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Career development

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In order to move upwards and progress in your career, you need to work out your strengths, goals and career aspirations.

Know yourself: your skills and aspirations

Knowing yourself and what is important to you is a great foundation to work out your career options. Think about what you are good at and what you enjoy doing.

The psychologist Martin Seligman has found that people are happier when they:

  • are engaged in things that play to their strengths and talents - they find they are more often in ‘flow’, immersed in what they are doing
  • have a sense of purpose: what they do has meaning for them beyond the task itself.

You may find it hard to voice your strengths and talents or even admit them to yourself. Try answering these questions to get a clearer picture:

  • What’s important to you in life?
  • What do you love doing?
  • Think of times when you were immersed in something, feeling successful (it could be anything from a one-hour period to a long-term project). What were you doing? What skills and capabilities did you draw on?
  • If you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you do and why?
  • What things drain your energy and what do you try to avoid? Knowing this can sometimes highlight other strengths.

Think about your career options

Once you are clear about what is important to you and your strengths, you can start working out what you want to do.

If you have no idea what your career plan is, you're not alone. Many people have possibilities and ideas but no real plan - they often go through life taking opportunities as they come up.

It can be useful to think about options to help you focus. Use these questions to make a list or mind map to show your plan or options:

  • What are all the roles/jobs you could imagine yourself doing? Which organisations/sector/cause?
  • What else comes to mind? Write down your wildest ideas.
  • Highlight the ideas which are most appealing or play to your strengths
  • Select the ideas you are serious about and might want to explore further.

Identify your career goals

It’s easy to get absorbed in doing your job well. But if you don’t grow and develop, you could fall behind with your career – you may get overlooked for interesting projects or promotion. So whether it’s for your existing role or for one of your possible career options, ask yourself:

  • How you rate your skills currently?
  • What do you need to learn and develop?

Write down your development goals and make sure you focus on the end result or outcomes. So rather than 'attend a training course in building client relationships' (which focuses on an input or step) you could write 'become skilled and comfortable in building relationships with new clients.' Then get creative about how to get there.

How to learn and develop

Many people think first about training courses, but there are many different ways to build your skills and confidence. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • take time to reflect on a project or task you’ve done - think about what you did well and what you would do differently next time
  • read books, listen to training CDs and use learning materials that are available online, such as podcasts and videos
  • observe others in action
  • find yourself an internal mentor or coach who has the skills or experience you want to develop
  • take on a responsibility such as leading a social group
  • attend free local events and seminars, for example those run by the Chamber of Commerce, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development or local networking groups
  • sign up for evening classes
  • keep a learning journal, noting what you’ve done, what you learnt and how you will apply it.

See Your learning and development for more. 

Track your development achievements

Being clear about what you’re good at isn’t bragging – it means you’ve got more chance of going for roles that play to your strengths. It’s easy to forget the things you’ve done and learnt, but you’ll need to have this information to hand if you write a CV, have an appraisal or go to an interview.

Follow these tips for keeping track of your achievements:

  • keep a log of what you’ve done, how you contributed to it and what the results were
  • note down why you are pleased or proud, as well as anything you’d do differently in future – keep it balanced
  • have a book that you keep for this purpose and add quotes and emails that others send you that show their appreciation of what you’ve done. 

Get connected: network

If you are thinking about changing your role or even taking a different path, talking to the people you spend time with at the moment may not always be the answer. Think of people you know who know something about the areas you are interested in (or may know people who are). If you’re considering doing something different, find out more before you can decide if it’s really for you.

Other opportunities for developing your career

  • volunteering
  • becoming a trustee of another organisation
  • sharing your skills or experience with others (either through mentoring, pro bono work or by writing something for Knowhow!)

See also Working for a nonprofit: your options for more about ways to get new experience.

Useful links

  • Apply and develop your skills and experience with a small charity at the Small Charities Coalition
  • Do-it - volunteer vacancies across the UK. Also see our list of volunteer vacancy websites.

Page last edited Sep 11, 2017

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