Professional development should be a basic component of your overall career progress. Sometimes, it may seem that there are not enough opportunities for professional development, or that professional development is just a distraction from ‘real’ work. However, engaging in these activities will help you become more efficient at work and attract more opportunities. Today, we’ll introduce the most effective ways for you to engage in professional development. By doing so, you will improve your skills, show better results at work, and become noticed in your company as well as to those in your industry, if you truly pursue these approaches.
What is Professional Development?
When individuals talk about professional development, sometimes, they may envision different aspects of it, especially if they come from different industries. Some might envision conference attendance and networking events. Others emphasize aspects of learning and gaining specific skills. For example, professional development online courses are popular because they are easy to access and they usually include a downloadable certificate, which can act as proof of the skills you have gained. Both networking and learning are part of the overall umbrella term of professional development. Just as the term states, professional development is an approach, method, or action that you take or implement to further yourself in terms of professional skills.
Below are ways for you to pursue professional development in a meaningful and results-driven way.
- Create a System that Identifies your Professional Development Needs
First, it is important that you create a system for professional development. It is easy to try to ‘force’ professional development without prior thought. However, trying to do so may leave you overwhelmed and unsure of where to focus your efforts. You might just be going to random events, attempting to disguise it as professional development. However, you are just throwing back a few cocktails with colleagues. Thus, professional development should be systematic.
In order to make it so, it is important to assess your professional needs. What areas of your job do you need to work on? Are you planning to transition to a different position or perhaps an entirely different job? What areas are you already strong in? When you answer these questions, it is easier to target professional development in a purposeful manner and make appropriate decisions on where to go or what to pursue.
For example, you can use a simple chart like the one below to list skills that you want to focus on:
|Strong Areas||Okay Areas||Areas that need improvement|
|· Project management
· Organisation skills
· Short-term and long-term planning
|· Report writing
· Industry knowledge
· Communicating with the team
|· Following up on clients
· Establishing business networks for useful resources.
You can get feedback for such a list from any meetings with your manager, colleagues, and clients, as well as from your own intuition and judgment. After you compile such a list, you can target the ‘okay areas’ or ‘areas that need improvement’. Which areas to choose to depend on which ones will give you the best results for your current position.
For example, industry knowledge, listed above, is quite an important area as staying abreast in your industry can really differentiate you from competitors. Even if your industry knowledge is a couple of years old, that may be enough to disadvantage you. So, perhaps you will target these instead.
However, if you have a serious lack of business networks, building these may truly help you in gaining the resources that you may need, and you know that having such networks will improve results right away, then perhaps you can concentrate on this.
It is important to note that building industry knowledge and building networks are qualitative distinct areas of needs and will require different professional development approaches. For the former, actively learning and taking courses is much more effective while actually networking and ‘getting out there’ is more important for the latter. Thus, creating a system to identify your most pertinent needs is vital.
- Free Online Opportunities and Resources
Now that you have decided your needs, you are in a great position to choose the type of professional development courses, training, or opportunities that will help you the most. The first option you can take is to search for free professional development opportunities online. Blogs and video streaming sites that cover the topics and areas that you want to develop are bountiful. You usually can learn something and apply it right away. Just search for the areas you would like to develop. Of course, this option works better when your goal is to improve technical or industry knowledge. However, these online resources also are great for more basic skills, like refining report writing or communication skills, which are both quite important for your success, especially if you are in a position where teamwork and management are important. For writers, Grammarly is a free resource to check grammatical errors and plagiarism.
- Paid Online Courses
The next step you can take is to find professional development courses. The courses are a step up from those that are merely free. The advantage of paid online courses is that they usually go into much more depth and you get a certain amount of support. For example, you might be able to communicate with course teachers, get some questions answered, or receive feedback for certain assignments. This level of support helps you target your needs more specifically and hone your skills.
These courses usually take the form of virtual classrooms and you work with other professionals as well as a field expert who facilitates the lessons. The live sessions are much better opportunities than the free ones as you can get questions answered for your specific contexts. The information you learn is immediately applicable because you will receive tailored information.
Short corporate courses online also are designed in a way to fit your time constraints. Sometimes, it is quite hard to take a day off from work just to attend a conference; you have to take the day off, then spend time traveling, and sometimes the conference might not be as useful as you had envisioned. However, with online courses and virtual classrooms, you can usually consult with the companies offering it so that your needs are met more specifically. Moreover, there is more choice available. Thus, online training can be extremely valuable.
- Use Social Networking Websites to Access Online Courses or Online Events
Social networking websites are a double-edged sword. On one hand, people do find themselves being sucked into the more ‘social’ aspect of following and liking posts, with few productive activities stemming from such actions. On the other hand, these websites sometimes are sources of valuable professional development opportunities.
Use social-networking websites to find industry communities and networks. Through this networking, you will have access to further professional development opportunities as well. For example, there are online workshops or events that are only available to certain online communities. These workshops target certain skills and may run regularly, depending on the industry.
- Find Live Events and Conferences
Live events and conferences will help you kill two birds with one stone. First, they help you develop healthy networking activities to expand your professional network. At the same time, events and conferences usually include professional development workshops that target specific skills. A two-day conference, for example, might have a few workshops and you have a choice as to which ones you might want to attend. Use live events and conferences to expand your network and fine-tune your skills. The people you meet will prove invaluable in the future as you further your career and the skills you learn will be ones that are most pertinent to your situation now as conferences tend to be very forward-looking.
- Industry Groups
Industry groups refer to the various institutions and associations you can join. Almost all industries and fields have some sort of professional association you can join, which offers many perks. First, almost all industry groups have some sort of conference for networking. Second, they usually offer discounted or free publications, sources from which you can learn. Thus, industry groups form the perfect blend of networking and self-education again, which will help your professional development. Industry groups also offer a variety of professional development courses online as well. Lastly, in the case where you are thinking about a career change, industry group websites offer message boards and websites where you can find job opportunities.
- Finding Personal Mentors
Sometimes, independently learning is not enough, especially if you want to truly refine a particular skill, one that may require constant feedback. Here, finding a mentor is best. While certain professional development online courses, mentioned above, do offer mentorship opportunities, sometimes a one-on-one mentorship truly helps. Of course, this may be the most expensive option, but it might be the most effective option, depending on your actual professional development needs. With a mentor, you can set a goal, create a plan, and measure together whether you are making improvements professionally. Moreover, the mental support from having a mentor is truly important, especially if you feel like you are stuck in a rut.
- Create Your Own Professional Development Opportunities
The above professional development opportunities are all created and lead by someone. And these people become true authorities in their little niche. You can do the same.
With the system you created above, instead of concentrating on the ‘okay areas’ or ‘areas that need improvement’, look at what you can contribute in your strongest areas. After, you yourself can use the social networking websites to host events or workshops, create both free or paid online learning material, and more. This too is a form of professional development, as you are teaching your skills and at the same time truly honing them. With the internet, getting even a small audience is possible. This approach is also a very ingenious way of networking as well as you build a following.
On your CV, you will be able to add these different aspects. Moreover, such actions show your company and other employees how proactive you are because your dedication to improving yourself in your position is apparent when you step in these leadership roles.
As you can see, professional development involves both networking and skills development. Do not neglect either of these, as they feed into each other in a virtuous cycle.
If your professional development is lacking, make sure to make concrete plans and schedules. For example, you may want to mark the most important conferences in your industry and attend them. You might also try to attend to a different area of need every month, trying to join an online seminar or take a professional development online course regularly. By being aware of your needs and being proactive in pursuing professional development opportunities, you can watch yourself improve in measurable ways, making an impact in your career, both in your company and in your industry.