“Learning is not compulsory; it’s voluntary. Improvement is not compulsory; it’s voluntary. But to survive, we must learn.”  W Edwards Deming.

We know the jobs market is incredibly competitive and the rate of change is faster than we’ve ever seen.  Even if you are currently employed you’ll need to keep your skills, knowledge and competencies up to date.  So, it’s more important than ever before to find out How to Manage your Continuous Development Plan (CDP).

Employers are placing more and more demands on employees to perform at their maximum capability.

Some companies are very good at investing in Learning and Development.  During recessions and downturns in the market, it’s usually the first budget to be cut – big mistake.

Whatever the market conditions you are responsible for your own career development.  This article is written to give you some ideas on your career development.

When someone says career development, what’s your immediate reaction?  Enrolling on a training course?  Gaining a qualification? Attending college or university?

There are so many different options open for you to develop your skills, knowledge and competencies.

Start taking responsibility and positive action to improve your employability.  Check out the top ten development tips and options below.

Create a Career Plan or Goal

It’s so important to have a career plan and objectives.  Otherwise, how do you know what skills and knowledge you need to develop? If you don’t decide on your career someone else will make that decision for you and you could end up somewhere you didn’t want to be.

Take for example a Credit Analyst in a bank. There are several different directions a credit analyst can take this skill set. Corporate finance, project finance, leveraged finance etc.

A Credit Analyst has the option of taking their career in an analytical direction and become a technical expert supporting the decisions of the relationship managers (RM) in front office revenue-generating roles. With this direction in mind, the analyst would focus on developing cash flow analysis skills, scenario testing, or trend forecasting and modelling skills etc.

However, if a Credit Analyst would prefer to move their career to a client facing position or relationship manager role, then they would focus more on developing their relationship building skills, influencing, pitching and presentation skills.

You can see from this example that your time, effort and energy needs to be focused on the core skills to take your career in the right direction. We explain the steps you need to take in our book How to Get Your Dream Job.

A career plan is not a one off exercise and that’s why it’s called a Continuous Development Plan (CDP). You’ll need to produce an action plan, with milestones and ways of measuring your success along the way.

Conduct a Personal SWOT Analysis

Once you know where you are going in your career and where you are now then you can start to map out and plan how you are going to bridge that gap.

Conducting a personal SWOT analysis goes hand in hand with your career plan. Once you understand where you want to take your career then you’ll understand what skills, knowledge and competencies (technical & behavioural) you’ll need to improve, develop or learn to increase your chances of promotion and progression.

A regular analysis of your strengths and weaknesses is good practice and keeps you on track with your career action plan. (By the way, weaknesses are just opportunities to learn new skills or develop existing skills.)

It’s a very easy tool to use as part of your CDP and a genuine commitment to your career.

  • What training courses do you attend if you don’t know where you are going in your career?
  • Who do you network with if you don’t know where you want to take your career?
  • What resources do you need when you have no idea where you are going?


Recruiters and hiring managers always talk about the importance of skills, knowledge and competencies. These factors are of course an important contribution to a productive and motivated member of staff.

However, aligning your values to your career choice is just as important. Do you understand your value system and does this fit with the type of work you do?

  • Are you the type of person that needs variety?
  • Are you more comfortable with stability?
  • Do you need autonomy or prefer someone else to take responsibility and make the big decisions?

Your values motivate and drive all your decisions and contribute to your satisfaction whether you are aware of them or not.

For example, if you are concerned with green issues and your actions contribute to damaging the environment. Or the company you work for doesn’t take their responsibilities seriously then there will most certainly be an inner conflict between your beliefs and your behaviour.  This is likely to result in de-motivation or dissatisfaction.

Another example if you are family orientated and work 60 to 70 hours per week again this inner conflict between what you consider very important and your actions will most certainly cause discontent or unhappiness.

Read Regularly

If you have ever read 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey then you’ll appreciate how important it is to keep your mind sharp.

“Read broadly and expose yourself to great minds.”

Keeping up to date in your sector or industry is so important and will have several advantages for you in your current role and your future career. If you want to be the “go to expert” then having up to date and fresh market intelligence will definitely support your goal. Having up to date knowledge will also help you present yourself as the expert in your next interview.

