When we talk about career development, often the first thing that pops to mind is changing career. However, this may be a limiting factor to getting the most from both your career, and yourself overall. You see, career development encompasses much more than just a change in direction.

So what do we really mean when we talk about career development, and what are some of the things that we can all put into place to get the most out of it?

To start with, at its core, good career development includes all aspects of personal and job development, of which a career change is merely one strategy. It is a process in which you learn, implement, build, and master all manner of skills to achieve an overall greater level of satisfaction. A process that takes time and commitment.

Often when I am working with individuals who are feeling despondent or disenchanted with their current work lives, the first question I am asked is “should I change careers?” As I’ve suggested in a previous article sometimes what people are looking for is actually better career development.

Non-career-change development strategies are everywhere. You will need to draw on your initiative and motivation to take the plunge, but I know that you are up for the challenge – I mean, this is an investment in your long-term satisfaction, and let’s face it, it’s good to feel satisfied!

Be attentive to your personal development

[Review] what you get from your current work, and what it is that you needConsider what it is that will add to your personal fulfilment – do you need to feel as though you are making difference to others? To feel challenged? Or to provide guidance and supervision to others?

Start by reviewing what you get from your current work, and what it is that you need – once you have identified this gap you can begin to build the bridge. A simple way to start this process is to grab a pen and paper and on one side list those fundamental things you need to feel satisfied in life (incorporate both work and personal needs…but not that sort of personal) and on the other side, list those that you are already getting in your current role. You may find that some or many of your needs are actually being met in your current role, but for the ones that aren’t – this is where sound career development can improve things.

Build your skills

Is there a particular aspect of the business that really interests you, or a specific skill-set that you feel weaker in? By identifying an area in which to build, you are able to target your energy into mastering that field – almost like the old ‘divide and conquer’. This is more of a step for when you’ve been in a role for long enough to have an overall level of competency and not a plan for Day One; however, if you are currently in the process of career or job change it is worthwhile considering the skills that you are wishing to develop and helping that drive your job seeking.

Challenge yourself

Becoming a mentor, subject matter expert, or trainer to new staff can be invaluableLook for existing opportunities, or gaps within your current business. Becoming a mentor, subject matter expert, or trainer to new staff can be invaluable in developing your career and providing sometimes much needed mental stimulation. Taking on roles like these will have you integrating both technical (work specific) and personal skills, and can help to provide a fresh perspective as you see the business through colleague’s eyes.

Be proactive

Now, we’ve all wondered “what actually happens with that appraisal form after my yearly performance meeting?” In some cases … not much. It could be filed away until the next appraisal without so much as being looked at (as most of us have probably suspected in at least one job). But that’s to say that the manager is entirely to blame.

You see, we are the mistresses of our own destiny, but if we are not prepared to be proactive in our career development, why should we expect others to be? “Because they get paid to,” you may have answered. Well, that IS true; however, what also needs to be kept in mind is that they are managing the development of the business and any number of other employees, so if you want them to identify you as someone they should invest more development time into, you need to highlight it for them!

Career development isn’t something that happens to usBeing proactive in your development can include simply following up on those goals that were set in your appraisal; liaising with your manager or HR regarding training that you may be eligible to do; or actively participating more during team meetings. Why not prepare your own career development plan to discuss with the manager – outlining the skills you’d like to acquire and a proposed plan of action. Or do some research by asking HR about common pathways.

Career development isn’t something that happens to us, it is a process in which we are at minimum active participants, and are ideally the drivers. Like anything that involves growth, a commitment of time and energy is required, but the outcomes for both your work and personal self can be spectacular and far reaching. So don’t limit yourself by believing that career development is merely a career change – you could be missing out on so much more!

Featured Photo Credit: business diagram via photopin (license)

Lauren Maxwell is a Rehabilitation Counsellor and Career Development Consultant, with close to 15 years of experience across the two fields. She is the founder of Headstrong Women, a specialist women’s career development service, and thrives on innovation and creativity to empower women to reach their potential.