Everything you need to know about the stages of career development. Career development refers to those personal improvements which one undertakes to achieve a personal career plan.

“Career Development is an on-going process that occurs over the life span and includes home, school and community experience”. – Pietrofesa and Splete.

Career development can be analysed based on the career stages. There are five career development stages through which most of us have gone through or will go through. These stages include- exploration, establishment, and mid-career, late career and decline.

In this article we will discuss about the various stages in career development. They are:- 1. Exploration 2. Establishment 3. Mid-Career 4. Late Career 5. Decline.


Also learn about the stages of modern career development:- 1. Assessment 2. Investigation 3. Preparation 4. Commitment 5. Retention 6. Transition.

Additionally, learn about the steps in establishing a career development system.

Stages of Career Development in HRM: 6 Stages

Stages in Career Development – 5 Main Stages: Exploration, Establishment, Mid-Career, Late Career and Decline

Career development refers to those personal improvements which one undertakes to achieve a personal career plan. Before we discuss about career development, it will be quite in the fitness of things to first understand about the following terms which will be used while discussing about career development.

According to Keith Davis, a career is all the jobs that are held during ones working life.


Career path – A career path is the sequential pattern of jobs that form a career.

Career planning – Career planning is the process by which one selects career goals and the path to these goals.

Career goals – Career goals are the future positions one strives as a part of career.

Career management – According to French and Bell, career management is the process of design­ing and implementing goals, plans and strategies to enable the organisation to satisfy employee needs while allowing individuals to achieve their career goals.


Perceptions are changing-fast. The way people used to views careers decades ago stands changed. The cut-throat competition, economic slowdown, globalisation and so on have led to the phenomena of downsizing, mergers, takeovers, mergers and consolidations, dual-career couples and outsourcing, all of which are responsible for the change of perception of people about careers.

Today, in countries like India, most people unlike in the past are not confined to one or a few organisations for their upward movement. They may rather move anywhere to reinvent themselves. They may not only change their organisation but also, if need be, even the trade industry or even their profession. Today, people assure their employers that they will give their best to the organisation but, in return, expect a fast-track career.

Super and Hall have pointed out the following five stages in career development:

Stage # 1. Exploration:

The exploratory stage is the period of transition from college to work, that is, the period immediately prior to employment. It is usually the period of one’s early 20 s and ends by mid-20 s. It is a stage of self-exploration and making preliminary choices.

Stage # 2. Establishment:


This career stage begins when one starts seeking for work. It includes getting one’s first job. Hence, during this stage, one is likely to commit mistakes; one has also the opportunities to learn from such mistakes and may also assume greater responsibilities. He/ she accepts job challenges and develops competence in a speculating area. He/she develops creativity and rotates into a new area after three-five years.

Stage # 3. Mid-Career:

During this stage, the performance may increase or decrease or may remain constant. While some employees may reach their goals at the early stage and may achieve greater heights, some may be able just to maintain their performance. While the former may be called ‘climbers’, the later ones are not very ambitious though competent otherwise. During this stage, an employee tries to update himself/herself technically and develops skills in coach­ing others. He/she may rotate into a new job requiring new skills.

Stage # 4. Late Career:

This stage is usually a pleasant one because during this stage, the employee neither tries to learn new things nor tries to improve his/her performance over that of previous years. He/she takes advantage of and depends on his/her reputation and enjoys playing the role of an elderly statesperson. He/she may shift from a power role to one of consultation. He/she starts identifying and developing successors and may also start activities outside the organisation.

Stage # 5. Decline:

Since it is the final stage of one’s career, it ends in the retirement of the employee after putting up decades of service full of continuous achievements and success stories. As such, it is viewed as a hard stage.

Stages of Career Development  Classified by Decenzo and Robbins (2008)

Decenzo and Robbins (2008) have classified career up to the age of 75 years as follows:

1. Exploration:


A career stage that usually ends in the mid-twenties as one makes the transition from school/college to work-

i. It has least relevance to organizations as it occurs prior to employment.

ii. People develop expectations about their careers which are mostly unrealistic.


iii. Successful exploration involves trying a lot of potential fields.

iv. In this stage attitudes toward work and dominant social relationship patterns are formed.

