Albert Einstein said, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.” The same can be true for your career - once you stop participating in professional development, your career can stall
Your skills, personality characteristics, and proficiencies are what get you a job; enhancing them can only make you more successful. There are countless ways to improve yourself professionally – you can take classes, attend conferences, and volunteer. Remember, the expert at anything was once a beginner.
Since professional development opportunities are around every corner, keeping up with emerging technologies and your industry's best practices is easy. In addition to perfecting your hard skills – things you know how to do from experience and education, you can also hone your soft skills – characteristics you possess that make you good at what you do.
But what is professional development? Why is professional development important? In this article, you'll not only learn the definition of professional development but also how to develop professionally yourself.
Professional development definition
You may hear the terms continuing education and professional development used interchangeably. Some careers require a certain number of continuing education credits to maintain licenses. However, you can – and in fact, are encouraged to – take part in some independent professional development. Ultimately, anything you do to improve what you know or how you do your job is considered to be professional development, including learning new skills, expanding your professional network, and performing stretch assignments at work.
Why is professional development important?
There are a lot of people who get a job, go to work, keep their heads down, collect a paycheck, and go home. This is the best way to get stuck in a dead-end job. If you aspire to something greater, you should invest in yourself and your career.
While professional development makes you better at your job, it also impresses managers and benefits your company. As you become more aware of trends and best practices, you start to set yourself apart as an expert. When your company seeks someone for a new managerial position, they want someone with the right knowledge to step easily into the role.
Takeaway: The main purpose of professional development is to be at the front of the line for a promotion.
Professional development isn't just taking classes
Sure, there are a metric ton of courses you can take on every subject imaginable. They provide detailed and up-to-date information that will help to make you better at your job. However, taking courses is not the only way to improve yourself professionally.
Some examples of professional development include:
Completing formal degree programs
Acquiring certifications or other credentials
Attending workshops or conferences
Presenting at workshops or conferences
Performing specialized research
Serving on a board, committee, or task force
Organizing company events
Building developmental relationships
Taking on special assignments - a trial-by-fire type learning
The benefits of professional development
Professional development creates a perfect win-win scenario.
On the one hand, companies are becoming more aware of the importance of promoting professional development for staff. Employee turnover is very costly and open positions are money pits. As such, many companies invest in their staff to increase retention and improve efficiency.
Conversely, as an employee, increasing your knowledge and abilities can improve your job satisfaction, productivity, and morale. You also become more competitive in the job market.
Additional benefits of professional development include:
- Increased earning potential: The more you know, the more companies are willing to pay for you to exercise that knowledge to their benefit
- Improved hireability: When you demonstrate to a company (either a potential employer or the one you already work for) that you're willing to go above and beyond to enhance what you know about the job, they are more likely to want you on staff
- Expanded network: Participating in workshops, attending conferences, or presenting at seminars gives you access to professionals in your field that you wouldn't have if you sat at your desk and simply did your job every day; by growing your professional network, you can access increased visibility, equal exchange of ideas, new mentors, and the latest business trends
- Availability of future career moves: You may find that your passion changes as your career progresses; professional development activities could help you to make that bold move into a new career a little easier.
Knowledge: Of course, the bare bones, main component of any professional development activity is that you come away with more information than you went in with. Improved knowledge in and of itself is worth whatever coursework you finish or conference you attend.
How can I get started with professional development?
At this point, you should be thinking, “All of this sounds great! How do I maximize my professional development?” You'll be happy to know that you can do so in five easy steps.
1. Create some goals
Start with a big goal and then create smaller goals that guide you towards the big one. This is called having a career plan and should be designed with short- and long-term strategies for managing your career.
Remember the acronym SMART. SMART goals are:
All this means is that you're not being too vague with what you want to do. By creating a list, you'll be more likely to stick to it. Also, having smaller goals that lead up to the larger goal will keep you on track. You'll be able to easily adjust course if something goes sideways on you.
2. Attend training programs
If your company offers training programs, you should take advantage of as many of them as possible. It will demonstrate to senior leaders that you're serious about career development. Plus, they're usually free.
Outside of training programs offered by your company, you can also find your own. Not only can you brush up on industry-specific knowledge, but you can also start working on moving into a leadership position by improving your relationship building, innovation, decision-making, conflict resolution, and critical thinking skills - and so much more!
3. Find a mentor
You've probably heard that the best way to become successful is to follow the habits of successful people. This is where mentorship can help. A great mentor will help you to achieve measurable goals at work, but they should also provide advice and guidance to support your career growth. Having a mentor can also open doors to new opportunities.
If you can find the right mentor, you'll have someone who will hold you accountable for your career development goals. They are there to offer feedback and sometimes even a shoulder to cry on.
4. Go above and beyond at work
If you get the opportunity to perform a duty outside of your normal job description, take it. You may feel like you've jumped into the deep end of a swimming pool with no idea how to swim, but persevering through the challenge is a great way to improve yourself professionally.
By broadening your experience and performing multiple tasks, you'll become more attractive to leaders for higher roles. They like having people in leadership positions who take initiative to do more.
5. Get a certification or license
There is no better way to prove you're committed to your own career than getting a certification or credential outside of a degree program. Read job descriptions to find out what certifications are desired. You can also do an internet search for certifications relating to your job title.
If you want to be able to demand more money or earn a promotion to a higher role, the best way to do that is through professional development. When you apply for a new position, the hiring manager will want to see how your career has progressed. Be sure to include professional development activities on your resume!
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