level: 

5. Mastery (and boredom?) 

Mastery of a role or a career is something many aspire to. Mastery is when we instinctively know the best way to navigate through challenges. We can do our jobs in our sleep because our years of experience have made it second nature. 

You can choose to be conscious of that mastery and use it to level up yet again. Maybe you want to lead your company or start a business. Or maybe mastery makes you bored with your career. You could look for a new career path and start the cycle anew. 


How to develop your career within your organization

58% of companies think closing skills gaps should be a priority post-pandemic. That means many companies are putting robust learning and development programs in place, from tuition stipends to formal training sessions. You shouldn’t miss this opportunity to take advantage of free career development opportunities. 


Here are a few ways to develop your career at your company: 


  • Take advantage of your company’s career development programs  
  • Create quarterly or monthly career development goals with your manager 
  • Keep track of your work accomplishments so that you can see progress over time 

Ask for feedback from your manager and coworkers so that you can keep growing your skills

How to develop your career independently

Career development can be exciting. Just remember that work-life balance matters. Your career goals aren’t worth sacrificing your well-being. Here are a few quick ways to develop your career without getting your current company involved: 

  • Attend relevant conferences so that you can stay on top of trends and hear from industry leaders 
  • Build a solid network of people in your field so that you can trade career advice and help each other with job opportunities 
  • Take an online course about something you’re interested in, even if it’s totally unrelated to your current job 
  • Learn about different industries by volunteering, going to career fairs, or talking to friends that work in unique jobs 


9 ways to develop your career 

Career development is a big part of creating a career you’re passionate about. From learning new skills to embracing your natural talents, here are 9 ways to develop your career. 

1. Embrace your strengths

The most effective path to growth is knowing your strengths. My favorite definition of strengths is from Marcus Buckingham.

“Strengths are those things that make us stronger and give us energy. Keep track of yours (and your kryptonite).”

For several weeks, keep a record of activities that leave you energized when you are finished. Include activities that make you feel drained as well.  Look for patterns in both so that you can move your career towards (and away from) what you discover.

2. Identify your talents 

It is difficult to identify talents in ourselves because they come to us so naturally. We often assume everyone else is equally capable. 

Here are two ways to start seeing your natural talents:

  1. Ask others what they think. They see your talents objectively, and those that care about you will tell you the truth.
  2. Notice when you see others struggling with tasks you think are simple. Chances are you have a talent in that area.

3. Get to know your authentic self

I love the exercise called “I AM …” It involves finishing the sentence “I am …”, ideally with one word that describes who you already are … not who you hope to be.

Create a list that is 30-50 items long. Now start to filter it. 

Which ones are learned or self-limiting beliefs? Which ones are rooted in who you are as a person? Which ones connect to your talents and passions? This exercise will help you get to know your true self. That will ultimately help you with your career development planning.

4. Express your “edge” clearly

The outcome of the “I AM” exercise is to be able to concisely express what you were born to offer most authentically to the world. 

Everyone tells you to define your niche clearly. In my opinion, it is most important to broadly know the space in which we are most effective and energized.

As an example, I define my personal “edge” as: “I am a dynamic listener who facilitates progress for others through taking separate ideas and concepts to help synthesize new ideas and approaches.” 

I currently choose to narrow where I offer that edge to coaching.

5. Turn around your “Yeah … but” thoughts

We often know where we want to go, but we then tell ourselves why we can’t get there. For example: “Yeah, it would be great if I were to return to school for an MBA … but I’ve got a young family who needs my time and my earnings.”

Listen to your “yeah … but” thoughts and then turn them around as they are unstated needs.

Returning to the example: 

“For me to return to school, I will need to seek agreement with my partner on how we will manage the time commitments and any financial impact.” 

6. Know your skill gaps

As your preferred career option becomes clearer, it is important to be objective about how we align with the required skills and experience.

Get clear about the competencies of the target position. Document what you have now and what you need to gain to be fully competent in the new position. 

It isn’t necessary to have a “green light” on every required competency. But it is important not to have any reds and to have a plan to move through any yellows. For significant career changes, this plan may have a non-trivial timeline attached.

7. Map out your career development plan

For such timelines, build a 5-year plan and plot it over a reasonable timeline.

Life’s obligations (and a need for balance) still exist, so we need to plan for the shift.  Plan how you will allocate your most limited resources: time and energy. Think about these questions as you create your plan:

  • How are you allocating your time right now?
  • What time and energy do you need to meet your career goals?
  • What will you shift to make room for achieving your goals?
  • What other actions will you need to begin to take as the gaps are closed?

8. Stay fluid throughout your career 

We must remain open to what we discover throughout the phases of career development. As things change, we need to adjust our expected outcome accordingly.

Career progressions are like that. We are better off if we are not locked into a single outcome but rather open to all outcomes that give us what we are looking for. Success appears in surprising places.

9. Own the process

I don’t know where I heard it or saw it — perhaps in a training video – but when someone said that they needed a career manager, they were informed they already had one … “you’re it!”

Don’t give ownership of your career development to anyone as only you can manage your career.

However, once you’ve embraced that, be open to including others on your “board of directors.” Find mentors, job shadow, seek input, and network. But above all, own the process yourself.

Career development starts now

Whether you’re a new job seeker, a college student, or a seasoned professional who has already experienced a level of career success, it’s not too late to start paying attention to your career development.

Of course, the earlier you can start, the better. But as they say, better late than never!

Consider speaking with a career counseling expert. They’ll be able to assist you in getting on the right path toward meaningful employment.

At BetterUp, we’re passionate about growth and transformation across organizations. So, if you feel like you could use a bit of guidance, check out how we can help.

New call-to-action

Published May 31, 2022

Ian Munro

BetterUp Fellow Coach, PCC

Read Next

Professional Development
18 min read | March 11, 2022

Informational interviews: How to get all the info you need

Learn what an informational interview is and why it benefits career development, as well as how to prepare for or conduct an informational interview. Read More
Professional Development
18 min read | August 19, 2021

Executive development is personalized to leaders everywhere

Learn what executive development is, its main goal, why it’s so urgent, and how to choose the right executive development program for your organization. Read More
Employee Experience
25 min read | August 18, 2021

Employee development is key to your company's success

Investing in an employee development plan should be a priority for all organizations. Learn everything about the benefits of employee development. Read More
Professional Development
16 min read | June 20, 2022

Professional development is for everyone (We’re looking at you)

Professional development is one of the best ways to advance your career and stay engaged with your job and industry. Learn what it is and how to start today. Read More
Employee Experience
18 min read | September 14, 2021

How to use workforce development to close the skills gap

Workforce development is part of talent strategy. Find out what a workforce development program entails, why it is important and when to turn to outside specialists. Read More
Leadership & Management
12 min read | August 15, 2022

8 examples for setting professional development goals at work

Here are 8 examples of SMART professional development goals to inspire and help define your personal pathway to career success. Read More
Professional Development
6 min read | June 1, 2021

17 Career development questions for managers to ask

Learn how to ask the right career development questions to help you both inspire, and lead your employees in a constructive dialogue. Read More
13 min read | October 3, 2022

How to set short-term professional goals

Learn what short-term professional goals are and how they help your career development. Discover the best ways to set your goals and how to achieve them. Read More
Professional Development
13 min read | November 1, 2022

Discover how to get noticed by upper management at work

Pick up some tips to help you learn how to get noticed by upper management. Plus, learn why getting noticed matters for your career development Read More

Stay connected with BetterUp

Get our newsletter, event invites, plus product insights and research.