What Is “Career Development,” and Why Does It Matter?

ContactPoint.ca, a popular resource in the world of all things career development in Canada, is currently asking an important question: Why does career development matter?

As is the case in most industries, career professionals love their lingo. Of course, there are valid reasons for that. Sharing a common language gives industry members an easy way to describe and communicate otherwise complex ideas, and can even give a sense of identity to the industry itself. Sometimes, as is the case with “career development,” lingo can become so predominant that it ends up defining the very industry itself.

So, if I was talking with another career advisor, and I said something like, “I’m going to use some qualitative assessments to engage student X in their career development,” that person would know exactly what I’m talking about. However, I’m willing to bet that the average person wouldn’t quite know what I meant by “career development,” never mind why anyone would need to engage in it.

So it’s helpful to take a step back every now and then and ask a very simple, helpful question: “Just what do we mean by that?”

When it comes to defining “career development,” even though every career professional throws the term around without thinking twice, you’re likely to get a slightly different answer from each person you ask. Nonetheless, certain commonalities might arise. Here are a few of my ideas:

  • Forward motion: Career development is a lifelong, dynamic process describing the growth and direction of one’s career.
  • Meaning and identity: It is a common way for people to ascribe, create, and/or increase meaningfulness in their lives.
  • Contemplation and reflection: It relies upon a certain level of self-awareness, achieved through reflective practices.
  • Intentionality and action: Career development ultimately consists of actions taken in the real world, ideally with the intention of facilitating career growth in some way.

Metaphors also help to impart meaning in cases like this. One of my favourite metaphors for career development is that of a tree. Plant a tree, and it will grow—often whether you like it or not. Your career is that tree. Career development is simply the growth of that tree. With the right amount of water and sunshine, trees grow tall and straight, no problem. Deprive trees of the same, and their growth will stagnate. Place a barrier in the trajectory of a tree’s growth, and it will adapt and grow around it. Finally, the tree’s past growth heavily influences, but does not necessarily determine, future growth.

So now that you (hopefully) know what I mean by “career development,” we can address the aforementioned question of why it’s important.

By this point, though, the answer appears to be obvious. Though careers are ever “developing” on their own, without outside intervention, there are times in every person’s life when growing conditions are not ideal; these are the drought years, as reflected by a tree’s thinnest rings. When someone feels that the growth of their career is blocked or slowed in some way—say, a university student panicking because they just realized their chosen major is not a good fit for them—that’s where career development (and career professionals to help) comes into play (not sure what a career professional does? Check out this post I wrote on the topic.).

If the question of why career development matters is a fascinating one for you, I’d encourage you to check out a forum discussion on this very topic at contactpoint.ca, and/or share your thoughts on Twitter with the hashtag #cdmatters.

Until then, happy developing!

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