Professional development is vital to your career for a few key reasons: increasing your marketability, nurturing your career, and developing a crystal-clear career path for yourself. Here are ten tips on how to do it:
It is #1 on this list for a reason – relationships are currency! Are you mindful of growing your network? How many new people have you met this month? How many existing relationships have you made stronger? Think both in person and online – LinkedIn groups and Twitter are both great for meeting future employers and contacts, and industry groups provide a network of peers that you can learn so much from.
2. Create a Professional Development Budget
You have to spend money to make money, right? Try setting aside funds specifically for networking – think coffee dates, ‘interesting person’ chats, informational interviews and professional association dues. If the money is already budgeted and accounted for then you can’t blame lack of cash for not getting out there. Your career is an investment, plain and simple. And don’t forget about the importance of investing in a professional wardrobe – buying just a few key staples allows you to mix and match for a whole week’s worth of outfits. This is a just the start to feeling capable and confident at work. You know what they say: dress for the job you want!
3. Read, Read, and Read Some More
Books, trade magazines, blogs, Twitter. Keeping up to date in your field is extremely beneficial for when you get caught in the elevator with a VP and they ask your opinion on the latest industry trend. Bookmark your favorite blogs, create a short list of business books to read, set reading goals: one business book a month and one business related magazine a month; two leadership books a quarter, one online article a week. Remember to be realistic so that you don’t get overwhelmed before you even start. Well-read people ask more intelligent questions; knowledge is power!
4. Try to Attend at Least One Training a Year
In-person and virtual trainings are both great ways to learn new career skills and add to your resume. Conferences can also prove extremely valuable; attending at least one a year allows you to absorb some great content and grow your network. Try to see if your organization will pay your way – these are often inspiring events that not only get you excited about your role and current work but makes you a more valuable member of the team having come back with new ideas and approaches. If they are not able to financially support, think about carving out extra funds from your Professional Development budget – people take notice when you are putting the effort into developing yourself.
5. Make Personal Development a Priority
Assess your strengths and weaknesses in order to help shape your professional development plan – what should you be focusing on? Have you read What Color is Your Parachute? How about StrengthsFinder?
6. Write a Resume from the Future
Create three new resumes that you would love to see for yourself; one for next year, one for two years from now, and one for five years from now. Then, write a plan on how to make that happen. These can change, but at least it is written down. Revisit these often. Have you set both short and long term goals for yourself? Are your goals measurable (is it easy to tell if you have met them or not?) Think about how the Professional Work Experience portion will say, as well as Education, Community Involvement, Certifications, Skills, and Interests? Think about what you really want, and don’t let your inner critic get in the way! Remember; a career path is where you would like to see yourself go – a career plan is how you are going to get there.
Get involved with organizations outside of work. These can turn into great leadership development opportunities. If you’re not sure where to start, ask someone you know who is involved in the community. (If you don’t know anyone, IndyHub is a great place to start). While the obvious benefit of becoming involved in philanthropic work is working towards a great mission, you also gain skills you may not otherwise obtain in your current job. For example, you could gain insight into how a Board of Directors operates, how a budget is created or how fundraisers are executed. Be open to opportunity!
8. How Do I Get Letters After My Name?
Determine what certifications are necessary to advance in your field. If this seems like something you would be interested in working towards, make a plan on how to obtain these (e.g., PHR or SPHR for Human Resources, APR for Public Relations, PE or FE for Engineering). Map out a study plan and a timeline for when you want to achieve this by. Find out if your organization will financially support you in any course prep work and registration fees.
9. Find a Mentor!
A mentor can be incredibly valuable as you navigate your career; not only can they act as third party sounding boards but they can share personal experiences that they have had getting to where they are. Setting up informational interviews to learn more about the area you are interested in are a great way to see if any connections come out of this.
10. Continuing Education
Have you thought about a Masters? How about additional coursework? Interested in higher education but not exactly sure what to study? Try out some classes to see what would be worth your time and investment, and most importantly, what you enjoy doing!