When I worked in a city bank we interviewed a candidate that had claimed the retail market was of great interest and a particular sector she really enjoyed. The hiring manager decided to test her knowledge and her passion in this industry by asking a very simple question

“I’m travelling to a client and don’t have much time to prepare – give me 5 bullet points describing the potential risks, trends and forecasts to consider in this sector in the next year?”

Unfortunately, she was not able to answer this very simple question (it’s simple if you are up to date and claiming to be an expert). Even I could have had a go at this question!!

Here are some points that could have been discussed:
  • Changes in technology and the effect this has on the way consumers now purchase goods and services. Not just the impact of shopping on-line but the advancements to purchasing ability via smartphones and apps.
  • Customer service expectations are higher than ever and consumers will pay more for a better and more efficient service.
  • Competition – you’ll know that the big supermarkets watch each other’s movements very closely!! “Price Promise”, “Brand Match” and “Price Match” etc.
  • The ability and technology to capture purchasing behaviour – loyalty cards have been tracking our shopping habits for many years but is this information being utilised effectively to generate increased sales?

Network Internally

Often people will think of networking as an external activity. A valuable and career enhancing activity is being able to network effectively externally and internally. Building relationships is a great skill to work on and develop and will increase your employability in your current job and future career.

You are more likely to identify the right people in the business to network with if you have a career plan.

Networking to build useful and mutually beneficial relationships does not happen overnight. It can be time-consuming to build up trust and credibility and that’s why it’s so important to know which direction you are headed.

Write an article for the Company Magazine or Newsletter

If your organisation has a company magazine or newsletter, why not ask if you can contribute on behalf of your department or division.  Writing an article is a good way of researching the current trends in that topic, subject, sector or industry.

This point contributes to keeping up to date at the same time improving your research skills, communication skills and presentation and reporting skills.

Work Shadowing or Secondments

You don’t have to be a “junior” to shadow a colleague and learn their tasks. It’s good team working skills to be able to cover holidays and sickness seamlessly. In fact learning how to perform your colleague’s job will contribute to your skills and knowledge and make holidays far less stressful to cover.

Secondments are a great opportunity to join another department or division and pick up new skills and knowledge. Some companies are very good at deploying their talent and resources to meet the growing demands of the business. If you get offered this opportunity grab it with both hands.

Being offered this opportunity is giving you that all important positive feedback that you have been recognised and selected for your skills to contribute to a specific project or objective. This opportunity will look good on your CV.

Coach or Mentor

Some companies and organisations are very good at creating a coaching and mentoring culture. If your organisation doesn’t have a mentor programme you could approach someone you admire and respect.  Ask for regular time in their diary to learn how they built their career and progressed. Again this is a pathway we recommend in our Stepping Stones Approach. It is worth mentioning your idea to your current manager because there could potentially be some areas of conflict.

For example, in the bank, we had a lot of friction between the front office and middle office. The front office wanted to generate revenue and the middle office would be very concerned with the level of risk undertaken.  As the middle office was a sanctioning department they had the authority to say yes or no to a deal or transaction. Therefore, being mentored by the “opposition” could be viewed with suspicion and create more negative consequences than positive.

Attend a seminar

Attending a seminar serves many purposes.  It will help keep you up to date with changes in your sector and give you a great opportunity to network with professionals in your industry. This is an activity that’s usually offered with no cost attached and if you’re lucky you’ll get a free breakfast too!

Organisations understand and appreciate that giving lots of free content and advice builds trust and credibility with their clients.  So offering these seminars, updates and presentations for free has a long term benefit.

Work in Collaboration

Proactively working with your colleagues is a great learning opportunity and certainly won’t do your team building skills any harm. If you don’t have regular meetings with your colleagues then you can maybe suggest a weekly, monthly or whatever is appropriate for your team, department or division.

To be really productive there has to be a purpose to organising and running regular meetings. It could be a method of keeping everyone in the team updated on successes, challenges and issues. It could be a vehicle for building relationships in the team. Or simply learning about the different tasks and responsibilities of your colleagues.

Another idea open to you may be to volunteer to support someone with their objective or a project.  You’ll gain valuable insight, skills, and knowledge. Again as long as this is okay with your manager, it’s a great opportunity to collaborate and learn at the same time.

What activities have you taken part in to enhance and develop your career?