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What is career growth? How to move forward in your career

July 14, 2022 - 27 min read

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What is career growth?

The benefits of career growth?

How is career growth different from career development?

What are career growth opportunities?

How career growth improves employee retention

What is a manager’s role in career development and growth?

How to create career growth opportunities for employees

How employees can work on their own career growth

Have you ever heard the saying, “if you’re not growing, you’re dying”? It’s a little dramatic, but whoever originally said it had a point. Without consistent personal and career growth, we can end up feeling stagnant in life. 

Maybe you have a 5-year plan for becoming a manager. Or, you could be aiming to start a business soon so that you can become an entrepreneur. No matter what your ideal career path is, knowing how to kick off your career growth will help you get there. 

Career growth matters for companies, too — a lack of opportunities for advancement is one of the top reasons people quit their jobs. If employee retainment and engagement are important to you, prioritizing career growth is a great place to start. 

Maybe you’re not sure where to begin with career growth. Don’t worry — we’re here to show you what career growth looks like, how you can start your journey, and how companies can support their employees along the way.

What is career growth?

Before diving in, let’s answer the question “what is career growth?” 

Career growth is the journey towards your big-picture career vision. It’s the way you move from your first job out of college to eventually leading your own team. Whether you want to be a CEO or start a non-profit organization, career growth is the long-term process of moving towards your ultimate professional goals.

Career growth examples

Career growth is definitely a journey. To achieve it, you’ll need to cultivate a sense of purpose and seize opportunities as they arise. That said, you might be wondering what career growth might look like in your own life. 

Here are a few career growth examples to help you out: 

  • Getting promoted to a new role with more responsibilities — like from a marketing coordinator to a marketing manager 
  • Hiring your first direct report, allowing you to become a people manager 
  • Taking a new job where you’ll get to lead other team members and develop a team strategy
  • Making a lateral move within your company that allows you to learn new skills and work on something you’re passionate about

 

The benefits of career growth

Studies show that allowing yourself to get too comfortable can lead to less happiness in the long term.

Why? As humans, we need to get out of our comfort zones every once in a while. Showing yourself that you’re capable of growth and resilience can be extremely beneficial to your well-being. That’s ultimately why career growth is so important — besides putting you ahead professionally, it can make you happier

There are many more benefits of career growth. Here are a few to keep in mind: 

    • Growing your career will eventually increase your salary, helping you achieve more financial wellness.
    • Career growth can help you reach your full potential. This is because it pushes you to take advantage of new opportunities, rather than staying where you’re at for too long.
    • Advancing your career will give you additional motivation at work. With the future in mind, you’ll be more likely to show up as your best self and get things done without procrastinating.
    • Career growth opportunities at your job will make you more satisfied at work. That means you’ll be more likely to stay with your company and build deeper relationships.
    • Career growth makes you better in all aspects of your life. When you see the results of having a growth mindset at your job, you’ll want to grow personally, too.

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How is career growth different from career development?

Sometimes, people use the terms career growth and career development interchangeably. However, there’s a difference between the two. 

Career growth, as we mentioned earlier, is all about your long-term vision for your career. Career development, on the other hand, usually refers to activities done in the short term. For example, learning a new skill to enhance your performance in your current role. 

Career development can also refer to how a company develops its employees. For example, some companies run talent management programs through the human resources department. Participating in one of these programs would be considered career development. When that program helps you earn a promotion a year later, though, that would be considered career growth.

How career growth is related to your career path

So how do career growth and career development work together to advance you along your career path? Well, they’re both required if you want to achieve your work goals and follow your dreams. Most of the time, one doesn’t happen without the other. 

For example, let’s say you recently graduated from college and started your first job in marketing. After onboarding, you start looking for career development opportunities. You know you have a lot to learn about industry trends and best practices. 

Your manager might invite you to attend a marketing conference. There, you attend sessions where you gain some new skills. You also network with other marketing professionals. Both are important career development activities. 

A year later, you’ve taken on new responsibilities at your job and you’re ready for your next step. Using the skill set you gained at the conference and over the past year, you start looking for a new job. Someone you met at that same conference refers you for a role at their company, and you receive a job offer! You now have a better title and an increased salary. This is career growth. You can see how one doesn’t exist without the other. 

What are career growth opportunities?

After reading the example above, you’re probably wondering how can find your own career growth opportunities. Advancing your career can have a positive impact on your well-being and your life satisfaction. The good news is that career growth opportunities are all around you — you just need to know where to look. 

Types of career growth opportunities

Here are a few different types of career growth opportunities to consider as you start your journey. 