2. Establishment:

A career stage in which a person finds his/her first job-

i. This period includes accepting the first job, being accepted by the colleagues, learning the job and gaining first experience of success or failure in the real world.


ii. This stage starts with uncertainties and anxieties.

iii. This period is dominated by two problems viz., finding a niche and making one’s mark. Finding a niche, that is, finding the right job may take time for many.

iv. This stage is characterized by making mistakes, learning from those mistakes, and assuming increased responsibilities.

v. This stage also takes a lot of time and energy but brings in a sense of growth expectation or anticipation.

3. Mid-Career:

It is a career stage shown by continuous improvement in performance, levelling off in performance or beginning deterioration of performance-

i. Many people do not experience career problems until they reach the mid-career stage.


ii. Being continuously productive after reaching this stage is difficult for some people. However, continued growth and high performance are not the only successful outcomes at this stage. Maintenance is another outcome. Those employees who maintain their status quo without further advancement cannot be called failures, they are plateaued.

iii. Plateaued mid-career employees can be highly productive, though some of them may not be assertive or ambitious they are technically competent. They are happy to contribute to the organization’s development and they can be managed easily.

iv. For some, mid-career is marked by loss of both interest and productivity at work. That is, their work begins to deteriorate. These employees are given less conspicuous jobs. Some may be demoted or even discharged. In certain cases some may be reenergized by shifting them to different positions. The shift may boost their morale and productivity.

4. Late Career Stage:

A career stage where the employees experience a pleasant time and enjoy by resting on their laurels. Late-career individuals do not bother to outdo their previous performance. Their value mostly lies in their judgement built over the years through varied experiences.

Unfortunately the employees who have stagnated or deteriorated in the earlier stage (mid-career stage) realize that they cannot make any impact as they expected earlier. They may even fear for their jobs. They may look for retirement.

5. Decline (Late Stage):

This is the stage at the end of one’s career, usually marked by retirement-


i. It is a difficult stage to experience for any one, particularly for those who experienced successes in the earlier stages. The successful may find it difficult to come out of the lime-light. However, for the unsuccessful people, retirement could be pleasant as they can leave behind all the frustrations experienced earlier. For plateaued people, it is easy to switch over to other activities.

ii. Whether one had a successful or unsuccessful career, adjustment to retirement is a difficult process. It is a challenging task. Nevertheless, those who are physically fit and willing to take up jobs after retirement look at retirement a chance to do different activities.

iii. Some people look for different avenues, paid or voluntary. However, the decision depends on one’s financial security.

iv. Retirees with adequate funds are likely to engage in activities which they like, but those who are financially insecure have to seek some gainful employment to supplement their pension/retirement income.

Stages of Career Development  Steps in Establishing a Career Development System

Career development programmes are not of recent idea.

There are four steps in establishing a career development system. They are- (i) needs — defining the present system, (ii) vision — determining new directions and possibilities, (iii) action plan — deciding on practical first steps, and (iv) results — maintaining the change.

Step 1 – Needs:


This step involves in the conducting a needs assessment as a training programme.

Step 2 –  Vision:

The needs of the career system must be linked with the interventions. An ideal career development system known as the vision links the needs with the interventions.

Step 3 – Action Plan:

An action plan should be formulated in order to achieve the vision. The support of the top management should be obtained in this process.

Step 4 – Results:

Career development programme should be integrated with the organisation on-going employee training and management development programmes. The programme should be evaluated from time to time in order to revise the programme.

Career development is essential to implement a career plan. Career development consists of personal improvements undertaken by the individual employee, training, development and educational programmes provided by the organisation and various institutes.

The most important aspect of career development is that every employee must accept his/her responsibility for development. Various career development actions prove useful if an employee is committed to career development.

Stages of Career Development – 6 Main Stages of Modern Career Development: Assessment, Investigation, Preparation, Commitment, Retention and Transition

“Career Development is an on-going process that occurs over the life span and includes home, school and community experience”. – Pietrofesa and Splete.


Career Development is a total constellation of economic, sociological, psychological, educational, physical and chance factors that combine to shape one’s career. – Reardon, Lenz, San Jose and Peterson.

