What Is Career Development ? Types, Steps, and Career Tips

The career development process can be complex and overwhelming—whether you’re just starting in your field or looking to make a change.

To simplify the process, we’ve broken it down into five key steps: self-assessment, goal setting, action planning, implementation, and refinement. By following these steps, you can develop a road map for achieving your career goals.

Ready to take your career to the next level? This comprehensive guide on career development has everything you need to know to jump-start your professional journey.

What is career development?

Career development is the proactive, lifelong process of finding your footing and advancing your career path. It’s an intentional approach to creating a meaningful career that includes setting long-term goals, exploring professional development opportunities, and gaining new work experience.

In today’s job market, career development is increasingly important. With changes in technology and the global economy, professionals must adapt to stay competitive. A strategic career development plan helps make this possible.

How career development works

Career development can take different forms, but people generally take two paths: through an organization or independently.

Professionals who develop their careers through an organization tend to have more resources available. Their company may offer development programs, as well as a support network of employees.

Independent professionals often must look for career development opportunities on their own. They might use online resources like social media and online classes, attend conferences or networking events, meet with a career counselor, or join professional organizations and read trade publications.

Because independent professionals don’t have the same resources as those who work within organizations, they may need to be more proactive in their career growth.

Types of career development

Two types of career development are:

  • Formal career development. This includes short-term training programs, education, certifications, workshops, or seminars that can help build skill sets for a particular job or industry.
  • Informal career development. This includes mentorship opportunities, networking events, online courses, internships, and volunteering experiences.

Explore both formal and informal methods to ensure you have updated information relevant to your career journey.

Career development examples

These career development scenarios can give you a glimpse into different career options and how they can develop into your dream job:

1. Creative careers

  • A graphic designer who starts in a small agency, gains competencies, and opens their own studio
  • A filmmaker who starts as a camera operator, networks with the production crew, and works their way to become a film director or producer

2. Technical careers

  • A software developer who begins as a junior developer, earns certifications, and becomes a lead developer
  • A network administrator who starts as a support technician, gains experience, mentors under the lead, and becomes a network architect

3. Business careers

  • A sales representative who begins as an entry-level representative, learns the ropes, takes business classes, and becomes a sales manager
  • A Human Resources (HR) professional who starts as a recruiter, gains experience, works with a business coach, and becomes a Chief HR Officer (CHRO)

These are just a few examples of the many career paths available.

How to develop your career

Following a series of steps, you can create a road map for professional growth and achieve your career goals.

Steps in the career development process:

  1. Self-assessment
  2. Goal setting
  3. Action planning
  4. Implementation
  5. Refinement

1. Self-assessment

A self-assessment evaluates your strengths, weaknesses, skills, personality type, interests, and values to help you understand your fit with various career paths.

Self-assessment examples include:

  • Skills assessment. This type of self-assessment helps identify your strengths and determine skills gaps where you need development. Consider taking a leadership self-assessment for a specific evaluation of your management skills.
  • Interest inventory. This assessment helps you understand your passions to help you explore potential career paths.
  • Values assessment. This identifies your values and priorities, which can affect your career satisfaction.

By completing a self-assessment, you can better understand your personal career needs and successfully guide your career development.

2. Goal setting

Using your self-assessment to set career goals is a critical step in career development. Explore these career goal examples based on a self-assessment:

  • Skills development. If you find a gap in your skills, you might set a goal to get professional training or enroll in college courses.
  • Career advancement. You may set a goal to move up the career ladder based on your interests and values.
  • Career change. If your current career doesn’t align with your interests and values, you may set a goal to transition to a different field.

Setting achievable goals allows you to focus and progress toward your objectives.

3. Action planning

Action planning involves breaking down your career aspirations into manageable, achievable tasks and developing a timeline for completing them.

Three examples of what your action plan can look like:

  • Skills development. If you want to acquire a new skill, your action plan may include researching training programs over the next week, enrolling in courses by the end of the month, and implementing the new skill in your career within the next quarter.
  • Career advancement. Your plan may include networking at the next business event, volunteering for a specific upcoming leadership opportunity, hiring a business coach next month, or seeking feedback from leadership once a week over the next quarter.
  • Career change. Your plan could include taking a month to research careers that align with your values, enrolling in certification courses or classes to gain skills in the new field over the next several months, networking with businesses, applying for positions in the new field over the next six to nine months, and transitioning to the new career field by next year.

