Professional development is for everyone (We’re looking at you)

June 20, 2022 - 16 min read

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The importance of professional development

5 benefits of professional development

How can someone improve their professional development?

5 critical components of an effective professional development plan

6 examples of professional development

Getting started with professional development

Whether you’ve been in your field for two years or 20, professional development is one of the best habits you can adopt. In fact, the continuous learning and endless curiosity that come with professional development can help you thrive in your career. 

You might be stuck in a fixed mindset if you think you know everything about your job or industry. This can keep you from reaching your full potential. In contrast, a growth mindset pushes you to develop new skills, which makes you more valuable to your team. Plus, it will keep you current as your industry and career path evolves.

Let’s take a look at the importance of professional development, how you can develop professionally, and some useful examples to help you get started.

What is professional development?

The definition of professional development is the act of doing any activity you can to get better at your job, outside of your normal day-to-day tasks. It’s similar to continuing education, but not exactly the same. Taking classes or reading the latest research can be professional development. So can volunteering for new projects in your current role.

It can also include on-the-job training or improving soft skills like becoming a better listener. Regardless of the method, committing to professional development puts you on a path toward growth and well-being at work.

The importance of professional development

Some jobs actually require professional development for employees. For example, teachers and other educators are required to know about the latest advancements in their field. That way, instructors are prevented from passing on outdated information.

Most states also require doctors and nurses to incorporate new medical knowledge into their treatments. This starts early with the training they receive as residents.

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Some industries don’t mandate professional development but move so quickly that it’s basically required anyway. Software engineering is a good example of this, with new approaches and libraries cropping up weekly.

No matter what industry you work in, high-quality professional development has huge advantages. It makes you a more valuable employee and helps you advance along your career path.

That said, professional development doesn’t just have to be a career move. It can be fun too. If you’re stuck in a rut, learning new skills can remind you why you chose your job in the first place.

5 benefits of professional development

Let’s unpack some of the benefits of career and professional development in more detail.

1. Expand the range of challenges you can handle

Some people have one method they use to solve every problem they encounter at work. But that can be a risky approach. Sooner or later, they’ll run into a problem that the approach can’t handle. The right professional development opportunity makes you more versatile. It adds high-quality tools to your toolbox so that you’re able to problem-solve with ease.

2. Renew your excitement for your job

Many people have been working the same job, or at least in the same industry, since they left school. That can lead to boredom, stress, and a dangerous lack of engagement. Through professional learning programs, you can learn new approaches that make you excited to come to work each day.

3. Become more attractive for promotions

If you take part in continuing professional education, you’ll show your manager that you care about performing well in your job. As a result, you’re likely to show up in their mind when they’re considering who to promote.

Suppose two candidates apply for an engineering management position. One thinks they know everything, and the other understands that there’s always more to learn. The hiring managers will likely pick the second candidate based on how they approach both work and management.

4. Stay on top of industry trends

Software is now part of practically every industry. And with the rapid pace of scientific development in the 21st century, everybody’s job is changing quickly. Taking time for professional development can do wonders to help you keep up.

5. Network with people in your field

When you commit to professional development, you come into contact with other people who are on a similar path to you. That expands your network, accelerates your professional growth, and encourages the cross-pollination of ideas. 

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How professional development benefits employers 

If you’re an employer, providing professional development opportunities for employees can pay dividends. Employees who take part in continuing education are more likely to be engaged with their work — and that’s good for business. Not to mention, employee retention rates are shown to increase when workers are engaged.

In today’s competitive job market, this is more important than ever — workers are still quitting in huge numbers. The good news? Professional development can help. In fact, according to one study, 94% of employees said they would stay with their current employer if they invested in their career development.

5 steps to an effective professional development plan

Now that you know why professional development matters, you need to know where to begin. Here’s your guide to creating the best professional development plan for your needs. 

1. Assess where you stand

Your first step is to take stock of what your current job duties are and what skill sets you use to carry them out. List as many tasks as you can think of. What are some areas where you feel you could improve? Why do you feel that way?

2. Decide on your goals

Next, figure out what success will look like in your professional development plan. When will you consider yourself to have measurably improved in one of your problem areas? What benefit do you hope to get from that improvement?