  1. Expanding your current job description so that you can learn more 
  2. Moving up within your current company by earning a promotion 
  3. Gaining more responsibility and a better job title by moving a new company 
  4. Hiring your first direct report so that you have the chance to become a manager
  5. Adding more team members to your department so that you can gain additional leadership skills 
  6. Becoming a contributor in meetings by sharing your ideas, instead of following everyone else’s lead all the time
  7. Taking part in decision-making for new or current projects, even if it’s in small ways

How career growth improves employee retention

In today’s competitive job market, employers are working harder than ever to retain and engage top talent. That’s why career growth shouldn’t just matter to you as an employee. It should also be a priority for human resources, management, and anyone else that cares about employee retention. 

But why focus on career growth? Studies show that employees who don’t have a clear way to advance their career path will leave their company for a new job. This makes sense if you think about it — few people want to keep the same title and salary level for years on end.  

The fact is, employees are always learning new things on the job. They might even also be working on career development on their own time. And if you don’t recognize their growth with promotions or other advancement opportunities, employees may begin to feel underappreciated. That’s bad news if you want to keep your top performers around — McKinsey reports that employees often quit because they don’t feel valued

Career growth also helps retain employees because it can reduce burnout. Gaining new job responsibilities, a better title, and a salary bump can give employees relief if they’re bored or exhausted by their current job. Many workers will look to new opportunities at other companies if they’re feeling this way — you can get ahead of that by making career growth a core part of your retention strategy. 

Finally, career growth will keep employees engaged, and engaged employees stay. If your workforce knows that advancement opportunities are available, they’ll be more motivated and productive on the job. That’s because they’ll have a target to work towards, like a promotion. As a result, you’ll see better business outcomes for you, and more job satisfaction for your employees.

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What is a manager’s role in career development and growth?

Making career growth a priority has to start with your company's leaders. Managers play an integral role in showing employees that their career growth matters. If managers are actively encouraging growth, employees will have the support they need to focus on it. 

So how can managers play a role in employee career growth? Here are a few ways to start today.

    • Make a plan that targets growth areas with your employees. This could be a part of their performance review process or a separate conversation scheduled annually. Even better, managers can set quarterly or monthly check-ins to help employees stay engaged with their growth goals. 
    • Encourage employees to take advantage of the company’s career growth opportunities. For example, you can remind your team members to sign up for company-sponsored training courses. You could then ask employees to report on what they learned during a team meeting
    • Help employees find new opportunities for career development. For example, if you as a manager took a specific certification to further your career, you should share the details of that with your employees. This is especially helpful to junior employees who may not know where to begin with growing their careers.
    • Be a mentor, even in small ways. As a manager, you’re probably in a position that your employees hope to be in one day. Be willing to pause every once in a while and share how you grew into that position. Employees will feel more motivated on their own paths after hearing about your accomplishments.

 

How to create career growth opportunities for employees

If you want to create career growth opportunities for your employees, career development programs are a great place to start. Besides making employees happy, this will boost retention — according to one study, 94% of employees said they would stay with their current employer if they invested in their career development

Here are four ways to start creating career growth opportunities for your team.

1. Start a formalized mentoring program

We all know the value of mentorship. Learning from someone who was at one time in your shoes can be extremely valuable for advancing your career. By formalizing a mentorship program at your company, you can bring this benefit directly to your workforce. Plus, you can increase retention — one case study at Sun Microsystems showed that a mentorship program increased retention rates by almost 20% for employees who participated

In the same study, mentees were also 5 times more likely to increase their pay and get promoted. Mentors were even more likely to see those same benefits. Ultimately, a mentorship program will show your employees you care about their career growth. It will also give them the guidance they need to advance their careers. 

2. Prioritize employee learning opportunities 

If you offer to pay for your employees to learn new skills or go back to school, you can be sure you’ll see a positive ROI. In fact, professional development programs are proven to make employees more loyal and satisfied at work

By helping your employees upskill, you’ll also be doing your business a favor. Imagine this: your team member uses their professional development stipend to take a course on social media management. Using what they learn, they implement a new strategy that boosts engagement and drives more sales for your company. 

That’s why these kinds of career growth opportunities are important: employees who are learning new skills are bound to be more creative, productive, and engaged at work. That’s great for retention, business outcomes, and your employees’ job satisfaction. 

3. Take a personal interest in employees’ career goals — and support them 

It’s one thing to give your employees the money to take courses or go to conferences. It’s another take a personal interest in their career goals. To truly create career growth opportunities for your employees, you need to intentionally show your support. 

One way to do that is by making career planning part of your employee engagement strategy. Require managers to help team members write out the ways they plan to grow each month, quarter, or year. Then, follow up with formalized check-ins and make sure employees are getting consistent feedback.

Here are a few other ways to make career growth a priority for your entire team: 

  • Attend industry conferences together 
  • Invite educational guest speakers to your team meetings 
  • Ask employees to take turns learning about and then presenting on job-related topics
  • Host a company off-site where a portion of the time is dedicated to professional development 

4. Promote from within whenever possible 

Finally, try to prioritize promoting from within as much as you can. Professional development programs are great. However, if you consistently pass over employees for promotions, they will search for opportunities elsewhere. 

