Career Development 101: An Essential Guide to Your Professional Growth

career development shutterstock

Are you interested in enhancing your career? If you are then you need to know how to create an effective career development plan.

Career development is an all-encompassing umbrella term that incorporates every single decision you make. It includes everything from your decision to study or look for work straight after school to finding a job and professional advancement. Because of this, it is associated with professional growth.

It should be noted that growing professionally and achieving your career goals isn’t something that just happens. On the contrary, it’s a conscious decision that professionals need to make for themselves. Since most of us aspire to receive salary raises from time to time, it could be argued that all professionals are interested in developing their careers.

But, to develop your career you must be interested in achieving more than just a bigger paycheque; professional growth is more to do with setting higher professional goals and trying to enhance your knowledge to improve in your industry.

Before You Embark on Your Development Journey

career planning journey

Is there room for me to grow?

Professional growth requires dedication as it’s a process that you should continue throughout your career. No matter what your career aspirations are, you need to improve your skills and qualifications constantly.

That shouldn’t scare you, though, because the process of acquiring new skills can be interesting and you might find that learning new things leads to an increased passion for work. But, you don’t need to do it all on your own. If the process of developing your career becomes overwhelming don’t hesitate to reach out to other professionals, or for professional assistance.

Speaking to a career counsellor can help you formulate a plan tailored to your needs. But if you are more independent, don’t worry because we’ve come up with a solution for you as well. Below you’ll find everything you need to know about creating your own personal career development plan.

How can I benefit from career development?

Apart from the obvious benefits of growing professionally which include bigger paycheques and promotions, career development can also benefit you in other ways. According to the Office of National Statistics, work is essential for our well-being as it helps boost levels of self-worth. So not only can it help you achieve greatness in the workplace, but it can also help you improve the quality of your life.

It’s important to keep in mind that career satisfaction doesn’t just affect us on a personal level, but it can also be essential for our work. According to a report of the CIPD, a not-for-profit HR organisation, people who are motivated are also more productive. To develop your career you need to be happy, but at the same time you can only be happy if you are developing yourself, so these two concepts are co-dependent; if you are looking to become the best version of yourself, it’s important that you learn to strive for professional growth.

Why do some people fail to develop?

We all start out with aspirations; think about any five year old you know. Surely, he or she already has career goals, unfortunately, the older we get the less clearly defined these goals become and somewhere along the line most of us let go of our aspirations altogether. In fact, according to a LinkedIn study, only 30% of professionals manage to achieve their career aspirations.

There are a lot of factors that contribute to our failed career plans, and these include the economy and the fierce competition across all industries, but to take out your personal responsibility from the equation would be wrong. We, as professionals are also at fault, and it’s important that you learn to take responsibility for your career.

What are the biggest mistakes people make and how do I avoid them?

Showing dedication to your career can be tough, which is one of the reasons why so few people achieve their professional goals. Most people focus on working hard thinking that that’s all it takes to succeed, but a lot more comes into play to achieve success. In fact, networking, formulating and updating your career development plan is just as important as creating a good name for yourself in the workplace.

Another huge mistake many professionals make is that they remain in careers that don’t make them happy because they are afraid to change. Of course, this fear is understandable, the competition is fierce, the economy is terrible and to make a new start somewhere else is difficult. It’s important to strive for your happiness at work at all times, though. And it’s not just a matter of being happy; it’s also a matter of growing professionally since passion for work is essential to develop your career.

It’s important for you to know that development is possible and that as long as you take charge of your path, you won’t repeat the mistakes of so many professionals before you.

The Top 5 Career Development Options

career development options

If you are interested in professional growth, then the world is your oyster because there are myriads of things you can do. What can be difficult is identifying the correct strategy for your career. Depending on what stage you are at, different strategies will be applicable so make sure that you understand what each of these strategies can do for you and choose wisely.

1. Internships

Internships address the development issues at the beginning of someone’s career, if this does not apply to you scroll down to Lifelong Learning.

Not everyone thinks that internships are effective - in fact, some people call them modern-day slave labour - but internships can be very useful for graduates without any previous work experience. Nonetheless, it’s important to note that you should be careful choosing your internship since many employers will use them as an opportunity to take advantage of you.

Internships have only become the norm for everyone in the UK since the great recession as employers were having a tough time paying salaries. But if you are careful about your choices you should be able to find one perfect for you. Make sure that you read reviews of an employer before you accept an internship to ensure it is the kind of employer you want to work for. You should also read up on the law to understand your rights.

