Jump to section
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 That way, instructors are prevented from passing on outdated information.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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
- If you’re a medical practitioner, you can 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.
- If you’re in the marketing industry, you can find professional development opportunities, certifications, and events via the American Marketing Association (AMA).
- If you’re a freelance writer or editor, you could take part in trainings and events through the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE).
If you work in the finance industry, you should definitely consider the Financial Management Association, which has tons of professional development resources.
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.
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.
Vice President of Alliance Solutions