Promoting from within is great for employee retention, but it’s also great for the business. Searching for new talent is expensive, not to mention time-consuming. You have to interview prospects, onboard the new hires, and then trust that they will do a great job. 

If you promote someone that already works for you, you know you can trust them because you’ve already seen their performance. In the long term, creating this kind of career growth opportunity for your employees will be beneficial for engagement and retention.

How employees can work on their own career growth

At the end of the day, you are responsible for your own career. Even if your employer provides all the career growth opportunities in the world, you have to do the work. Sometimes, though, career growth can be tough — it requires you to have a growth mindset and face your fear of failure

Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck uses the term “growth mindset” to refer to people’s beliefs in their talents and abilities. Someone with a growth mindset believes that their intelligence and skills can improve over time. In contrast, a person with a fixed mindset believes they either have or don’t have the ability to do something — for example, they might say “some people are just born being good at math, and I wasn’t.” 

One of the most important things you can do for your career growth is to have a growth mindset. Say yes to that job interview, even if you don’t feel qualified. Take a course so that you can learn a new skill, even if you’re scared you’ll be terrible at it. Be an active participant in your career development, and you’ll be sure to see your career grow in amazing ways.

To help you get started, here are 4 ways to work towards your own career growth.

1. Say “yes” to new opportunities 

Whenever a new opportunity comes your way, do you quickly say “no”? Many of us do. Whether we’re too busy, too stressed, or just distracted, we need to recognize that saying “yes” more often can help your career. And if you’re spending too much time doing things that you don’t love, you may need to re-evaluate what’s on your plate. 

Participating in your company’s mentorship program or learning stipend can help you take the next step forward in your career. Accepting new job responsibilities can push you to learn valuable skills. Taking on a side hustle or freelance project can help you find a new passion and build your professional portfolio. Any one of these opportunities could be exactly what you need to keep growing your career and achieve your work goals. You just need to be willing to say “yes.” 

2. Build your communication, teamwork, and leadership skills

If you want to progress in your career path, becoming a great communicator, team player, and leader is essential. For example, communication skills can help you succeed in interviews or speak up about the promotion you deserve. They’ll also help you become a better problem solver and make connections with your colleagues

Teamwork skills, on the other hand, are important because most jobs require you to work well with others. That means being able to build respect and trust with your team members so that you can accomplish your team goals

Finally, whether you’re leading a team or not, leadership skills are needed at every level of your career. Be a leader by doing high-quality work, having a great attitude, and supporting your co-workers. Eventually, demonstrating all these skills will show management that you have what it takes to move up the career ladder. 

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3. Make networking a priority 

Did you know 31% of job seekers find job listings through professional connections? Networking with other people in your company and your industry is one of the best ways to achieve your career growth goals. You can meet colleagues in similar roles who could become valuable collaborators down the road. Or, you could meet a mentor that can share advice on what your next career growth step should be. 

Here are a few ways to start networking for your career growth: 

  • Attend industry conferences where you can meet new people in your field 
  • Leverage your LinkedIn network by asking old connections to catch up or do an informational interview
  • Ask coworkers from other departments to grab a coffee or go to lunch so you can learn about each other’s jobs 
  • Join an industry-related association or Facebook group where you can connect with other people

4. Decide what you really want and make a plan 

Sometimes, we might not even know what we want from our careers. Maybe you’re not passionate about the type of work you do. It’s important to remember that career growth isn’t always vertical — sometimes, it involves a career change or a lateral move. 

For example, let’s say you work in marketing but have always been curious about a software engineering career. Your company might allow you to stay at the same level but move to a new department. Or, maybe you work in the finance industry but have always wanted to do marketing for a beauty company. You could take a new job with similar responsibilities at a company you like better. These are both great ways to keep growing your career even if you’re not sure what your ultimate career goals are. 

Finally, if you’re really not sure what you want to do with your life, it may be time to go on a self-discovery journey.  By taking the time to reflect on what you like, dislike, and want to learn, you can get more clarity about your career. From there, you can find more meaning in your work and be sure you’re making the right next step. 

Career growth for the future

Whether you're mapping out your own career or looking ahead for your team, progressing along a career path requires patience and resilience. You can’t leap from entry-level employee to CEO overnight. This is especially true in uncertain economic times.  Opportunities you've mapped out may evaporate when the company changes priorities or cuts budgets.

You can't control everything on the way to building a great career. But you almost always can grow. What you can do is focus on taking advantage of opportunities as they come your way. The benefits that come when you prioritize career growth will be more than worth it. 

BetterUp can help you build your professional skills and get the guidance you need to stay focused on career growth.

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Published July 14, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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