Try to create a specific goal with a measurable accomplishment threshold. “Get good at JavaScript” isn’t a useful goal. “Create a presentable website using original JavaScript code” is much better.

3. Identify resources

Determine what type of professional development programs or resources will get you to your goals. You could identify the leading professional development organization for your field. Or, you could see what professional development initiatives and partnerships are available to you already through your company.

4. Build a support system

Now it’s time to seek out some mentors who can support you and hold you accountable. You’re far more likely to achieve your goals if other people in your office and your field are backing you up. Like-minded colleagues and coworkers can also provide career advice along the way.

5. Revise your plan regularly

The plan you start with might not be the one that gets you across the finish line. At specific intervals, ask yourself if your plan is working for you. Do you feel closer to your goal? Are you retaining the new information you learn? If not, you may need to re-evaluate your goals or methods.

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Get the most out of professional development

Investing in professional development is only worth your time if you do it right. Here are four ways to maximize your learning experiences. 

1. Know what you want to accomplish

Before trying to develop professionally, you should be able to state exactly what you want to do and why you’re doing it. Your roadmap for career development and your reasons why you’re pursuing it will determine what materials you engage with and how.

2. Explore different kinds of training

You might be comfortable with developing your skills via self-directed learning or online training. But it’s also a good idea to try out group classes and one-on-one coaching if you have the opportunity. Getting out of your comfort zone is an excellent way to work on your professional and personal development

3. Pay attention and take notes

The more effort you apply to your professional development, the more you’ll learn. When you take notes, you listening more actively to class material. Plus, you can maximize the value of your training programs if you take notes that you can refer to later.

4. Build a learning community

Seek out people in professional development courses similar to yours. Forming groups can keep you accountable for meeting milestones. Peer discussions can help you understand concepts you might otherwise miss. And ultimately, professional development programs can be a great place to build your network.

Professional development by industry 

If you know what certifications and resources are available for your specific industry, it can help you set your professional development goals. Looking for industry organizations relevant to you can help you find these specific resources. That said, here are a few examples to get you started. 

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6 examples of professional development

Let’s take a look at six professional development examples to help inspire you on your own career development journey.

1. Volunteering for more projects

Stretch your comfort zone. Ask your colleagues to see if you can help with projects you aren’t normally involved with. Let’s say you write website copy but want to learn more about design. You can ask one of your company’s web designers to pair-work with you for an hour. You can contribute your own competencies while learning from them. 

2. Asking for feedback

One of the simplest methods of professional development is to ask people you work with to help you improve — not just your superiors, but your colleagues and any subordinates as well. Feedback is a fast, cost-effective way to stay on course toward your goals.

If you’re trying to develop as a manager, for example, you could regularly ask your team members, “What’s the biggest mistake I’m making right now?”

3. Take an online course

Plenty of institutions offer continuing education classes you can take from the comfort of your home. These online learning opportunities can help you expand your competencies and perform better in your current role. To get started, try checking the course catalogs at LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, Masterclass, and Udemy. 

4. Do research and present your findings

Research doesn’t have to be confined to academics and educators. Find something in your industry that you’re curious about, research it or test it, and then present your findings to your peers.

5. Read books

Good books are like cheat codes for professional development. If you find the right one at the right time, it’s amazing how much good it can do. For example, Fred Brooks’s “The Mythical Man-Month” was published in 1975, and it’s still widely read by software project managers. Here are a few other leadership books we love.

6. Get coached

In the end, there’s no substitute for person-to-person coaching. A business coach, for example, can help you create an effective plan to surmount work obstacles. BetterUp coaching works with your unique situation to help you reach your full potential while prioritizing your mental health.

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Getting started with professional development

To put it all together: professional development is about building your skills and getting better at your job. It’s about understanding that there’s more to knowing your job than simply doing it. If approached wisely, professional learning opportunities can pay dividends.

We created BetterUp to make those opportunities more accessible. Whether you’re looking for individual coaching or seeking to make development a fundamental part of your business, we’ve got a solution for you. Request a custom demo today.

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Published June 20, 2022

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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