Can an Internship Really Benefit Me?

What you should be concerned with is whether internships can benefit your career and the answer is that they can help you get a head start that will put you ahead of the competition.

The problem that most graduates face is that they have no work experience which makes them risky hires for employers. It often seems ridiculous that no one will give you a chance to gain work experience precisely because you don’t have work experience. But the truth is that hiring someone can be costly for employers and it only stands to reason that they’ll want to hire someone who’ll require the least amount of training and the shortest adjustment period.

Internships can benefit your career not only because they are an opportunity to gain work experience, but because they can also offer you the opportunity to explore and expand your skills. Apart from looking great on your CV, internships can help you understand what the career path you have chosen entails. You even might find out that it is not the right career for you.

Internships can also be an excellent way to find a job. Many interns end up getting full-time jobs where they interned as studies have proven that employers would rather hire someone they’ve worked with rather than someone new. So, if you have an opportunity to intern for a company you’d be interested in working for full-time go for it.

hiring interns

But even if you are not offered a full-time position with the company, they are a great way to connect with other professionals in the industry and to network.

You can search for internships on most job boards. If you have a specific company you’d like to work for, you can search for internship opportunities on their website or their social media profiles. But, if you are interested in more specialised job boards, take a look at these:

  1. Prospects
  2. GOV.UK
  4. Absolute Internships
  5. Intern Jobs

If you are interested in learning more about internships, make sure you visit our internship section here.

2. Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships address the development issues at the beginning of someone’s career, if this does not apply to you scroll down to Lifelong Learning.

If you are a school leaver, it doesn’t mean that you can’t grow professionally. Career development also applies to those without a bachelor’s degree so it’s important for you to know your options. Bear in mind that it could easily mean becoming your own boss if you are skilled in a specific area, so it’s important that you understand what you can do to grow professionally.

Apprenticeships are available to school leavers from 16 years old onwards, and they can be a great way to work alongside experienced professionals to gain specific skills. To complete an apprenticeship you’ll also be required to do some studying, so expect to attend school at least once a week.

Of course, you’ll be learning specifically about the profession you’ve chosen so it will not only be interesting, but it will also enable you to learn more about your chosen profession. Apprenticeships can take between one and four years to complete depending on the level you’ve chosen and you’ll not only be learning vocational skills, you’ll also be learning soft skills which are important in every trade, such as being reliable and willing to learn.

Can I Really Benefit from an Apprenticeship?

Precisely because apprenticeships allow you to gain actual work experience, they can help put you ahead of competition from graduates who leave universities with no work experience and no professional connections. Moreover, apprenticeships allow you to start earning a wage which at the end of the day can be what matters most.

If you are just beginning your career, apprenticeships will enable you to learn a lot so make sure that you look into apprenticeship opportunities here:

  1. GOV.UK
  2. Reed
  3. Indeed
  4. Apprenticeship Guide

3. Lifelong Learning

Whereas apprenticeships and internships refer to individuals who are at the beginning of their career, lifelong learning generally refers to the people who are already employed.

As discussed at the beginning of this article, many people fail to continue their education after being hired, but this can easily lead to a stale career with no growth opportunities.

Continuing your education leads to a successful career

Keep in mind that even if you went to university, you can’t expect to support your career with a few years of higher education. The world is constantly evolving and with it the economy and the demands of labour market.

To remain current and up to date, you need to continue learning throughout your career.

Right now we are at the curve of an era and technology is reshaping the world around us. New trends are constantly showing up and if you want to continue to be a leader in your industry you need to keep learning.

Lifelong learning can protect your job

The problem with not remaining current is that the market is constantly flooded by younger professionals who will be more current than you. And although work experience is of the utmost importance to most employers, your inability to keep up with trends could cost you your job.

Continuing your education means remaining employable but it also makes you a more desirable employee. If you have career advancement aspirations, then you’ll need to keep learning as you can’t hope to climb the corporate ladder with the same skills that got you an entry-level position.

Changing careers goes hand in hand with lifelong learning

At some point in their career, many professionals find themselves hoping to switch. We’ll go into more detail on career change below, but it’s also important to note that change cannot take place without lifelong learning. To change industries you need to equip yourself with the skills and qualifications required by your target industry and as such you will need to hit the books.

