The 4 stages of career development

Drawing from both my own career experiences and those of the many coaching clients I have worked with over the last 25 years, I have observed a four-stage pattern that often emerges within career development which I would like to share and explore.


Looking back, it would have been helpful to realise that both accepting and progressing through the various stages of career development is both natural and that each stage can serve the other over time.

I have assigned a rough age range to each stage, however, this is based on subjective observations rather than hard research-based evidence. In future articles, I will discuss the benefits and challenges of each stage along with various tools and techniques that may be useful. This first article however is to simply outline the characteristics of each phase and then the reader can start determining which stage they are currently in.

Stage 1 – Exploration and self-discovery

(Pre 35) 

In the immediate years of post-full-time education, people can often drift into roles without any intentional long-term plan to do so. I know I certainly chose to qualify as a beauty therapist as a rebellion against career officers who only suggested a teacher or a nurse for me and I did not see myself doing either.

I was successful in an application to a major high street bank and often wondered where my career would have gone had I taken that offer up. Instead, I commenced a hair and beauty course but within the second of three years knew it was not for me.

After a year in industry, I quickly realised I financially needed to change career direction to pay the rent and found myself at the local job centre being sent to an interview for the Department of Transport securing a clerical admin role which I initially loved.

After a year of doing this, I went temping and finally secured a permanent role within the finance department of a multinational corporation. During these years it was entering into corporate life where I finally began to get glimmers of what I loved which was big business and learning. Glimmers were also beginning to emerge of my fascination with both good and not-so-good leadership.

Stage 2 – Consolidation/building self-confidence and learning your craft


This can be a multi-dimensional stage of career development where the individual is exposed to a variety of personalities and challenges. Personally, I found out what elements of business I loved and those that did not interest me along with what I was naturally strong at and areas I found difficult.

Although I passed my accountancy exams, spending each day number crunching and doing analysis was something I could do but it was not my passion. Leading a finance team and working in cross-functional teams I loved, along with process management and improvement. Certain themes were emerging, and I was starting to get a reputation for being strong at certain elements of a role.

Stage 3 – Focus/intentional choices/career crossroads


People at this stage often face big choices either regarding what discipline or career they want to remain in or indeed, whether to stay with or leave an organisation they have been with for many years. This also may be a time of doubt if there has been a career option you have not explored yet or a type of employment you would like to try.

Some people have always wanted to go freelance, or self-employed and wonder if they should try this, alternatively, some people who have done this for many years might want to consider permanent employment as an option.

Life responsibilities can also pull some individuals at this stage with responsibilities for both younger and older generations - often referred to as “the generation sandwich” where work may have to factor into this logistically. Also at this stage is the challenge of keeping current within your field of specialism plus securing the ultimate career pinnacle role that you have set yourself. Definitely a lot of choices to consider.

Stage 4 – Sharing expertise/adding value/joy


Like the previous stage, some major choices to make and considerable expectations from other players on what you should be doing at this stage of your career. Everyone’s financial situation is a factor in all stages to consider but in this one the longer-term positioning financially for retirement when it arrives is definitely on most people’s horizon.

This stage, however, can be an incredibly rewarding one if modelled to suit the individual and capitalise on all the self-reflection, learnings and skill-building of the previous stages.

Having watched Lulu doing her farewell concert earlier this week at 75, there are many end dates to overall career development and a lot of different paths to explore. It's up to us to enjoy each stage wherever we find ourselves.

If you need further support please get in contact.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Bristol, Gloucestershire, BS16 7FR
Written by Sandra Webber
Bristol, Gloucestershire, BS16 7FR

Sandra is an qualified coach and author who works with both businesses and private clients. With over 20 years of experience she is also co-director of The Kudos Group a Training and Development company who focus on Executive Coaching/Mentoring/Leadership and Sales Team Development. Working across all sectors she loves supporting leaders.

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