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GuidesEmployee experienceWhat is career growth, and how can you work on yours?

What is career growth, and how can you work on yours?

Last updated

8 December 2023

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Warren Jonas ACC

Most children develop some idea of what their future career will look like. Whether you always dreamed of being a doctor or teacher or had no idea of where you would eventually end up, consistent growth and development help you every step of the way.

Growing in your career is the best way to keep from becoming stagnant. It also helps promote satisfaction with your work and better prepares you to take advantage of emerging opportunities. However, many employees might not know what career growth is or how to achieve it.

Ultimately, career growth is anything that can help you on your journey to achieving your professional goals. By learning how to leverage the skills you already have and enhance those you’re actively working on, you’ll be positioned to meet even the loftiest professional ambitions.

This guide offers helpful insights, from the definition of career growth to examples of how you can grow as a professional, regardless of your industry.

What is career growth?

Career growth is the path an employee takes on their journey to becoming an expert in their field. It can start when you graduate college or even while you’re still taking classes.

From mastering a new skill, even one that seems relatively minor, to earning a major promotion, career growth isn’t any one definable goal or action point. Every step in your journey contributes to your overall professional development.

How career growth benefits you

Decades ago, many people were happy to find one job and remain in that role for the duration of their professional lives. It wasn’t unusual for employees to land a role within a company and work comfortably in that role until they retired.

There were many reasons for this. Employees believed they would enjoy greater job security by staying with one company, with their loyalty being rewarded with a secure retirement.

Most companies used to provide clearer, more structured career paths. Employees who stayed with their company would be able to rely on regular salary increases and steady career progression rather than taking a chance to leave the company to secure different employment. In times of economic uncertainty, remaining with one company offered security and stability. It was also widely seen as the cultural norm.

However, those days have mostly passed. A 2019 survey revealed that the average person changes jobs 12 times in their lifetime, while the average employee stays with their employer for a little over four years.

Employees are exploring new heights in their careers and are almost constantly growing and developing as professionals. Career growth allows employees to develop their skills, feel more confident in their abilities, explore new career paths, and even achieve a better work–life balance.

The difference between career growth and career development

While some might use the terms “career growth” and “career development” interchangeably, they are different things.

Career growth refers to the overall path you’ll take to achieve your professional ambitions, while career development is a series of short-term activities often done in the context of an existing job or role.

Career development is a familiar term to many employees who have worked closely with their company’s human resources department. Often, companies will implement development programs for employees to nurture and train specific skills. Fast-track programs that can help you get a promotion within your company can also be considered a type of career development.

Examples of career growth

Everyone’s career growth is different, just as everyone’s professional path is unique. However, if you’re looking for examples of career growth in your own life or history, here are a few for reference:

  • Landing your first career-focused job after studying

  • Getting a promotion within your company

  • Hiring your first direct report

  • Taking a job that allows you to focus more time on professional development

  • Getting a new certification or license

Mindset is everything when thinking of how to grow and develop your career as a professional. Take advantage of emerging opportunities as they arise, and don’t hesitate to speak confidently of your abilities. Whether you’ve checked off every milestone on this list or are just beginning your career, knowing your skills and strengths can go a long way in plotting a path toward your ultimate goal.

The six stages of career growth

Every career path is unique, but experts agree that there are generally six stages of growth. This master plan is defined by distinct stages rather than specific tasks or job titles.

Keep in mind that not everyone goes through all six stages. Many people are content to stop at one specific stage, while others feel driven to achieve all six by a particular point in their lives.

1. Follower

The follower stage usually starts right after college. During this stage, you probably won’t be fully aware of your own potential or abilities. Instead, you might be more task-focused.

As a follower, you’ll generally rely on your manager’s directives.

2. Collaborator

Even as you develop your skills right out of college, you’re gaining the ability to become a good collaborator.

As a collaborator, you’ll start working closely with others, gaining the social skills and efficiency needed to accomplish goals as a team member.

3. Instructor

As a collaborator, you gain the people skills necessary to advance to the next stage in your career. As an instructor, you can put those skills to the test.

At this stage, you work with a broad understanding of what needs to be done in your organization and develop the plans to do it, all while efficiently instructing and guiding other team members.

Instructors aren’t always managers. Rather, they tend to operate as staff leaders and project planners. They have most of the responsibility but without the authority granted to someone in a managerial role.

4. Manager

Managers lead larger teams of people to meet larger goals and objectives within the organization.

As a manager, your job isn’t only to achieve the company’s goals but to motivate and encourage your direct reports.

Managers are often measured by the happiness and success of those reporting to them, which is why strong interpersonal skills and the ability to inspire people are so important in this career stage.

5. Influencer

The transition away from directly managing a team to influencing large groups of people is the fifth stage in career growth. Influencing is a powerful skill that can be used to affect people across multiple departments, even those you don’t work with directly.