Career Development is a self-development over the life span through the integration of the rules, settings and events of a personal life. – Gysbers and Moore.

From the analytical study of the above definitions, we may conclude that career development is a process wherein an organization provides a supportive environment in terms of input which the employee uses to develop competencies (knowledge, skill, attitude, behaviour and value) for realizing his full potential in consonance with the organizational mission and objectives.

The six stages of modern career development are:

1. Assessment


2. Investigation

3. Preparation

4. Commitment

5. Retention

6. Transition.

Learning the characteristics of each stage will empower you to navigate through each stage easily and with more confidence.

Stage # 1. Assessment:

In the Assessment Stage, you are getting ready for your life’s work. This stage is characterized by unawareness, in that you are not sure what your values, strengths, and weaknesses are. You start to feel as though you want to know more about yourself and make a conscious effort to get in touch with who you really are.

The key characteristics of this stage are taking assessment instruments and working with a career counsellor or career coach.

Stage # 2. Investigation:

In the Investigation Stage, you are researching what work exists in the world. This stage is characterized by feelings of confusion, in that you are not sure what career options exist for you. You may feel overwhelmed with all of the jobs and opportunities that exist as you begin the process of researching the modern world of work.

But if you approach this stage with a positive frame of mind, you will find that you will learn about many possibilities you may have never considered. The key characteristics of this stage are researching the world of work and conducting informational interviews with people in your chosen field.

Stage # 3. Preparation:

In the Preparation Stage, you are still getting ready to do your life’s work. This stage is characterized by feelings of excitement, as you think of how wonderful it will be to perform meaningful work. However, there is still much work to be done, and to be successful, you have to prepare. This stage is characterized by gaining knowledge and experience and setting goals and adopting a success- oriented mind-set

Stage # 4. Commitment:

In the Commitment Stage, you will feel confident that you have figured out what you are meant to do. Sometimes people have known all along what they were meant to do but could not commit to the process of making it happen, for whatever reason. At this stage, more than ever, you must focus your energy and keep your eye on the target.

The key characteristics of this stage are conducting a job search and negotiating and accepting a job offer.

Stage # 5. Retention:

In the Retention Stage, you will feel comfortable in your career field, as you will now have figured out how things work in your industry. You will want to remain committed to your career by continually updating your skill set and staying current with industry standards. This stage is characterized by providing first-class customer-service skills and building a professional network.

Stage # 6. Transition:

The Transition Stage is characterized by feelings of discomfort in that you are unsure of what you will be doing next (and/or if you will be happy). In this stage, you will learn to make conscious changes in your career direction.

Stages of Career Development – Used by Authors Edgar Schein and Daniel Levinson

As individuals accumulate work experiences, their maturation can be considered within a biological model of growth and decay. Progression from a beginning point through growth and decline phases to a termination point is typically a natural occurrence in one’s work-life.

Based on this phenomenon, super has suggested five stages, also known as career development cycle or simply as career cycle, through which individuals go. These stages are- (i) exploration stage, (ii) establishment stage, (iii) mid-career stage, (iv) late career stage, and (v) decline stage.

These career development stages have also been used by other authors on career management, such as Edgar Schein (1978), Daniel Levinson (1978), etc. In each stage, an individual’s work performance differs.

Each career development stage are as follows:

1. Exploration Stage:

Exploration stage is a career development stage that usually ends in one’s mid- twenties as one makes a transition from formal education to work. In early adulthood stage, as an individual, one makes certain critical decisions regarding one’s career.

The decisions regarding career choices are influenced by a number of factors, the major ones are as follows- (i) interest and specialization of parents, (ii) influence of parents, relatives, teachers, and friends, (iii) financial resources of the family, (iv) social influences, (v) media influences — newspapers, magazines, TV, films, etc., and (vi) career counsellors.

In the exploration stage, a person forms his attitudes towards work (doing homework, meeting work deadlines, taking or avoiding shortcuts, attendance, etc.) and dominant social relationship patterns (easy-going, domineering, indifferent, likable, etc.). At this stage, the person develops certain perceptions about the nature of work and work environment.

