Career Growth and Career Development: What’s the Difference?

Development is what you do to get better at your job — growth is the big picture. It’s important to plan for both.

Written by Sunny Betz
Career Growth and Career Development: What’s the Difference?
Image: Shutterstock
Matthew Urwin | Mar 08, 2024

Career growth refers to the long-term vision you have for your career, while career development encompasses short-term, concrete steps you need to take on the way to achieving your goals.

Career Growth vs. Career Development

Career growth is the big picture, the overall progress of someone’s professional life — it’s defined by the different roles and responsibilities you take on throughout your career journey. Career development, on the other hand, is achieved by building skills in the short term.


What Is Career Growth?

Career growth refers to the overall progress of someone’s professional life, encompassing the different roles and responsibilities throughout one’s career journey. While it’s easier to manage your career development, growth is a little trickier because it can be affected by your environment and available opportunities. 

At the same time, this gives you the chance to define your career growth on your own terms. There’s nothing wrong with working to become a CEO, but it’s important to remember that growth isn’t always vertical. Consider your career values and how your work aligns with them, and you’ll be able to make a career growth plan that fulfills you personally and professionally.


Career Growth Examples

  • Earning a promotion to a more senior position, like going from sales representative to sales manager.  
  • Transitioning from the tech industry and securing your dream job as a horticulturist at a botanical garden.  
  • Founding your own nonprofit organization and becoming the executive director.   
  • Becoming the chief technology officer at your company and taking on greater leadership responsibilities as a c-suite member. 


What Is Career Development?

The phrases career development and career growth are often used interchangeably, but they’re actually different. Think of it like this: You need to develop your career in order to grow. The term career development refers to the tangible steps you take to enhance your workplace skill set and become better equipped to handle your current and future roles.

Career development is achieved by building skills in the short term. Learning a hard skill like programming, or a soft skill like effective listening, could all be a part of your career development plan. 


Career Development Examples

  • Honing communication skills through giving presentations and leading team discussions. 
  • Earning a Google Analytics certificate by completing Google-sponsored courses. 
  • Receiving a master’s in health administration degree by completing a university-accredited program.
  • Developing a mentor relationship with someone who works in a more senior role at your company.


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Why Career Growth and Development Are Important

Career growth and development can help you get the most out of your career and elevate your well-being at various stages in your professional life. Here are a few more advantages that make career growth and career development key areas of investment: 

  • Greater motivation: Having short- and long-term goals to strive for can keep you focused on delivering high-quality work. This can also contribute to a sense of purpose that keeps you engaged at work.
  • Deeper satisfaction: Reflecting on what you want your career to look like can lead you to be more intentional about what positions you pursue. You’ll then be more likely to pick a career path that fits your passions and preferences. 
  • Increased earnings: The more you advance as a result of your career growth and development, the greater your salary will be. Higher wages can lead to financial stability, giving you flexibility in what you decide to do with your career.
  • Higher employability: C-suite executives believe as much as 56 percent of entry-level roles could be replaced by AI. As new technologies reshape the workplace, continuous learning and growth will be essential to remaining employable. 


Steps to Achieve Career Growth and Development

It takes time to see the results of your career growth and development, but the process becomes much more manageable when you have a plan in place. Here are some guidelines to accelerate your career growth and career development.

1. Define Clear Career Development and Career Growth Goals

The more you take charge of your career development, the more you can influence your career growth. Think of your career development plan like the foundation of a house — the more carefully you structure it, the stronger the final product will be.

“While some career development happens naturally as you work and learn from coworkers, dedicating time to growing and expanding your skill set can accelerate the speed of career growth and lead to new opportunities,” said Mike Hendrickson, vice president of tech and development products at e-learning company Skillsoft.

There’s nothing wrong with working to become a CEO, but it’s important to remember that growth isn’t always vertical. Consider your career values and how your work aligns with them. 

“Career growth can, of course, include getting a promotion and becoming a manager or team lead,” said Kevin Wu, founder and CEO of Pathrise, an online tech mentorship company based in San Francisco. “But it can also mean moving into a role that better suits your goals, taking on a project where you can showcase your knowledge, and receiving positive feedback from your managers.”

