Look back at your career and see if you can identify the moments when your career took a big leap forward. We help our clients achieve these moments by creating a career development plan. A good career development plan requires a grasp on what stage of career awareness you are in.

career development plan using four stages of competenceLet’s use a model to help us identify your stage. This is where I talk about the “Four Stages of Competence” with almost all of my clients. It is one of my favorite models. 🙂

My reasons for using this model to build the foundation for a career development plan include:

  • it’s easy for clients to understand
  • it applies to many career situations
  • it often makes us feel better
  • it puts context around the emotions we are experiencing in our current career

I use this model in the context of career change, but also in the context of personal or career development plan – learning about a limitation, limiting belief, liability, old assumptions, or an area for improvement and wanting to overcome it.

Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence

The first stage is Unconscious Incompetence – when we don’t know what we don’t know.

In career change work: This is often the case before starting a new position. There is excitement, maybe some fear, but generally we are happy because we are moving into something new.

In career development work: We aren’t aware of the limiting belief, liability, assumptions, or improvement area yet. We are operating as we always have, blissfully unaware that there is development work to be done.

Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence

The second stage, Conscious Incompetence, is a tough stage – when we are beginning to realize what we don’t know.

In career change work: This often happens when we get into the new position, a lot of new information is coming at us (drinking from the fire hose feeling) and we don’t know how to do many aspects of our job yet so we are slower at it. We are noticing our failings more, we are second guessing the move . . . it is just tough. We want to skip through this phase as fast as we can. Unfortunately, this is a necessary stage for us to experience a move forward.

In career development work: This is when we recognize the liability, limiting belief, assumption that has been holding us back. We have uncovered it and now understand its impact. We want to rush through this phase as fast as we can. Just like in career change work, we cannot rush through this phase and ‘fix it’. It is a painful part, but a necessary part to truly understand what is behind the liability, limiting belief, assumption, improvement area before we can take action on it.

Stage 3: Conscious Competence

The third stage is Conscious Competence – when we have learned how to do it, but it still takes concentration.

In career change work: This is the fun part. The learning slows down, our confidence is up, our ability to do our job in the way it needs to be done increases, etc. Life is good. Sure there is some learning left to be done, but that learning is like a ‘good challenge’ compared to the amount of necessary learning in the stage before. Our engagement level in the actual job is likely at the highest level.

In career development work: This is where we are taking two steps forward in our progress and one step back or one step forward and two steps back. It is where we get to try out or test new behaviors, new assumptions, or new beliefs. We are still conscious of these choices. We are not automatically making new choices, but we aren’t automatically reverting to our old way of being either.

Stage 4: Unconscious Competence

The fourth stage is Unconscious Competence – when the new learning is second nature.

In career change work: Interestingly, this is the stage where eventually many of us become disengaged in our current work. We seek out new challenges, whether increasing responsibilities in this position or seeking out new positions.

In career development work: Congratulations, the new belief structure or new behavior is happening automatically. The joy of human development is we now have the opportunity to celebrate this success and begin to uncover the next limiting belief, liability, area for improvement that we want to tackle next.

Your career development plan

When you understand which of these four stages you reside, you can begin your career development plan. Think of the steps you’ll need to get to the next stage of competence and make those steps the focal point of your plan.

This is a powerful model for career development but you can actually use it in other areas too. So look at your career AND life. Where do these stages fit in with your other parts of your life as well as your career and areas for development? Please share in the comment below!


career development plan, Your Career Development Plan Using the Four Stages of Competence

Amy Wolfgang

Amy Wolfgang is a career coach who founded Wolfgang Career Coaching and co-founded Coaching 4 Good. She brings over 15 years of corporate and coaching experience to help organizations boost employee engagement while simultaneously helping her clients excel in their careers. She is a certified PCM (Professional Career Manager) and has a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology from The University of Texas at Austin.

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career development plan, Your Career Development Plan Using the Four Stages of Competence

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