Lifelong learning can also change the way you experience life

Keep in mind that learning something new can also help make you happier which can also boost your productivity, so if you’ve reached a stale point in your career where nothing interests you, the answer to your problems might well be to continue your education.

You can look for classes and courses in universities near you, but if you don’t have the time or the resources to spare you might also want to look into websites that offer online courses as online learning can be extremely beneficial.

  1. Open Culture offers free online courses from major universities including courses from Oxford, Harvard, Yale and MIT. With over 1200 courses available there’s definitely something for you so make sure you dedicate some time to browse it.
  2. Udemy is the leading resource for online courses and with 40,000+ courses available there isn’t a skill you won’t find on Udemy. 12 million people are already using it and with courses for any budget you are sure to find something that suits you.

4. Career Change

We tend to think of career development as an upwards trajectory, but you may well find that it translates into career change for you. Moving laterally is a good move if you think that you’ll be happier in another profession or industry. And if the right steps are taken, it can be relatively easy.

Should I really be thinking about career change?

Changing careers is essential if you are not satisfied with the kind of work that you do. Before you decide to change, you should ensure that it’s not the workplace or your boss that are affecting you. Try taking up more challenges at work and if your workplace is making you unhappy ask yourself whether you’d be happier if you were doing the same thing somewhere else.

But if everything points to your career then that’s probably the problem, and you should deal with it to improve the quality of your life. According to research, 60% of UK workers are not happy in their jobs. The number one reason professionals cite as the cause of their unhappiness at work is the lack of job satisfaction and with 44% feeling that job satisfaction is more important than salary, lack of job satisfaction can become a very serious problem for some people.

uk workers unhappy

We spend the bigger portion of our days at work so it stands to reason that if we are unhappy there, our unhappiness will carry outside the workplace. To have a better quality of life, it’s important to be happy at work and if that means changing careers you should start looking into other industries to determine what would make you happy.

But is it doable?

Stress goes hand in hand with career change, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not doable. It’s important to keep in mind that you shouldn’t feel that you are at fault if your job is no longer making you happy. Most of us are asked to make long term career decisions at a very young age and being expected to continue to be interested in the same things decades later is absurd. People change, and as they do, their interests and beliefs also change so you may well find yourself at the age of 35 wishing you were in a completely different industry.

How can I get started?

A lot of things need to be taken into consideration before making such a shift. Namely, you should focus on gaining all the hard skills that are required for your target career. You won’t always need to go back to school for that, but if you do make sure that you look into your options as you don’t want your career change to mess up your financial situation (our career development plan below will help you with that). And although gaining hard skills is essential when changing careers, soft and transferable skills are also important.

In fact, transferable skills can help you make the shift possible, so you should really focus on identifying transferable skills and finding the right way to present them on your CV. This article is an essential checklist for all the transferable skills you should focus on, while this article can help you understand how to include transferable skills on your CV.

What’s important to note is that to successfully change careers you will need to become an effective networker. So start making connections with professionals in other industries and you’ll see that with the right connections, changing careers can be made easy.

LinkedIn is a great tool to improve your networking skills so build your profile and start making connections with people in your target industry. This article lists ways you can grow your Linkedin connections so it’s a great first step.

5. Career Advancement

Career advancement refers to the upwards trajectory of your career, and it’s the most common development strategy as not many people want to be stuck in the same position for years.

Do I need to advance my career?

Not everyone will feel the need to change their work duties; some people will feel comfortable learning to do a job and sticking to it and if you are one of those people don’t stress yourself out worrying about career advancement. You can continue learning to remain current, but there’s no need to push yourself if you don’t feel like it.

But, being challenged at work increases productivity and being more productive can help you stay employed as you will become valuable to your employer.

Becoming more valuable to your employer is not the only benefit to be gained. Career advancement also means increased responsibilities, powers and salary and it could be a way to achieve what you want in life.

Is It Doable?

The problem with career advancement is that it’s not easy to achieve. Getting promoted relies heavily on your employer, which means that unless they are willing to give you a chance, there’s no way you will be able to get ahead at work.

If that’s the case and advancement is something you are truly interested in, then you should consider changing jobs. Finding a company culture that fits you is as important as receiving a high paycheque so you should actively look for companies that recognise talent and that are interested in promoting it.

If on the other hand, the problem is that you don’t have what it takes, you shouldn’t beat yourself up about it. You should consider whether you are in the right industry and if you realise that your skills would be put to better use somewhere else, you should think of changing careers.

