Careers advice

How to improve your career development: a guide

How to get ahead.

Improving their career prospects is important to Kiwis. In fact, in Trade Me Jobs’ 2020 job hunter survey, this was the second most common reason why New Zealanders look for new roles (after better pay).

However, boosting your career is a lot easier said than done, and it’s not always obvious where to start. To give you some inspiration, we’ll look at five tried and tested tactics that you can use to your advantage.

Key career development activities

1. Know your objectives and identify your milestones

We recommend making yourself a personal career development plan. The best way to do this? Create SMART goals.

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely, and is a great way to break down your career development objectives into more bite size chunks.

For example, if you’re eyeing promotion to a management position, think about the hoops you need to jump through in order to get there – these can be your SMART goals. Some might be easy to tick off, while others might require a longer timeframe to complete. But, as long as you’ve mapped the milestones along the way, you know that each is getting you closer to your overall aim.

A SMART goal for this promotion objective might look like this:

  • Specific: I want to be promoted to team leader within 12 months.
  • Measurable: I’ll measure success here by whether or not I’m promoted in this time frame.
  • Achievable: I’m consistently beating my key performance indicators (KPIs), and have taken courses to improve both my hard and soft skills. My tenure at the company also means this is a realistic objective.
  • Relevant: Becoming team leader fits my longer-term objectives of gaining more senior management roles.
  • Timely: The 12 month timeframe is a good balance between achievability and realism in terms of the departmental changes that need to happen.

SMART goals help you define your objectives, and a path to reaching them.

2. Talk to your manager

Don’t be shy about your desire to improve your career – managers and people leaders love ambitious staff. After all, if you’re eager to grow, you’ll be of more use to the organisation.

Your manager can help by:

  • Pointing you in the direction of resources that can help you upskill.
  • Letting you take on projects that will give you new or more advanced experience.
  • Helping you work on your personal career development plan.

A good tactic when working with your manager is asking them to give you a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, and helps you find things to improve on.

‘Strengths and weaknesses’ is straight forward, ‘opportunities’ refers to potential options you have for career development (e.g. training courses) and ‘threats’ means obstacles to progress (e.g. lack of time). Ideally, both you and your manager will do a SWOT analysis (of you!), come together to talk about the results, then come up with 3-5 action items you can work on.

3. Take upskilling courses

A great way to work on any weaknesses that come out of your SWOT analysis is by taking upskilling courses. There are heaps of ways to do this, with online courses really coming to the fore in NZ during the Covid-19 crisis.

Online courses are just one example of how you can expand your skillset.

4. Work on your soft skills

Among the most important steps in any career development plan is working on your soft skills. Sometimes referred to as transferable skills, this category of capabilities includes attributes such as:

  • Communication.
  • Adaptability.
  • Resilience.
  • Problem solving.
  • Cultural awareness.
  • Leadership.
  • Innovation.
  • Emotional intelligence.
  • Growth mindset.

These are important from Day One in a job, and only become more so if you’re looking to advance your career prospects or move up the promotion ladder.

Great ways to grow your soft skills include:

  • Taking courses.
  • Working on projects that involve multiple stakeholders and collaborators.
  • Taking the lead on projects.
  • Offering to train or mentor colleagues on subjects/tools you’re an expert in.

Don't ignore the importance of soft skills when creating a professional development plan.

5. Leverage your network

You can learn a lot by talking to your peers. They will be able to advise you on everything from great upskilling courses they’ve taken to openings and opportunities they’ve heard about that might form the next logical step in your career progression.

However, it’s important you give as well as take, so make sure to nurture your networking skills and take a proactive approach to staying in touch. For example, by contributing to industry discussions online, or celebrating their successes.

6. Maintain a strong, professional online presence

Sometimes, the opportunities can seek you out. But only if you’re there to be found.

Creating a Trade Me Jobs Profile means that employers and recruiters can match the skills and interests you list with opportunities they have, and reach out to see if you’re interested. This is a great way to find out about roles that suit your career trajectory, even if you’re not actively hunting for a job.