Ultimately, you should be the one to define what growth means to you.

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2. Develop a Step-by-Step Plan

It’s important to develop a detailed plan for how you’ll achieve your development goals, both to hold yourself accountable to reaching them and also keeping them in line with your greater growth goals. Think about your dream role and figure out a path from point A to point B that’s manageable and realistic for you.

Take a look at job postings for roles you want, make a list of all the skills they call for, and make a plan to learn them. You can also network with others in your industry and set up informational interviews to get a sense of different career journeys. See what you can borrow from their experience and apply to your own plan.

“When you have figured out where your goals lie, then you can start to develop strategies for getting there,” Wu said. “Find someone who works in your goal position, then make a list of what you need to get to that role in five to 10 years. What skills do they have that you need?”


3. Leverage Your Employer’s Resources 

There are a variety of ways that your company can help you grow. Benefits packages can include a stipend or reimbursement for online courses or graduate degrees, Wu said. Some companies also host lunch and learn events or educational sessions that focus on building relevant skills. If there are training or development resources you’d like to see that your company doesn’t provide, bring it up to your manager and explain how it can make you a better employee. 

“Say you’re a developer, but you’re really interested in data science,” said Matt Jackson, Salesforce developer at software company LaunchPad Lab. “If you let your manager know it’s something you’re passionate about, they might be able to find an AI or predictive analytics project that you could work on. Being upfront and honest can lead to more opportunities.”

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4. Seek Out Learning Opportunities

Find someone within your company in a role you’re curious about exploring and ask if you can shadow them for a day — you’ll learn about their responsibilities and discover what skills they rely on to complete them. You can also watch YouTube videos on tech skills, take online courses and join a forum to ask questions.

Focus on taking initiative. If you want to move into a leadership role, offer to take the lead on a project with a cross-functional team. Pick up freelance projects or work on teaching yourself a new coding stack at a bootcamp. Another option: Create a portfolio and start a blog to track your progress so you’ll be able to show others what you’ve done. 


5. Expand and Tap Your Professional Network 

The most effective way to ensure you meet your goals is to have someone who can hold you accountable for reaching them. This guidance might take the form of a mentorship, but you can also ask friends or peers to help keep track of your progress more informally. 

“You can really benefit from having a good network of other people who you feel comfortable asking for help,” Jackson said. “Having work friends that are willing to jump on a Zoom call and help you figure out a problem is a great way to build your confidence.”

If you are looking for a mentor, know that mentorship is a two-way street — you’ll only get out as much as you give. 

“Establish a reasonable cadence for meetings so that neither of you feels overwhelmed and remember that they won’t be able to provide the answer to every question you ask,” Wu said. “You should be spending time doing research and working on your own and then come to them for guidance and support.”

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6. Keep an Open Mind to Trying New Things

Long before he joined LaunchPad Lab, Jackson did freelance video production in Portland, Oregon. When he made the leap from video production to coding, he wasn’t sure if he’d be successful. “I thought you had to be a math genius to write code,” he said. He joined the Epicodus bootcamp, where he learned JavaScript and HTML. “I was just working and grinding away at it for hours,” he said. “Eventually I had that light bulb moment where it all clicked and I understood what I was doing.” 

It can be challenging but stick with your game plan, Jackson said. The bootcamp gave him all the skills necessary to begin his new path, but he says what truly sparked his career growth was jumping into an unfamiliar situation and learning on the fly. 

Taking on challenging projects and pushing yourself beyond what you already know will not only make you a more valuable tech worker, it will also boost your confidence. You may not see results right away, but if you maintain your commitment, the rewards will only multiply. 

“Just keep doing the work,” Jackson said.  “And you’ll wind up getting an opportunity that you’re really happy with.”


Frequently Asked Questions

Career growth is the long-term vision one has for their professional life. It can be measured in terms of promotions and taking on roles with greater responsibilities and earning potential over the course of one’s career.

While career growth refers to the big picture, long-term vision one has for their career, career development encompasses the short-term, concrete steps one must take to reach their goals. A sign of career growth is receiving a promotion or transitioning into a new role while career development can be learning a new skill or earning a certification.

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