What If I Just Want to Make It Work In the Company Where I Am Right Now?

If you are determined to get ahead at work, then you should consider ways which you can go about achieving your goal. The suggestions listed below are a good way to get started.

  1. Lifelong learning: As discussed earlier, lifelong learning can help you remain up to date so it’s important that you continue your education to gain more skills and qualifications. But, to make yourself eligible for promotions you should do more than just remain current, you should, in fact, focus on revolutionising your work and sometimes all you need is to learn something new that’s outside your industry and figure out a way to apply this new knowledge to your industry. Being innovative can help make you look more impressive so you should go for it.
  2. Talk to your boss: Discussing things with your manager or boss is also necessary as it’s important to share your professional vision with them, but, you should ensure that they understand that you want to incorporate the company’s vision with your own. Talk to them about taking on more responsibilities or suggest helping other departments with their work as this will not only help you understand how the company operates outside your department but also help show your value within the company.
  3. Get a mentor: Having someone professional advise you on what to do can be very effective. A mentor will be able to provide you with information and guide you through your career decisions. More and more companies are offering mentoring schemes these days, but if a mentoring scheme is not offered in your company, you can always talk to HR.

    If you’d prefer not to share your aspirations with someone within the company then you should consider seeking professional assistance from sites such as the Career Development Institute as they offer a register of career coaches. You can search the register on your own and select whether you’d like to meet with your coach in their office or by phone etc. You can even specify the kind of professional assistance you are seeking.

To succeed, you’ll need a combination of the three suggestions above, as well as some effective networking. Bear in mind that you should also take work-life balance into consideration, so try to make your career advancement as stress-free possible. Otherwise, you might risk burning out.

However you choose to develop your career, it’s important that you also create a development plan as it will keep you disciplined.

Career Planning

creating a plan

It’s important to plan your professional steps ahead of time as this will help you focus on and achieve your career goals. What’s more, having a concrete career plan will also help you be better at your work as you’ll feel more motivated to excel at your job, while it will also help you develop on a personal level as well.

Building a Career Plan

Although planning your career requires time, it really is a very straightforward process that involves identifying your goals and testing them against your current skillset and your future potential. Having an action-plan also helps you be more enthusiastic about your prospects and as such, it helps push you in the right direction.

Of course, it’s also important to update your career plan as often as possible as things change as we grow and move forward in the professional world.

Career Goal Examples

Each individual’s experience with their career is different due to the fact that different people have different expectations and priorities in life. Yet, many professionals share the same or similar career goals; from obtaining another degree to starting their own business, there’s a lot to learn from learning all about common career goals.

Risks of Planning Ahead

It’s important to note that planning your career does not come without its fair share as many people end up becoming too fixated with their plan and miss opportunities that could have also made them happy, while others get side-tracked and miss their end-goal.


In order to make your career planning as effective as possible you need to review your plan as often as possible. Set it on a timeline and make sure you check in regularly to see if you are progressing as you should be. If you are not, consider what has been keeping you back and what you can do to fix those issues.

It’s also important to reward yourself as this can help motivate you to achieve more.

Should I share it with my boss?

After formulating your plan you have the option of sharing it with your boss or manager. Many companies are now encouraging their employees to develop their careers and provided that you have a good relationship with your manager and that they are supportive and offer valuable guidance, there’s no good reason not to share your career development plan with them.

Sharing your plan with your boss could actually ensure that your short-term growth and development objectives align with the company’s objectives. Moreover, sharing it with your boss could help you understand whether your career objectives are realistic. But, if your boss is very negative, show it to other professionals as well and ask for feedback.

Whether you choose to share it with your boss or not, it’s essential that you take the time and write your plan down as the benefits of a well-thought out plan are too many to be ignored.

Tools at Your Disposal

Your career development journey will often feel like a long and lonely one which is why it’s important to equip yourself with tools that will help you achieve both your short-term and long-term goals. These tools can be anything from hiring a personal coach to assist you with your development to finding the resources that can help put you through school. But, there are tonnes of other things you can do that depend heavily on what aspirations you have.

A tool you should never ignore is personal branding as it’s a powerful strategy that can help you get any job, change careers or advance in your career. If you are looking for a job make sure that you also tailor your CV for each position you apply to, it’s crucial that you sharpen your soft skills as the business world is now shifting its focus to them.