Many of these perceptions, however, may not be relevant from the organization’s point of view as these occur before joining the organization.

2. Establishment Stage:

Establishment stage of career development is the period in which one begins to search for work and gets one’s first appointment. Thus, the individual passes through recruiting process, acceptance of a job, and orientation into the chosen organization at this stage. During the early socialization into an organization, the individual develops a sense of likely future within that organization.

In many cases, an individual’s first job with an organization may not be with the organization from which he retires. Thorough career exploration helps make this part of establishment an easy step. Another problem at this stage is characterized by making mistakes, learning from those mistakes, and assuming increasing responsibilities.

However, an individual at this stage has yet to reach his peak productivity, and is rarely given work assignments that carry great power or high status. That is why, it is called as ‘going uphill’. The career takes a lot of energy and time. There is often sense of growth, expectation, or anticipation.

The establishment stage ends when the individual has made his mark in the organization. At this stage, he is considered as seasoned veteran and is responsible for his own mistakes.

3. Mid-Career Stage:

Mid-career stage is marked by a continuous improvement in performance, levelling off in performance, or the beginning of deterioration of performance depending on the nature of the individual and the organization. Many people do not face their first severe career dilemma until they reach the mid-career stage.

Though the challenge of remaining productive at work after an individual becomes seasoned is a major challenge at this stage, the pattern ceases to be as clear as it was for exploration and establishment stages.

As a result, some individuals (high flying type) reach their early goals and go on to even greater heights; for others (bed-rock type), maintenance of performance may be a possible outcome; and in some cases (maladjusted type), there may be beginning of decline in performance even before taking it to possible height.

4. Late Career Stage:

Late career stage is a phase in which individuals are no longer learning about their jobs, nor it is expected that they should be trying to outdo levels of performance from previous years. For those who continue to grow through the mid-career stage, the late career stage is usually a pleasant time when an individual is allowed the luxury to relax a bit and enjoy playing the part of the elder statesperson.

Though individuals at late career stage are not expected to outdo their levels of performance from previous years, they are valuable to the organization as it can rely heavily on their judgement, built up over many years through varied experiences; they can teach others based on the knowledge they have gained.

On the other hand, those who have stagnated or started declining at the mid-career stage, experience the reality that they will not have an ever-lasting impact or change the world as thought earlier. They also begin to realize that they have little scope of mobility even at the lateral level. As a result, they gradually cease interest in their jobs and shift it to other avenues like family affairs, social affairs, or so on.

5. Decline Stage:

Decline stage is the last phase of career development in which an individual thinks of retiring from the job. Preparation for retirement may involve a psychological withdrawal from the organization much before the physical separation occurs. At this stage, a reduced role with less responsibility may be assigned; personal and work relationships may be adjusted according to their value to an individual and the amount of effort the individual is willing to expend on maintaining them.

Decline stage of career development is difficult for everyone but, probably, is hardest for those who are high performers and have achieved continued successes at earlier stages. These individuals step out of the limelight and relinquish a major component of their identity. For those whose performance has started declining at earlier stages feel lesser pinch as they see retirement as an opportunity to overcome frustration that has generated due to declining performance.

Various career development stages and their time duration should be used simply for points of reference. There cannot be generalization. It implies that different individuals may have different time duration at each stage, depending on their capability and motivation to work. Highly capable and motivated individuals remain highly productive for better part of their work-life as compared to less capable and less motivated individuals.

Similarly, work situation also affects this phenomenon. Thus, career unrest situation affects individual effectiveness. Career unrest stems from life unrest, career self-unrest (dissatisfaction with one’s personal effectiveness in one’s chosen career), career content unrest (dissatisfaction with the work content of the chosen career), or job unrest (dissatisfaction with the work environment).

Career unrest diminishes an individual’s ability to make creative contribution and affects his productivity. This has very vital implication for human resource development. Therefore, this aspect should be taken into account while going through career planning and development.

Stages of Career Development4 Distinct Stages: Exploration, Establishment, Maintenance and Late Career

What one wants from his/her career varies widely according to the stages of career development. What was impor­tant in an early stage may not be important at a later one. Four distinct career development stages are—exploration, establishment/advancement, maintenance, and late career. Each stage represents different career needs and interests of the individual.

