Career Development Stages

By Sean Stevenson – Latest Revision April 20th, 2021

Understanding Career Development Stages

We all go through career development stages at some point in our lives. 

The six stages of career development help us to acquire the skills and awareness we need to thrive.  While there are different terms used to describe the six stages themselves, the general meanings and process remain the same.

The career development stages consist of:

  1. Career awareness.
  2. Career exploration.
  3. Career preparation.
  4. Career placement.
  5. Career retention.
  6. Career transition.

It should be noted that not everyone will pass through all 6 of these career development stages.  Some of us may even skip or never reach a specific stage for any number of reasons.

The most important thing to take away from these six categories, is that each part represents an opportunity for personal growth and professional gain.  Therefore, try to focus on the positive aspects of whichever stage you find yourself in.  Think of it as a chance to build upon new or already existing skills.

The Six Stages of Career Development

1. Career Awareness and Assessment

As we learn more about ourselves, we start to make more informed judgements on how to best “fit in” to the society that exists around us.  Typically, this also takes the form of finding what abilities, skills, and talents we have at our disposal.  This leads to a want for fulfilling employment within our communities, where we can bring to bear our natural talents in a workplace setting. 

We tend to explore the materials, tools, and activities that are typical of our prospective industry.  Getting feedback from others is imperative to understanding what we can offer an employer.  Developing strengths and understanding our weaknesses can set us up for success.

As our self-interests start to play a greater role in our actions over time, we find ourselves wanting to achieve personal objectives.  It is here that career awareness begins to show its importance. 

To achieve our personal objectives, we devise how to best move forward in our lives so that we may prosper.  Career awareness comes to fruition with the realization that we must commit to further exploration to find our fulfillment as individuals.

2. Career Exploration and Investigation

As its name implies, this stage of the career development process represents a phase of intense exploration.  It is here that you will take an active interest in learning about specific careers and educational options available.  The skills and abilities that center around these careers will also become a focus.

Most of us choose to pursue careers that interest us in some way.  We tend to associate popularized media with different functions of employment.  This helps give us some context for what we find both interesting and practical on a personal level.

It is common during the exploration stage in career development to be full of questions and passionate ideas.  Whether old or young, we all wish to pick the role we are most suited for.

All of this knowledge can prove overwhelming at first.  The key is to strive to find what interests you.

During this phase of career development, it is important to actively research positions of interest as much as possible.  Taking the time to ask questions of those with experience, or those who can offer guidance, is of supreme importance.  This helps to inform the process, giving us much-needed insights as we consider our future.

Along with keeping an open mind, field trips, tours, or one-on-one sessions with current employees, are all excellent ways of furthering the career exploration phase.

3. Career Preparation

Reaching the career preparation stage of development means that you have either begun working or are preparing to do so.  This represents an opportunity to rapidly develop your knowledge and skillset in a particular industry.

Part of career preparation is self-actualization.  This entails a great deal of exuberance, as you begin to realize how your future can one day look.

The key in this career development phase is to focus on gaining as much experience as possible.  Should you find yourself in a position that doesn’t meet all of your needs, do not worry.  Think of this as a steppingstone in your career, as you build the necessary skills to advance your position.

4. Career Commitment / Placement

Career commitment is a time of putting plans in motion to obtain work in a specific field.  This pan of action will focus on finding compatible opportunities with your work education and skillset(s). 

It is advisable to be willing to take on new challenges during this phase of career development.  This will give you more opportunities for advancement in the future.  Moreover, you should be tapping into your network as you strive to find your ideal employment position.

Wherever possible, seek to engage with others and build strong professional relations.  This will give you access to references in the future, should you require them.  Moreover, at the least, you will be setting a strong foundation for future growth within your current organization.

5. Career Maintenance / Retention

At this point, you’ve established yourself within your current role as a steadfast and knowledgeable employee.  Your colleagues likely look to you as a reference point and a leader.  Perhaps you have even attained a promotion -or two- by now.

However, this success -while great to have- is also a potential source of stagnation.  Most of us become comfortable over time and lose our interest in developing ourselves further.  This can prove a liability.

It is imperative to continue a trend of personal development.

Undoubtedly, maintaining employment in modern times requires meticulous social skills.  Gaining the trust and respect of those you work with (or for) is key.  Failure to gain this socially accepted status can spell potential ruin for a career.

Yet if you are ambitious, vocational consistency cannot be ignored.  Advancing your career will mean attaining excellence in your role.  Striving over the longer term in this regard, means removing comforts and finding a powerful balance.

Whether your goal is to settle into a pattern or pursue heightened goals, it is important to map out your plans beforehand.  In this way, you can settle into the appropriate routine.

6. Transitioning / Mentoring

This is the final stage of career development.  It is here that some individuals believe they have reached a dead-end and cannot progress any further.  Essentially, you will have become an expert who needs to transition to another position or an entirely new industry in order to progress.  This can represent a time of great uncertainty and discomfort.

Transitioning will look different from one person to the next.  Some of us may choose to relinquish the “heavy grind” and instead pursue easier forms of work.  Others may be increasing their workload, even as they find new employment elsewhere. 

The prime focus of any transition should be to gain what is missing.  As long as you are confident in your choice and have done your due diligence, you are likely to gain from it.

Conversely, mentoring occurs when a professional is drawing near to their retirement.  It is during this stage of their career development, that they can now actively assist others with the knowledge and experience they have obtained from their years of service. 

For younger workers, a mentor can provide essential career advice.  This is essential for creating successful workers for the future and for succession planning.

During this stage of career development, transitioning and mentorship can both play essential roles in your life.  The key is to understand what you are trying to gain, and then to act on it accordingly.

Career Development Stages

Try to see the contrast of your cumulative efforts as an employee.  Categorizing these on your own time can prove immensely helpful!  This will give you perspective on your own strengths and weaknesses!  The opportunity to transition or improve is always at your feet!

Stages of Career Development Psychology

It is important to note that how you understand and utilize each of these stages of career development will directly impact your psychology for the rest of your working life.

Making the best of each stage can help ensure that you live your fullest life, even while at work.  The old adage, “You’ll never work a day in your life if you enjoy what you’re doing,” certainly applies here.

Try to always keep an open mind.  If a new opportunity arises that is of interest to you, pursuit it wholeheartedly, while still maintaining your personal interests.

Career Development Stages – Conclusion

The six stages of career development represent a life cycle of employment.  We all must go through at least a few of these stages within our lifetime.

Learning to make the best use of each stage can set you up for future success.

Whether you are a young or mature worker, it is imperative to focus on your personal development.  As you gain vocational training and experience, try to advance your opportunities wherever possible.

Conversely, you may choose to find a routine and stick with it.  There’s nothing wrong with this either, as it can be a comfortable approach to employment.

Whatever your choices, try to use each career development stage to your advantage.  Learn as much as possible and be a team player! 

After all, this only serves to help you in the longer-term! 

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