What Is Career Development?

Defnition & Examples of Career Development

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Career development is the process of choosing a career, improving your skills, and advancing along a career path. It's a lifelong process of learning and decision-making that brings you closer to your ideal job, skillset, and lifestyle.

Find out more about the factors and obstacles that affect a person's career development.

What Is Career Development?

Career development is the process of self-knowledge, exploration, and decision-making that shapes your career. It requires successfully navigating your occupational options to choose and train for jobs that suit your personality, skills, and interests.

When someone pays careful attention to their career development, they identify their own strengths and blind spots, then work hard to improve their skills. It also involved learning about different roles and industries to find a match to their abilities, seeking out opportunities to advance, and maybe even changing careers altogether if they find a more suitable one.

How Does Career Development Work?

Career development can start when someone is quite young and just learning about different ways to make a living. It is a part of human development, and the process can span a lifetime.

For example, when a child notices that some people are doctors, firefighters, or mail carriers, it signals the start of this process. It continues on through elementary school as they begin to explore occupations and later into adulthood as people ultimately decide what career to pursue.

Career development doesn't end after you choose an occupation. You must then get the required education and training, apply for and find employment, and ultimately advance in your career. For most people, it will also include changing careers and jobs at least once (and probably more often) during their work lives. Many people find themselves in need of professional advice as they encounter problems or must make decisions about their careers—for instance, when they are thinking of looking for a new job or changing occupations.


You may go through this process independently, but almost everyone can benefit from getting expert career guidance. Advice from a career counselor or other similarly trained specialist, or taking a class in school that helps with career development, will help you to forge a more satisfying and successful career path.

Factors That Influence Career Development

A person's career development can be affected by multiple factors, some of which may be largely outside their control. These influences must be considered during the process of developing a career.

Personal Characteristics: Personality type, interests, aptitudes, and work-related values make all of us who we are. These personal characteristics play a significant role in career development since they influence which occupations we find satisfying, as well as the types of work environments in which we will succeed. That is why, when you are in the process of choosing a career, it is so important to do a self-assessment that will help you learn about yourself.

Financial Resources: Pursuing certain career options can be costly. If you choose an occupation, for example, that requires you to attend college, you may be limited by your ability to pay for it and need to seek student loans, financial aid, and scholarships. Financial limitations can also hinder you when job-hunting. For example, you may have limited funds for interview clothes.


If lack of funds is preventing you from dressing professionally for a job interview, look for organizations that collect donations of business attire and distribute it to job seekers in need.

Financial Obligations: Financial obligations such as a mortgage, rent, student loans, or even a child's college tuition may inhibit a person from switching jobs or careers. To combat this, you can try to put money aside to use later during a career change, or you can try to change your lifestyle to lessen your financial burden (for example, downsizing your home to get a smaller mortgage payment).

Physical, Mental, and Emotional Impairments: Some people are better suited to some careers than to others due to physical and mental abilities or limitations. For example, you may want to become a doctor but don't have a strong academic record in the sciences.

Age: Your age, or your perception of it, can hinder you in your career development. You may worry about being too young or too old to pursue a particular path, advance in your career, or make a career change. Instead of focusing on your age, concentrate on your abilities and how motivated you are.

Family Obligations: An person's career development may stall if they take time off from work to take care of children or elderly parents. Outside help with childcare or eldercare may make it easier to continue with a career.

Key Takeaways

  • Career development is the process of exploration and action that shapes a person's career path.
  • It includes assessments of a person's skills, abilities, interests, and personality in order to find a suitable career match.
  • A lifelong process, career development continues throughout adulthood as they evaluate opportunities for advancement or even change careers.
  • Many factors may influence a person's career development, including finances and family obligations.
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  1. Missouri State University. "Career Development Process." Accessed Aug. 4, 2020.

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