MANY people have a one-dimensional idea of career development. To them, it simply means promotion — ever onward and upward. If this is your idea of career development, you are going to miss some important opportunities.

So step back a bit before you attempt to step forward. There is more than one angle to career development and you need to be clear about what they are and what they offer.

Project work: If you haven’t done any before, this is a way of developing your career.

Job expansion: Another form of career development is to add things on to your existing responsibilities.

Sideways movement: This involves stepping into another field of interest, perhaps one that is related to your present one. For example, you switch from drug discovery to clinical trials.

Downward movement: This might seem like a negative move. But think again. If a career is coming to a close — and they all do — this can be a very useful and appealing option.

Outward movement: For very experienced people, this might be the only way to get the personal and career growth they seek.

What you need to do

Whichever way you decide to go in developing your career, you need a clear goal above all else. Then you need to do a careful analysis of the skills you need to achieve that goal. You also need good timing.

One of our contacts in Singapore wanted to move into clinical research from drug discovery after a few years in the pharmaceutical industry. She did it by age 30. If she left it much later, there was a risk that she would become typecast or over-priced and unable to make the move.

You also need good sources of advice and information. You do that by networking well, so that you always have someone to confer with when the need arises — and, just as important, when it doesn’t.

Networking is a two-way street. People with an extensive network get to hear of opportunities that might otherwise stay hidden. So include recruitment consultants in your network.

The earlier you start planning for a successful career, the more likely it is that you will achieve your aim. You won’t get to the top unless you first identify what it takes to get there and get yourself into the sort of positions that allow you to start building the necessary skills.

Whether you plan to be a top specialist or a top strategist, you are likely to need similar qualities. These include:

* Leadership skills and a practised ability to get the best out of different people;

* Communication skills, in particular the ability to associate with people from other disciplines and cultures and, above all, the ability to listen and to assimilate data;

* Sound knowledge of business and commercial drivers that provide the motivation and energy to meet your organisation’s goals;

* Finance skills, at the very least, an ability to read and understand a balance sheet, a profit and loss account and an operating statement; and

* Determination, allied with sound judgment — it’s just as important to know when to drop something as it is to know when to plough on with it.

And if you are a technology specialist pursuing a career alongside different specialists, it will pay to start with higher qualifications. A PhD will give you a better chance of developing a career path that eventually converges with that of your competitors.

Achieve your aspirations

Some people are content with where they are and do not want another promotion.

What they are interested in is personal development rather than career development. In their view, ambition should not be compulsory.

For such people, the opportunity to learn something new, perhaps in the form of support for some form of advanced learning, has greater value.

But if you are one of the truly ambitious ones, you can still achieve your career aspirations.

All you need is clear focus, a clear career goal, the qualities needed to support your ambition, an effective personal network and determination. What are you waiting for?