By breaking down your aspirations into small tasks, you can stay focused, track milestones, and increase your chances of success.

4. Implementation

Implementing your action plan is next. Discover three ways you can do this:

  • Schedule time. Set aside time to focus on your goals. You might use this time to develop new skills, network, or research career paths.
  • Track progress. Record your progress in a journal, spreadsheet, or to-do list. If you need to catch up on the timeline of your initial action plan, strategize ways to invest more time and effort into your development to get back on track.
  • Celebrate wins. Celebrate your accomplishments, whether landing a new job, completing a certification, or making connections.

Taking action and regularly monitoring your progress can help you make meaningful strides toward your career goals.

5. Refinement

Refining the career development process to go more smoothly over time involves regularly reassessing your goals, plans, and progress. You can do this in a few ways:

  • Regularly reflect. Set aside time each month, quarter, or year to reflect on your career development process. Review your career goals, assess your progress, and identify areas for improvement.
  • Seek feedback. Seek feedback from others with experience in your desired career. This feedback can provide valuable insights and help you refine your action plan.
  • Stay adaptable. Be open to changing your goals and strategies. This may involve changing your timeline, pivoting to a new career path, or acquiring new skills.

This approach is designed to help you continuously grow and reach your career aspirations.

Benefits and challenges of career development

Understanding the benefits and challenges of career development can make a difference in how successful you are in advancing your career.

For instance, if you know one benefit of career development is the chance to learn new skills, you can try to find training opportunities. And if you know about a potential challenge, like limited resources, you can find alternative ways to get support.


Career development can bring you numerous benefits, including:

  • Increased satisfaction. Career development can help you find fulfillment by allowing you to pursue your passions and strengths.
  • Higher earning potential. Developing new skills and gaining new experiences can make you more valuable to employers.
  • Improved performance. Career development can help you stay current in your field and make you more effective.
  • Greater opportunities for advancement: Career development can help you move up the ladder or explore new career paths.
  • Enhanced confidence. Pursuing career development can boost your self-esteem, making you feel more capable.
  • Improved work-life balance. Career development can help you create a more fulfilling career.

By investing in yourself and your career, you can achieve greater success overall.


While career development can bring numerous benefits, it can also present challenges, including:

  • Limited opportunities. Career development can be expensive and require resources that may not be immediately available.
  • Lack of support. Employers may not provide support for career development, such as time off or compensation.
  • Difficulty in pursuing goals. It can be challenging to identify career goals, determine how to reach them, or find the motivation to pursue them.
  • Balancing career and personal life. Pursuing career development can be time-consuming and demanding.
  • Staying current. Keeping up with the latest trends in your field can be challenging, requiring continuous education.
  • Overcoming self-doubt. Pursuing career development can be intimidating, and many people struggle with their own lack of confidence.

When you acknowledge these potential challenges, you can be better prepared to overcome them and reach your goals.

Tips for effective career development

For successful career development, you’ll want to follow some best practices:

  • Improve your communication skills. Communication is crucial in the workplace. Consider taking courses or workshops to enhance your skills.
  • Invest in your education. Stay current by taking courses, attending conferences, or pursuing a degree or certification.
  • Be intentional. Set specific, achievable career goals, and be intentional about pursuing them.
  • Build a strong network. Building relationships with others in your field can provide opportunities for advancement.
  • Take the initiative. Seek new opportunities and get involved in projects that interest you.
  • Find the right mentor. Look for someone experienced in your field with the qualities you want to emulate.
  • Explore what interests you. Experiment with different roles, industries, and projects to find what interests you.

These best practices can help set you up for success as you pursue career development.

Develop your career with a business mentor on Upwork

Career development involves self-discovery, goal setting, action planning, implementation, and refinement. By investing in your professional growth, you can increase your job satisfaction and opportunities for advancement.

For individuals looking to jump-start their career development, consider working with a business mentor on Upwork. These experienced professionals can help you identify your goals, create a plan of action, and provide guidance.

Upwork is also a great platform if you’re a business mentor looking to find clients and grow your business.