Job Development vs. Career Development: What’s the Difference?

Most managers realize the significance of engaging with their employees in development conversations, which hopefully occur throughout the year, and not only at the annual performance review. But which development conversation are being had?  Job development or career development?  Many times these discussions are jumbled together or seen as interchangeable, but there are clear differences, and it’s important to disentangle them for a more productive, deliberate discussion.

Job development is a mandatory conversation that is tied to current role, co-owned by the manager and the employee.   It’s about developing the skills necessary to maintain employability. Think about a job development conversation this way:  What formal or informal learning, if any, does your employee need to achieve his or her goals and objectives for the year?  Who else is involved?  Perhaps a mentor, coach or somebody who is willing to support the individual with his or her development.  And lastly, how will  she activate the learning? How will she put into play the formal learning and support of others, real time at work?   Sounds a bit the like the 70-20-10 (70: learning on the job. 20: observation/feedback  from others. 10: formal training.) model of learning, based on research by Michael M. Lombardo and Robert W. Eichinger for the Center for Creative Leadership, but in reverse! It’s meant to.

When you think about development, the natural flow seems to be formal learning first, followed by the support of others, and then putting it all into action.  To help bring this into perspective, think about a time when you had to learn something completely new.  Think of something not work-related, as it may resonate with your more.  Perhaps you wanted to learn how to ski.  Would you just throw caution to the wind and race down the hill without any idea of what you were doing?  Perhaps, but most people decide to start with ski lessons, and also ask a friend or family member for support.  Perhaps your friend skis alongside you and provides you with feedback and tips.  Finally, you’re ready to ski confidently by yourself.

Ask your employee to walk you through possible learning scenarios that encompass all facets of learning with the right mix of the 70-20-10 model. They may already have the formal learning and will focus on the 70 and 10.  Be deliberate of focused with regard to their development plan. Throwing them into a class isn’t the only way to go.

Possible 70-20-10 activities:


  •  Stretch assignments
  • Special projects and/or task forces
  • Temporary role to gain specific experience
  • Short-term global assignments/working abroad
  • Coordinated role swaps/job rotation programs
  • Short-term assignments or covering for another individual
  • Volunteer or community service


  •  Observing role models and/or experts ―in action‖
  • 1:1 coaching and feedback from manager, peer or mentor
  • Job shadowing
  • Networking; social groups
  • Peer learning groups/coaching circles
  • Role-playing a situation (with manager, a peer, etc.)
  • Social media


  • Seminar or Conference
  • Classroom training or workshop
  • Business or technical courses
  • Reading
  • E-learning; mobile learning
  • Podcasts/Youtube
  • Webinars

Career development is an informal conversation, not tied to salary, voluntary, employee-owned and typically future based.  How one manages his or her career is as unique as a fingerprint.

Not everybody wants to climb the proverbial ladder. You most likely will encounter an employee or two who will want to move up in the company, but having a career conversation with that employee doesn’t guarantee  a promotion, even if the employee is qualified for it.  Companies won’t create a role for an employee just because the employee is ready for it.  Something must change in the organization to justify adding a higher level job.  Be honest with the employee.  Let the individual evaluate the other parts of the job and make an informed decision about what he or she wants to do.  Perhaps the employee likes his or her peers, the amount of vacation time in the bank, and the short commute to the office.   Those work values could outweigh a desire to move immediately to a higher role either internally or externally.  Or, the employee may want that promotion so badly that he or she is willing to take a chance and make a move.  

Some may want to take a lateral move to gain a skill that they are missing.  Others may take a lesser role that better fits their lifestyle.  Most people will want to stay in the job they are in, but enhance it in some way. Perhaps they would like to do more of the work that they find interesting or seek to tweak a work value, such as improved life balance or more collaborative work. They like their job, but what can they do to actually love their job?

