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Key Elements in Career Development
Glen Hodgeson

There are many good definitions of career development but this one from the Canadian Standards and Guidelines for Career Development Practitioners seems to capture the essence of this important issue:

“Career Development is the lifelong process of managing learning, work, leisure, and transitions in order to move toward a personally determined and evolving preferred future.”

Once upon a time, in the not-so good old days you got a job, and then worked at it for forty years or so. Then you retired. Your career development consisted of waiting until somebody left or died, and then moving up the line to the next position. You might, if you were lucky, get some informal training from your boss or supervisor. But basically you, and your career, were on their own. There really wasn’t as much need for a career progression strategy in that world.

Fast forward to today, and the world of work and working has completely changed. Today you need a village to manage your career including teachers, counsellors, coaches, mentors and maybe a guru or two thrown in. You need a major education including at least two degrees, and experience and expertise in a variety of areas, even to be considered for a position in most large organizations and companies. You need a strategy to manage your career.

Here are some of the key elements to help you build that strategy and to develop your career in order to reach your full personal and professional potential.

Continuous learning

At school, college or university we learn the fundamentals of socializing and how to make a living. Then we enter the workforce and after we get a quick orientation we sometimes make the assumption that our learning is over. That is a very wrong assumption to make. We will never stop having a need to learn, especially at work, or if we want to have a long and successful career.

There is no standing still, in traffic, in life, or at work. If we are not engaged in continuous learning we soon won’t be able to operate our cell phone or open our e-mail. Technology has sped up all aspects of our working life, and we have to be engaged in continuous learning, just to keep up. But it isn’t just technology that has increased the stakes. The workplace of today is overall faster and more competitive. The go-getters are taking night courses and learning online, and the people who want to be executives are taking their MBA’s on the weekend.

Continuous learning can greatly enhance our career development, but learning can add quality to our lives as well. If you maintain a passion for learning it can lead to many other interesting pathways, some of which can be added to your formal career, while others can become very beneficial avocations. Every investment you make in continuous learning will have a multiple return in value and enjoyment. You will become a better person and your career horizons will expand at the same time. It doesn’t matter what you learn, as long as you remain open to learning new things.

Capacity building

You have to add meat and muscle to your career development plan. This should include adding raw capacity in a range of areas to your main skill toolbox. Depending on where you want to go and grow, this might include hard skills in project management and a range of computer skills from programming to data manipulation. On the so-called soft side this might mean taking courses in strategic planning, managing and the gamut of communication skills, from written to oral to social media communications.

Staying ahead of the technology curve is crucial and this is especially true if you are an older or medium-old worker. Younger workers are coming into the workplace with highly enhanced computer literacy and unless you really work at it, you could quickly get left behind. But technology is really just a vehicle. You need to know how to operate it but it will not do the work for you.

That’s why you should also be considering how to develop the secondary skills that every winner will need for their on-going career development. This refers to things like the ability to not just multi-task, which will be a prerequisite for all jobs, but to be multi-talented. This will mean having a major area of expertise but also having many minors as well. A business degree may be mandatory in some professions and help you get a job. But proven skills and experience in subsidiary areas like mathematics, economics or even aspects of corporate law might be necessary for you to keep it.

Expanding your network

One area that you need to maximize for the benefit of your career and your career development is to keep building and expanding your personal and professional network. Even in our highly technologically advanced world, individual and interpersonal contacts remain one of the most valued and sought after assets. It is much easier to get a job if you are already employed for the simple reason that you are more visible to other employers, and you are exposed to many more opportunities.

You can extend this reach by expanding and building on your current networks, in both the virtual and real worlds. Online, you should focus on professional contacts and professionally related social networking sites like LinkedIn that expose you and your skills to more companies and organizations. In the non-virtual realm local service clubs, community organizations, and professional organizations might be your best bet to get your name and skills out there, and keep them there.

In fact, one of the most effective ways to network is also one of the oldest; professional organizations. Whether you are a teacher, a lawyer, an office professional or a dock worker there are professional organizations that you can join, be part of and network in. Most professional associations have low annual membership fees or dues and many have a monthly or bi-monthly newsletter that they send to all members in good standing. Some of the bigger associations hold annual meetings or conventions where they elect table officers and direct the work of any paid staff. These conventions or meetings are a great place to meet people and network. They almost always have social events as well where you can schmooze and meet old and new friends and associates in a more relaxed manner.

Good luck with your career development. And whatever you decide to do in your career, remember the quote by the American Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor: “The secret to a happy life is work worth doing.”



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