In the influencer stage, even more so than in any other stage of career growth, you should spend time on self-development. Perfecting interpersonal skills and enhancing the way you connect and communicate with people can help you become a powerful influencer and make your transition to the leader stage that much more seamless.

6. Leader

The final stage of career growth is becoming a leader. As a leader, you enjoy endless possibilities and the ability to both empower and inspire others.

A leader’s role isn’t static. You can spend time in multiple roles, telling people how to think about things in new ways and focusing on big-picture items rather than singular tasks or objectives.

Becoming a leader in your chosen career is gratifying. It shows that you’ve put in the work and can reap the rewards.

How can employees work on their career growth?

Understanding yourself is vital to successful growth in your career. It’s important to get an accurate picture of your talents as well as the things you need to improve on so you can chart your future direction. Tools like StrengthFinders can help with this.

You’ll be able to advance your career growth if you keep focussing on your goals. The tips below will help you succeed in your career, embrace new opportunities, and learn more about yourself in the process.

Find a mentor

Many successful executives and business owners credit a mentor’s guidance for their status, and there’s good reason. Working with someone whose experience and advice you trust can be incredibly beneficial. It can help you gain knowledge and become more comfortable with your own skills. A mentor can be someone you work with, perhaps a boss or a senior manager, or it can be someone outside your company who also works in the industry.

Be open to new opportunities

It’s normal to be so busy with existing tasks and appointments that you immediately say no to any new opportunities that come your way. However, try not to let stress or distraction deter you from opportunities that could advance your career.

From a lucrative side hustle to participating in a mentorship program, carefully consider the chances you encounter and pursue those that could push you to the next stage in your career growth.

If you truly are too busy to take on anything else, consider what you might be able to drop from your schedule in favor of a more valuable opportunity.

Set goals for yourself

Regularly setting achievable but lofty goals for yourself will help keep you focused on your overall career growth.

Actionable goals give you something to work toward, making the overall trajectory more achievable and allowing you to celebrate the wins along the way, no matter how small. Your goals can include specific skills, roles, and promotions.

Ultimately, a goal should be anything that contributes to your career growth. Ensure you have control over your goals and give yourself a timeline for reaching each one. This can enable you to take actionable steps toward those goals.

Enhance your job skills

Building your skills can allow you more opportunities for advancement in your chosen career. You should always be open to enhancing your job skills, no matter your career stage. There are lots of ways to advance your job skills, from attending seminars and training classes at work to signing up for online courses in your spare time.

Taking on new projects at work is an excellent way to expand and enhance your skills. It gives you valuable on-the-job training that you can’t get anywhere else. Stay flexible, and understand that there’s always something new to learn, regardless of how much you think you know about a particular industry or topic.

Actively seeking feedback from others enhances your self-awareness and contributes to your continuous learning journey. Doing this will boost your emotional intelligence (EQ), as it encourages you to seek improvement and acquire new knowledge.

Make a plan

Whether you’re new to your industry or have been working hard at your career for many years, there’s always time to implement a well-thought-out plan. Formulating a plan for your career growth gives you a structure and an end goal to work toward. It can also give you a benchmark against which to measure your progress.

Your company might already have a career development plan in place that you can participate in as part of your overall career growth strategy. This typically involves training modules and milestones, enabling you to track your progress along the way.

If your company doesn’t offer a program like this or if you don’t plan on remaining at your current company long-term, consider creating your own career plan. You can use informal tracking methods and incorporate various knowledge sources, such as industry publications, newsletters, and extended education courses.

Find a coach

Collaborating with a coach renowned for their expertise and advice can be extremely beneficial, enriching your knowledge and bolstering your confidence in your abilities. Unlike a mentor, who shares your work or industry background, a coach can offer a more expansive viewpoint, enhancing your professional and personal development.

FAQs

What are the required skills for career growth?

While no specific skill is required for career growth, certain abilities can help you progress faster in your chosen career. These include the following:

  • Communication skills—so you can express your thoughts succinctly and clearly

  • Leadership skills—to help you inspire and motivate your teammates

  • Adaptability—so you can roll with the punches when unexpected developments occur

Why does career growth matter?

Career growth is the foundation of a successful career path. For many people, work is an integral part of life. Mastering your work can give you a sense of pride and accomplishment that allows you to be happier and more fulfilled in every other area of your life.

How can you identify the right time to seek a mentor or coach for career growth?

There’s never a wrong time to seek out a mentor or coach. However, reaching out for this kind of guidance can be particularly beneficial before applying for a new position within your company or after you accept a new role. A mentor or coach can help you chart your new path with confidence and intuition.

What role does self-assessment play in career growth?

Self-assessment is an important skill to develop no matter where you are in your professional journey.

Self-assessment is the ability to look at your skill set and abilities and identify your strengths and areas that need growth. It can help you decide what development you should invest in and what might need further work before you can move on to the next stage in your career.

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