It all starts by asking just a few simple, yet powerful questions.  Here are some to get you started:

  • What work are you passionate about, and are you doing that type of work now?
  • When was the last time you thought to yourself, I love my job?  What type of work were you doing?
  • Is the work you are doing now the work that you want to be doing?
  • What type of work don’t you enjoy?  What type of work do you find draining?
  • What is your long-term plan and will your current job help get you there?
  • What was happening on the best day in your career?
  • Where do you want to be a year from now?
  • What skills do you have that I’m not aware of?
  • What do you value at work?
  • What motivates you?
  • How are you using your network?

OK, what do you notice about these questions?  What is unique about them?  For starters, they are questions designed to look at the whole person and not just the “mask” people wear at work.  It’s a whole person that shows up to the office, with all the history and experience that makes them who they are.  They are more than just their job title. These questions speak directly to a person’s interests and work values, which are key engagement drivers.

Asking these questions will open the door to deep and satisfying career conversations. You may unearth skills and experiences you never knew your employee possessed, and enjoys using, that could prove quite valuable to your own deliverables and the deliverables of the team you lead.  In turn, you may also discover areas of work where your employee is completely burned out.  Know your team, know what work motivates them. Can you horse trade projects and work within your team that plays to their individual strengths?  Where can you reduce burnout and increase motivation?  You may find that where one employee dreads project plans, another employee will salivate just thinking of deadlines and RACI charts.  You’ll never know unless you ask.

These questions also give an employee permission to express to you that the job they want or are interested in exploring, may not be the job they are in.  If you want to truly engage in a career conversation, you have to accept that this is a possibility and not label the employee as a short-timer or disengaged.  If the individual is viewed as talent the organization would like to retain, isn’t it better to help facilitate an internal move than to lose the talent to the competition?

This doesn’t mean you have to live in limbo until your employee decides if and when to make the move.  You should do your part to help facilitate your employee’s career development.  Use your own network to link them to other people in the organization who may be looking for someone with your employee’s skills set.  Advocate for your employee whenever possible, with the complete expectation that the employee will remain fully engaged until another position is found.

After a reasonable amount of time passes and there are still no jobs for that person to move into, you may agree on a near-term end date, which will give the employee time to find opportunities externally and give you a chance to plan for the vacancy.  The hope for most organizations is to retain the talent, but if the employee is truly unhappy with the work they are doing, wouldn’t you want to know this?  Wouldn’t you want that employee happy in a role they really want and replace him or her with someone who is passionate about the work on your team?

Other ingredients that make for a rich career conversation include brand and reputation, which are frequently used interchangeably, but there are differences. Think about it in terms of what an employee does and how she does it.  Brand, the what, is helping the employee market the work she does and hopefully loves, and get it out there so she do more of it and gain exposure. Reputation, the how, is providing feedback to your employee with regard to his behavior.  If he is known for being brilliant at product management, but he doesn’t return calls, is late for meetings or simply has a bad attitude, it can derail his career.  Employees need to pay attention to these aspects of their performance and you need to help them manage their brand and reputation at work.

As you can see, you play a key role in helping facilitate the enhancement of your employee’s career, but you’re not the only one. As hard is this may be to hear, you don’t know everything. Encourage your employees to build their network and expand beyond you.  They should be selective about the people with whom they connect.  Who can help them get what they want and what can they give that person in return?

If you company’s individual development plans require employees to record mandatory career scenarios, which typically are job titles the employee supposedly wants to aspire to, you may want to make them optional.  Otherwise the people that are happy in the job they are in will feel pressure to write a job title down that they have no interest in obtaining.  The conversation become inauthentic and a waste of time.

Be careful not to own your employee’s career plan. If you leave a career conversation with more actions than your employee, something went wrong.  Career management is the responsibility of the employee. What we do for a living is a major part of our lives.  Why would any employee want to give the power of something so important to somebody else?  This is something you many need to remind them from time to time.

Jamie Graceffa is the author of Career Control, Love the Job You’re in or the One You Want and is also the director of learning and organizational development at Philips Healthcare. Jamie’s areas of expertise and specialization include job and career development, employee engagement, team transformation, and coaching. Contact Jamie at, through Facebook or @JamieGraceffa,

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