Stage # 1. Exploration:

The exploration stage is actually a stage of investigation. This is a trial stage and begins with an individual’s exploration of career-related matters. The stage usually ends when he/she attains the age of 25 or so with a commitment on the part of the individual to a particular occupation. Until he makes a decision to settle down, he may try diverse jobs in a number of organizations.

Unfortunately, many organizations, at this trial and exploration stage, observe a high level of turnover among new employees. Employees in this stage need opportunities for self-exploration. The attrition rate may be reduced in this stage by providing a variety of opportunities and tasks for their career growth.

Stage # 2. Establishment:

The establishment or advancement stage generally occurs when an individual crosses the age of 25. The stage continues for about 20 years, the individual makes his or her career choices, and is concerned with his/her achievement, performance, and advancement. The individual is motivated to succeed in the organization. Thus, this stage is marked by high employee productivity and career growth. He/she is not in any dilemma about the occupation chosen.

During this stage, an individual desires challenging opportunities in his job, where he/she could use some of his/her special competencies. The employee strives for creativity and innovation through new job assignments. Employees also need a certain degree of autonomy in this stage. They basically work towards succeeding and achieving their goals.

Mid-Career Crisis Sub-Stage:

This sub-stage occurs between the mid-thirties and mid-forties. At this stage, people often make a major reassessment of their growth, progress, and development in relation to their career ambitions and goals they had originally set for themselves.

Stage # 3. Maintenance:

The maintenance stage, occurs roughly between the ages of 45 and 65.This stage is characterized by a continuation of established patterns of work behaviour. The person ceases to establish a place for him or her in the organization. Rather, they just seek to maintain their position.

This stage is viewed as a mid-career plateau, in which little new ground is broken. In this stage, the individual may need some technical updation in his or her field. The organization should continue to encourage employees at this stage to develop new job skills. Otherwise, early stagnation and decline may occur.

Stage # 4. Late Career:

In this stage, the employees are on the verge of separation from the organization. Such employees are inclined to plan for retirement and seek to develop a sense of identity outside the work environment.

Stages in Career Development – Establishment, Advancement, Maintenance and Withdrawal

It is a formal approach put in place by an organization to help the employee achieve his career objective. In other words, it includes all those activities taken up by the organization which prepare the employee to meet its current and future needs. It is a win-win approach in that while the employee becomes better equipped to meet his goals, he adds value to the organization in terms of superior performance, commitment and motivation. At each career stage, his career needs differ. The career development interventions need to be integrated with his specific career development needs.

1. Establishment Stage:

During the establishment stage, more newcomers join the firm with high expectation about their job and the company. This usually happens when they get good news about the company through business magazine, company communication, peers and so on. When high expectations are not fulfilled, they may suffer from reality shock resulting in reduced motivation, sliding performance and employee turnover. Therefore, companies have to provide objective information about the job and the organization.

For example, Telecom sends CD containing information about the company, its work environment and HR policies to the new recruits.

a. Job Pathing:

It means the planned movement of an employee through a carefully developed sequence of job assignment to develop his skill, knowledge and competence. Employees move through selected jobs of increasing challenge and responsibility. Training and simulated project helps the company to assess the abilities and strength of employees. The movement of employee to different jobs in the sequence should be linked to his successful performance and not with time frame.

b. Performance Feedback and Coaching:

Performance feedback enables an employee to know where he/she stands at his/her work. The company can arrange remedial training or coaching in case of poor or under performance. Thus performance feedback is key to career development decisions of the company.