1. Career development loans

Loans are usually taken out by people who want to pursue a postgrad degree, and they are a solution to consider if you are thinking of continuing your education. Although they are commercial bank loans, the government has the responsibility of paying the interest for the duration of your course – which should not exceed two or three years with work experience.

Recipients start paying off their debt after they’ve completed their studies, although it should be noted that payment is expected to commence one month after graduation. Just like with any loan, there’s a considerable risk factor to be taken into account.

2. Getting your employer to fund your education

If you are wary of getting a loan and if you are not planning to change companies anytime soon, you might want to consider asking your employer to fund your education. If you present them with the benefits of paying for your course, there’s a good chance that they’ll be willing to back your education so there’s no harm in asking.

However, to get your employer to fund your education you are going to need to present them with a very professional overview of the benefits, so take time to prepare your presentation as if you were preparing a project for a client. Don’t forget to include increased loyalty, reduced employee turnover and increased productivity in your benefits, but what you should focus on is how continuing your education will provide value to the company. So make a point of discussing how you will help the business expand with your new knowledge and how you’ll be able to help the company overcome any problems it may have.

Don’t expect this to be smooth sailing. Asking your boss for funding may not always go well, and even if it does, expect some issues to be raised. For example, you should expect concerns regarding the expenses and the time you’ll take away from work.

Prepare convincing answers; where expenses are concerned, you could point out that hiring and training a new employee would be more costly in the long-run, while your new knowledge will help you expand the business and make money for the company. For the issue of time, you should ensure your boss that you will be doing the usual amount of work and that you’ll be taking your classes in the evening.

Apart from the issues that your employer is going to raise, you should also expect that you’ll be asked to sign an education contract which will essentially tie you to the company for some time. Your employer won’t be willing to pay for your education if there’s a chance someone else will benefit, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask a lawyer to take a look at the contract as well.

3. Branding yourself 

branding yourself

Branding yourself is becoming essential for career development as it helps individuals control people’s perceptions of them which means that achieving their goals becomes easier. And not only does branding yourself control people’s perceptions, it can also help you influence your target audience which means that a good branding strategy can set you and your services apart from the competition.

There are many benefits to be gained from branding yourself so it’s important that you learn how to do it correctly.

Step 1: Identify your brand

The first step you need to take is to identify your brand. Start by asking yourself a few questions such as ‘what are my strengths’, ‘why is what I offer unique?’, ‘what am I passionate about?’ It’s important that you do research while you are identifying your personal brand as this will help you identify what the competition offers.

Step 2: Identify your target audience

To make your brand more defined, you need to identify your target audience as this will affect how you shape your personal brand’s tools (CV, personal website, social media profiles etc). To identify your target audience ask yourself who your services are targeting and what characteristics would attract that audience.

Apart from identifying your target audience, it’s also important that you identify the competition as this will help you shape your personal brand in a unique way.

Step 3: Identify which platforms are more suitable for your brand

It’s important that you have a presence across the internet, but it’s also important that you select a few platforms where you are likely to be more visible. To do this think of where your target audience would go to look for your services.

If you are an artist you might want to consider Etsy, a designer should consider Pinterest and for corporate professionals, LinkedIn is probably the safest bet. Your research will help point you in the right direction, but talking to other professionals in the industry might be helpful as well.

Soft Skills

Soft skills describe how someone interacts with other people and they include anything from being a team player to being an effective listener. According to research conducted by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation and Stanford Research Centre, 85% of job successes comes from well-developed soft skills and people skills which indicates how much traction soft skills are gaining.

The soft skills you include on your CV will depend heavily on the job description you are applying for so make sure that you read job descriptions carefully and that you write your CV as an answer to them.

Career development is a multifaceted concept which includes everything from selecting a career to getting a promotion. As such, it is a process that will take you from the beginning of your career to its end and depending on your life aspirations it could help you achieve your dreams.

It’s important to identify the stage you are in right now to determine which strategy better suits your circumstances - internship, apprenticeship, career change or advancement - but once you do that you should dedicate a fair amount of time to develop your career development plan. Make sure to use all the tools at your disposal - for example branding yourself - as your career will depend on how willing you are to make the most of these tools.

Career development is a very broad issue which often requires tailored solutions for each individual. If you have any more specific questions you’d like to ask, please make sure to leave your questions in the comment section below.