A career generally signifies something in between a way of life and a job, and therefore includes something more than a job chosen simply as means of income. A career, in essence, is a series of related jobs towards the fulfillment of a set of individual goals that provide a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Consequently, career development refers to the process of preparing for such a series of related jobs that will fulfill individual goals, that is, to the systematic planning, selection, and preparation for a career. Simply put, career development is the process of matching career opportunities with individual interests, skills, and dispositions. Career development also may include changing careers either as a result of evolving personal interests or as a result of a changing job market.

More specifically, career development involves the thorough assessment of the job market as well as of the individual career seeker's interests and skills. By examining the job market, those interested in careers can learn what jobs are available and in demand now and what jobs will be available and in demand in the future. This information along with knowledge of their personal interests and qualifications and can help them identify and select careers that will remain in demand and careers that also will prove stimulating, challenging, and meaningful. Career development is even more vital in light of studies that indicate that significant percentages of U.S. workers hold jobs that do not match their interests and skills. Consequently, these mismatches lead to job dissatisfaction and affect the personal lives of the mismatched workers.

Although forms of career development date back thousands of years with records of career development efforts in ancient Greece, career development did not become a formal discipline until the early 20th century. The turbulent and changing economic and technological climate of the 1980s and 1990s led to an even greater focus on career planning. During this period, numerous companies cut thousands of jobs through corporate restructuring or downsizing programs. As a result of these workforce reductions, many people who thought they had stable jobs were forced to change careers. In addition, employees confronted with new technologies in the workplace realized they had to adapt to them or pursue different careers.

Some career advisers and analysts such as Ronald L. Krannich, author of Careering and Recareering, believe that workers in the 1990s and in the beginning of the next century should expect to change their careers and jobs several times over the course of their work lives. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics support this claim: the average worker will change jobs seven times over the course of one career. Instead of preparing for one narrowly focused career or job, these career counselors recommend acquiring both specific and general work-related skills that can be expanded and enhanced. They envision workers continuously improving their existing skills and acquiring new ones to succeed in planning and changing their careers according to their own objectives and what the job market dictates.


Throughout the last two decades of the 20th century, the U.S. economy continued to evolve from an industrial economy to a high-technology, energy, service, and export-oriented economy, just as the economy had evolved from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy in the previous century. Toward the end of the 20th century, the U.S. economy also became a debtor economy, accumulating more debt owed to other countries than credit it extended to other countries.

Through these changes, the U.S. economy became known as a dual economy, with two sectors: one with low-skill jobs and one with high-tech jobs. For example, the low-skill sector had a surplus of workers, stemming from and contributing to the high unemployment rate in the 1980s, whereas the high-skill sector faced shortages. Traditional industries such as manufacturing and service-related industries constitute the low-skill sector of the economy, while computer and information technology industries constitute the high-skill sector. As a result of these changes, career advisers consider that having communication skills, computer skills, problem-solving skills, and a global perspective is essential to career success in the late 20th century and early 21st century. They also believe that small businesses with fewer than 500 workers will create the majority of the new jobs during this period in new and emerging technology and service fields.


The need for a career change can stem from a variety of voluntary and involuntary reasons. For instance, some workers may find that their current careers have plateaued or no longer provide challenge or satisfaction. Other voluntary career changes include making the transition from military to civilian life and launching a new career after retirement. Involuntary career changes, on the other hand, largely result from technological changes that render certain skills and occupations obsolete. Regardless of what prompts career changes, those seeking to change their careers stand to gain from carefully evaluating their career options and following the career planning process either on their own or with the help of a career counselor.


Those wishing to enter the job market and those wishing to change careers after spending any number of years in the job market can benefit from following the career development process, whether undertaken on their own or with the assistance of a career adviser. Although career advisers and analysts conceive of the process in different ways, most conceptions include the following five steps or stages under various names: (1) assessing individual career interests, skills, goals, and motivations; (2) assessing the job market; (3) acquiring any job skills needed for the chosen career paths; (4) searching for jobs; and (5) continuing to learn new skills that the job market will demand in the future and to identify and reevaluate career objectives. Despite depicting the career development process as a series of separate steps, some career counselors emphasize that career seekers view the process holistically and see how the various steps are interrelated. For example, one should bear in mind the growing and stable fields in the job market while assessing one's own interests in various jobs to avoid focusing on jobs verging on obsolescence.


The first step of the career development process calls for the assessment of individual emotional, physical, intellectual, motivational, and personality characteristics. People engaging in the career planning process can perform this assessment on their own or with the assistance of qualified career counselors. Either way, those interested in careers must identify their strengths and weaknesses and analyze whether they possess the traits necessary to function in their chosen career field. The self-assessment step works only if career seekers are candid about their interests and abilities. At this step, those interested in careers must establish their criteria for a desirable career and identify the characteristics—such as job security, satisfaction, income, flexibility, environment, and outlook—they want in their careers.

Self-assessment puts career seekers in touch with their skills and abilities and provides them with information on what they are qualified for and what skills they will need to acquire in order to pursue various careers. Besides identifying general skills, career seekers should concentrate on assessing specific work-related skills. These work-related or transferable skills include organizational skills—such as the ability to communicate, plan, solve problems, evaluate, and analyze—as well as worker disposition skills such as being diligent, honest, patient, and reliable.


