Assessing your Development Needs
The word ‘development’ in the context of career development refers to the development of skills and competencies associated with your professional career advancement. It also refers to aspects of your development as a person.
Comprehensive assessment of your development needs is an essential part of effective career management. It’s important to remember that development needs evolve as your career progresses and your experience grows. Therefore the best approach to assessing your development needs is one that involves a continuous cycle of information gathering and analysis during your career journey. Assessment of your development needs should never be seen as just a task to be crossed off your ‘to do’ list once completed.
A cyclical approach to development needs assessment involves four linked processes which are illustrated in Figure 1:
- gaining knowledge about yourself and your preferences;
- collecting information from a variety of sources;
- analysing your development needs; and
- reflecting on progress and changing circumstances.
In combination, these processes enable professionals to maintain an up-to-date assessment of their development needs. Important too for many professionals is that this approach accommodates changes in career direction and evolving career aspirations.
Figure 1: The cycle of career development needs assessment
1. Knowing about yourself and your preferences
Knowing about some key aspects of who you are a person and as a professional and about your work related preferences provides important input to an analysis of your development needs. Your self-assessment should cover:
- your career-related interests;
- current skills and competencies;
- your personal values;
- personal qualities; and
- career aspirations.
The following self-assessment questions will help you address these five areas:
- what genuinely interests you at work? And outside of work?
- which types of work do you find least motivating or even demotivating?
- what skills and competencies do you currently apply in your work? (Consider both specialist and generic skills and competencies.)
- which do you see as your greatest strengths?
- what aspects of your work do you enjoy?
- which aspects of your work that you would prefer to avoid?
- what type of organisation and work setting do you prefer to work in?
- are there particular organisations, types of organisations or work settings that you aim to avoid?
- what aspects of work do you find most fulfilling?
- what are the key qualities that define you as a person?
- which of those qualities do you admire in yourself?
- what do you know about how you are perceived by others?
- what are your current career goals (short and longer term)?
Some of these questions can be quite challenging to answer especially for professionals in the early stages of their career. It’s helpful to remember that you can keep coming back to them when you use a cyclical approach, adding more thoughts as you go deeper into each topic and address later stages of the cycle. There is more guidance on this and other topics in Career planning – a dynamic approach.
2. Drawing on a variety of information sources
Knowing about yourself though introspection as illustrated in the preceding section ‘Knowing about yourself and your preferences’ is then complemented by drawing on a range of sources that tell you more about yourself, your strengths and areas for improvement and how you are perceived by others, especially people whose decisions influence your career progress. Accessing diverse sources of information also includes developing your knowledge about the skills and competencies you will need given your intended career direction. Most professionals have access to a wide range of sources that help in these areas.
Information about how you are perceived by others can be drawn from sources such as:
- formal performance review records;
- feedback provided to you informally by your manager and by colleagues;
- 360 degree feedback processes;
- academic feedback such as commentary about your writing style;
- the results of any psychological instruments that you have taken;
- career related conversations with your manager; and
- a mentor or coach – inside or outside work.
Information about the skills that are deemed important for progression in your chosen profession and/or for making a career transition can be sourced from:
- your professional association(s);
- professional associations relating to your intended career direction;
- industrial awards and their classification structures;
- people in your network with experience in the field or specialisation you want to move towards;
- journals and other publications of relevance to your career interests;
- human resources professionals within your employer organisation; and
- university and other education providers’ web sites where you can access information about subject areas covered for various professional fields.
In accessing a range of sources such as those listed above, it helps to have formulated a few questions to guide your research. You otherwise risk feeling swamped with information and confused about what to do with it. Questions such as the following help direct and guide your information gathering:
- what generic/transferable skills are required for my current role (your position description can be a useful source here)?
- what specialist skills are required for my current role?
- what are my areas of greatest strength (self-assessed and as seen by others)?
- what are my areas requiring improvement (self-assessed and as seen by others) in my current role?
- what skills do I need to gain and/or improve, given my career aspirations?
3. Analysing your development needs.
Most careers develop in stages involving a repeating cycle of:
- taking on a challenging new role;
- a period of intense learning and development in that role; and
- preparation for progression to a more demanding role and so on.
The value of this third process ‘Analysing your development needs’ is that it enables you to be proactive in taking action to develop the skills and personal qualities that can help advance your career in the direction you intend.
The process is fundamentally a ‘gap analysis’ that responds to the questions:
- where am I today in terms of the criteria that matter to my career development?
- given my career aspirations, where do I want to get to in each of those areas? and
- what would be the most appropriate vehicle(s) for gaining the professional and personal development I have identified?
For example, when she first graduated a health professional imagined her career developing though further courses of study relating to technical specialisation. However within a few years, through application of the methods outlined here for assessing her development needs, it became clear to her that she saw in herself, and was perceived to have, leadership and management potential. Conversations with her manager and within her network, along with much self-reflection led her to undertake a number of short courses such as staff supervision and coaching skills. These experiences enabled her to test the idea that she was management material. Later reflections on how her learning from those programs helped her be successful in a frontline management role ultimately led her to invest in a three year program of part-time tertiary study with the aim of progressing eventually into more senior management.
4. Reflecting on progress
The fourth process in the cycle of assessing your development needs involves review of progress and reflection on your changing work-related circumstances. Careful review and reflection develops new insights that assist in the on-going challenge of developing your career. Some of the questions that help this process are:
- what have I experienced as satisfying about my development efforts to date?
- anything dissatisfying?
- are my sources adequate or is there something missing from the knowledge I have accumulated to date about my development needs?
- what have I learned about myself since engaging in this work?
- who has been helpful along the way?
- given my current career direction, what are my transferable skills (a transferable skill is one that is practiced in one area and can be used in another)?
There is a more detailed explanation of what is involved in reflection in the article Reflective practice.
About the Author
Janet Fitzell is an organisation development consultant and facilitator, providing consulting services through FourLeaf Consulting Pty Ltd.