2. Advancement Stage:

This is meant for employees under 40 years of age who have demonstrated their high competence in one area and who aspire for top leadership positions. These high performing and high potential employees are sent to multiple locations across the business to acquire a wide range of skills and knowledge. For example, General Electricals, Procter and Gamble, GE and the like have put in various leadership development programmes to groom mid-40 age group.

a. Mentoring:

Employees are made to share a close relationship with a superior called mentor who tenders career advice, guides and sponsors the employee. The mentor ensures that hard work and skill advancement of his protege gets noticed and suitably rewarded. J.P. Morgan, Infosys, Ashok Leyland, Modi Xerox and so on are using this approach.

b. Assessment Centres:

They conduct a battery of psychological tests, in-basket exercise, simulations, interviews and group discussions. Over a period of 4 to 5 days each centre is facilitated by an observer. At the end of workshop, participants are given feedback on their performance at various tests and career development advice.

c. Dual Career Accommodation:

It is the stage where individual employees are likely to settle down in marriage life. Marriage, child birth, child care, spousal relocation, etc., interfere with career development of employees. Firms put in place initiatives like flexi time, telecommuting, part time jobs, crèches, seat relocation, etc., relocation to address such issues.

3. Maintenance Stage:

Career maintenance interventions are targeted at those who have reached the highest possible positions in their career.

a. Development Training:

The services of employees who have reached the highest positions in their career can be used to train and develop the less experienced employees. Firms have in-house trainer’s training programme for such employees. This programme sharpens training and coaching skill of the participants. Ashok Leyland, Ramco System, BPL, ITL and so on use different management games, and workshops for such trainers.

b. Mentorship:

Mid-career managers are assigned the role of mentors for guiding the younger employees in the establishment and for the advancement of their career.

c. Job Rotation:

It is an important developmental tool for mid-career employees who are responsive to job features like autonomy, responsibility, skill variety and the job enrichment characteristics.

Therefore, they need to be moved to new jobs carrying more challenges and opportunities for learning and contribution. This way, organizations can address the loss of motivation of the employee. The middle level managers who have completed certain years of service are given cross functional and overseas assignment by companies like TATA, GE, Van Heusen.

4. Withdrawal Stage:

a. Consultative Role:

Employees in their later career stage can be assigned this role. It is different from mentoring role in that the former deals with complex organizational problem or project while the latter focuses on guiding and helping younger managers in their career. It provides a smooth transition for pre-retirement managers to support staff position. Eicher, Good Earth Ltd., etc., retains retiree managers in consultative role.

b. Phased Retirement:

Employees nearing retirement age may be given reduced work load, reduced number of working hours, part time, job-sharing assignment, flexi work schedule etc. This reduces the reality shock for employees nearing retirement and allows them to withdraw emotionally from the organization.

c. Retirement Counselling:

Some organizations provide counselling, retirement workshop, providing material, post retirement financial planning, alternative skill development training programme and so on to retiring employees. For example, BHEL and HSBC Banks offer pre-retirement counselling to employees on the verge of retirement.

Stages of Career Development – 5 Main Stages Experienced by all Individuals: Exploration, Establishment, Mid Career, Late Career and Decline

Career development can be analysed based on the career stages. There are five career development stages through which most of us have gone through or will go through. These stages include- exploration, establishment, and mid-career, late career and decline.

Stage # 1. Exploration:

Exploration is a career development stage that usually ends in ones’ mid-twenties as one makes the transition from college to work. This stage has the least relevance from the organisational point of view as it happens prior to employment

Stage # 2. Establishment:

It is a career development stage in which one begins to search for work. It includes getting one’s first job. It takes many years to search for a right job. The problems of this stage include making mistakes, learning from those mistakes and assuming increased responsibilities.

Stage # 3. Mid-Career Stage:

This career development stage is marked by a continuous improvement in performance, levelling off in performance or the start of deterioration in performance. Remaining productive at work is a major challenge of career at this stage. Some employees reach their goals at the early stage and go on to even higher heights. These employees are “climbers.” Maintenance is another possible outcome. These employees are plateaued, not failed. These employees are technically competent and no longer as ambitious as the climbers.

Stage # 4. Late Career:

A career development stage in which one is no longer learning about his or her job. He is also not expected to trying to do out do his/her levels of performance from previous years. This stage is usually a pleasant stage. The employee enjoys playing a part of the elder statesperson. The employee can rest on his laurels and gain the respect of younger employees.

Stage # 5. Decline Stage:

This is the final stage of one’s career development , usually marked by retirement. It is the hard stage for those who have achievements in the earlier stages. After decades of continuous success and achievements, one has to retire from the service.