After or while assessing personal career interests and skills, career seekers should begin surveying the job market in order to identify the jobs of today and the jobs of the future. This step in the career development process allows career seekers to match their interests and aptitudes with positions that the economy will need in future years. Career counselors caution, however, that those interested in careers remain realistic in their career pursuits and recognize that jobs emerge and disappear with economic and technological changes. Therefore, they encourage career seekers to expect to change careers several times and to update their jobs skills persistently.

Publications such as the Occupational Outlook Handbook, published and updated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, published by the U.S. Employment Service, help people identify which career fields will continue to grow and be in demand. These publications include such information as the number of jobs that will be available in the field in the future, promotional opportunities, educational and training requirements, salary ranges, and benefits. In addition, these books provide an overview of a job's responsibilities as well as information on alternative jobs within various career fields. Other publications such as Jobs Rated Almaniac rate jobs according to various criteria including income, stress, security, and growth projections.

Despite the advantages of publications with career projections, they also have some drawbacks. Since these publications provide only predictions based on the best available data at the time, their projections can turn out to be inaccurate for numerous reasons stemming from unforeseen changes in the economy and in technological development and implementation. In addition, career seekers ultimately must rate jobs by their own criteria, not by the criteria of others. Nevertheless, using such publications remains an effective method of determining future career trends and serve as a good starting point.

When planning a career, career seekers must bear in mind that the fastest-growing or most lucrative jobs may not be the best career option for them. Instead, they must match the criteria and skills they identified in the first step in order to maximize the effectiveness of the career development process and to find career satisfaction.


After identifying personal interests, aptitudes, and motivations and after selecting careers that have a promising future, people move on to the next step in the career planning process by acquiring the requisite skills for their chosen career paths. If career seekers already possess the needed skills, then they can skip this step and move on to the next step, searching for a job within their desired fields.

When acquiring these work-related skills, those interested in careers should focus on skills needed in the job market. That is, they should learn the skills demanded by their career choices given the present economic conditions and technological advancements. Simultaneously, career counselors advise that people consider acquiring job skills that careers will require in the future and view skill acquisition not as a one-time activity but as an ongoing process.

The training for a career may require little more than taking a few courses at a community college, trade school, business school, or trade/professional association. On the other hand, acquiring the needed skills may require several years of extensive and intensive education at a university, depending on personal career choices.

Besides learning specific job skills through an educational program or on-the-job training, career seekers also must make sure they possess or can cultivate general skills applicable to a variety of jobs and careers such as verbal and written communication skills, analytical skills, problem-solving skills, leadership skills, organizational skills, and so forth.


After completing these steps, career seekers are ready to begin applying for jobs within their individual career fields. At this step, career seekers begin by researching jobs and employers to find out what available jobs correspond to their personal career criteria and to determine which companies will help them best achieve their career goals. After identifying available jobs with desirable employers, career seekers prepare and submit resumes and related application materials and interview with potential employers.

The research part of the job search involves gathering information on companies where career seekers want to work. Researching companies allows career seekers to market their resumes effectively, to gain an overview of the current job market, to establish a network of contacts in their desired field, and to broaden their perspective and their knowledge of opportunities available in their career field. Key materials and reference tools for the research part of the job search include the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the Guide to Occupational Exploration, and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, as well as newspaper and professional journal classified ads and the Internet.

After completing the initial research, career seekers put together their application package: a cover letter, a resume, and a follow-up letter. The application package is essentially a tool with which career seekers can market themselves to potential employers. The goal of the package—as well as other parts of the job search—is to communicate a positive image to prospective employers, which will increase the likelihood of being selected for an interview and for a job offer.

Once selected for interviews, career seekers continue researching potential employers to demonstrate their knowledge of the companies during interviews and to be able to ask meaningful questions during the interviews. In addition, they strive to project a positive image and communicate effectively by preparing for interviews and anticipating questions prospective employers will ask. After the interview is over, successful career seekers often send follow-up letters thanking the potential employers for interviewing them, offering additional information, and perhaps asking additional questions.


The career development process does not end with the acceptance of a job on a desired career track. Instead, it continues through one's entire work life. Once situated in desired fields, those interested in careers must frequently update their skills in order to stay abreast of job-requirement changes in their fields and identify and reevaluate their career goals.

Furthermore, people who desire successful careers will continue to upgrade their skills and education in preparation for the inevitable job changes. They will participate in training and development programs designed through individual efforts or jointly with supervisors or managers. Continual training and development are essential for workers who want to keep up with changes in their fields and the effects of the changes on their career paths.

Some career advisers also recommend reviewing career decisions and developments yearly. According to Krannich, this yearly review should include the exploration of questions such as:

After answering these questions honestly, career seekers should take appropriate action to either achieve their career goals through their present job or through a new job or a new career.

In addition, ongoing career development also may involve relocating to areas with greater potential, implementing new objectives, and taking action to achieve new goals given individual career choices. Some career seekers may have to follow their jobs to new communities given their career choices. Others may be able to target desired communities and locate employment there within their chosen career fields. Either way, relocation requires careful research and planning to ensure that the new community will help promote personal needs and goals as well as career needs and goals. Key aspects of new communities to research include the unemployment rate, the cost of living, the educational and cultural possibilities, and the career and job opportunities available.

SEE ALSO : Continuing Education ; Hiring Practices ; Retirement Planning ; Vocational Education

[ Karl Heil ]


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