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

September 8, 2021 - 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

You don’t stop learning about an industry just because you start working in it.

Whether you’ve been in your field for two years or 20, thinking like a new student and having a growth mindset is one of the best habits you can adopt. That mindset will sharpen your skills, make you more valuable to your team, and help you stay current as your industry involves.

Professional development is anything you do to get better at your job, outside of performing 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 include on-the-job training as well as working towards improving your soft skills such as learning to be a better listener. Regardless of the method, committing to professional development puts you on a path toward growth and well-being at work.

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.

The importance of professional development

Some jobs outright require professional development for employees.

Teachers and other educators are required to know about the latest advancements in their field. It’s no good to have instructors passing on outdated information.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.


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, professional development has huge advantages. It makes you a more valuable employee and helps you advance along your career path.

But, professional development doesn’t just have to be a career move. It can be fun too. If you’re stuck in a rut, learning something new 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

You’ve likely heard the saying, “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

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, and they’ll likely have no way forward.

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, you can learn new approaches that make you excited to come to work each day.

For example, people used to have to copy documents entirely by hand. Imagine how excited one of those copyists might have been to spend his days using a printing press instead.

3. Become more attractive for promotions

Decision-makers prefer to promote people who they feel comfortable giving responsibility to.

Career development gives you marketable knowledge and skills. Even more importantly, it gives you the right attitude.


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

Using the same methods every day can get you stuck in a rut. So can seeing the same people every day.

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, motivates your professional growth, and encourages the cross-pollination of ideas.

How can someone improve their professional development?

Now you know what you have to gain from professional development. Next, let’s talk about how to get the most out of career and professional development programs.

As with all education, the golden rule is that you get out of it what you put in.

Let’s look at four ways that you can improve your professional development:

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.

If your answer is “my boss made me,” it’s time to reframe your approach. Even if your boss did make you, everybody can get something out of professional development.

Some better answers include “to improve my efficiency,” “to make sure I’m using the best possible practices,” or even “to get promoted.”

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

Resist the urge to default to whatever you’ve been most comfortable with until now. Try different mediums to see if something new might help you better retain information.

You might be comfortable with developing your skills via self-directed learning or online professional development courses. But how do you know you wouldn’t thrive in group classes or through one-on-one coaching?


3. Pay attention and take notes

Professional development rewards effort. The more work you apply to your studies, the more you find you’ll learn.

Taking notes isn’t just a way to create reference sheets for studying what you’ve learned. When you take notes, you’re listening more actively to the material, whether you’re online or in person.

Consider alternative note-taking styles, too. For example, if you’re in a one-on-one session, ask your coach if they’re comfortable with you recording the chat.

4. Build a learning community

We mentioned above that career development creates great opportunities for networking.

Although that’s great by itself, building a community also feeds back into your learning experience.

Seek out people in professional development courses similar to yours. Forming groups can keep you accountable for meeting milestones. Peer discussions can also help you understand concepts you might otherwise miss.

5 critical components of an effective professional development plan

So, how do you go about professional development? These five steps will help you get started.

1. Assess where you stand

Your first step is to take stock of what your current job duties are and what skills you use to carry them out. List as many tasks and skills as you can think of.

When you’re done, read both lists over with a critical eye. 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 will get you to your goals and what resources you can use to get there. If you can, identify the leading professional development organization for your field.

For example, if you’re a medical practitioner, you might seek guidance from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) can help guide professional development for educators who teach early childhood through high school.

4. Build a support system

By this point, you should have your resources in place. 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. Find people you can discuss your professional development with as you go along and who can help assess your progress.

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 the answer is “no” at any point, go back to step three and evaluate some new resources. If you’re still stuck, you might need to reassess your overall goals.

Don’t feel discouraged, though. Professional development is always ongoing, so you should expect your plan to evolve.

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. Volunteer for more projects

Don’t just take on more of the work you usually do. Your goal is to stretch your comfort zone. Ask around to see if you can help with projects you aren’t normally involved with.

As an example: 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 skills while observing what they do.

2. Ask 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 desk. These classes touch on every skill you might need for your work.

Check the course catalogs at LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, Masterclass, and Udemy several times a week. Make sure to choose courses your schedule will let you commit to.

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.

For example, a teacher might engage in professional development by learning new techniques for working with non-traditional learners. After presenting their findings, the teacher not only understands their work better, but they’ve also helped their colleagues grow.

Plus, the feedback they get from their presentation can help further their own development.

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.


Ask your colleagues, managers, and mentors to recommend books that have helped them.

6. Get coached

In the end, there’s no substitute for person-to-person coaching. Mentoring conversations can help you identify what’s holding you back. Your coach will help you create an effective plan to surmount every obstacle. It’s a bit like creating a mission statement for yourself instead of your whole company.

BetterUp coaching works with your unique situation to help you reach your full potential while prioritizing your mental health.

Getting started with professional development

To put it all together: professional development is about building your skills and making yourself 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.


Published September 8, 2021

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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