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The Essential Guide to Level Up Your Professional Development

If the thought of creating a professional development plan to level up your professional skills makes you cringe, you’re probably overcomplicating the process.

An effective plan doesn’t have to contain tons of goals. You’re more likely to get good results if you keep things simple.

So stop slaving away for low pay. Don’t suffer through a job you dislike. The key to success is planning.

Discover how to put together the right professional development plan for you—without struggling.

What Is Professional Development?

There is no universal definition. Look at professional development as a step-by-step process for your continuing education—both in and out of the workplace.

It includes knowledge, resources, and actionable tactics. Anything that helps you grow in your career.

That may consist of:

  • Online/in-person courses
  • Listening to podcasts
  • Meet-up groups
  • Seminars/conferences
  • Workshops
  • Networking
  • Reading books
  • Creating your own content

But before you dive in, you need to define both your short-term and long-term goals. Decide which skills you need to achieve those goals. And devise a reasonable timeline to complete each one.

As time goes by, you’re going to revisit your plan periodically. And revise it as you progress.

Why You Should Take Personal Development Seriously

You probably know people who do the minimum amount required to get by, and no more. Many of them stay stuck in the same dead-end jobs for years.

Crafting a plan for your professional growth enables you to gain control of your future. Evaluate where you are now, and where you’re not.

You’ll try things that you never dreamed you would. And realize where you truly want to be.

And all along, you’ll be keeping up with the latest technologies and best practices in your industry.

As a result, you’ll be a more valuable resource to your company. And more marketable in the workforce.

Benefits of Professional Development

Benefits of Professional Development

Following a purposeful plan for success offers many advantages.

  • Earn more money
  • Expand your knowledge
  • Grow your self-confidence
  • Discover what you care about
  • Work with like-minded people
  • Manage time more effectively
  • Reduce stress
  • Learn from experts
  • Increase your energy
  • Develop a growth mindset
  • Leadership development

People engaged with their growth dig deeper to find solutions. They develop competency. Decision-making becomes easier.

Once you can see a clear benefit, you’ll seek out relationships that are worthwhile. And make the most of ones that have a positive effect on your life.

How To Boost Your Professional Development

It’s natural to focus on how your plan is going to benefit you alone.

But you must think about how it will benefit your employer. And look for the intersection between the two.

Many people use the SMART goal strategy. Goals should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

Your success depends on finding the balance between goals that are too easy and too difficult.

Don’t choose goals that require making drastic changes to your lifestyle. Take baby steps.

In the beginning, aim for small wins with attainable benchmarks, such as getting more organized.

Additionally, utilizing a free time clock can assist in tracking progress and managing time effectively, ensuring that you stay on track with your goals and achieve success step by step.

Examples of Professional Development

Examples of Professional Development

You may be able to reach some of your biggest career goals without spending a dime.

Your employer might cover the costs of an online course for a specific skill. Even pay for your college degree.

Some companies, such as Starbucks, Target, and T-Mobile, have tuition reimbursement programs for frontline workers, including:

  • Drivers
  • Cashiers
  • Hourly employees

Other companies, like Home Depot and Taco Bell, offer limited tuition or assistance.

Read the fine print. Understand your obligations. Some programs may pay upfront. Others require that you go to specific institutions, or work for them for a specified period of time.

Not interested in higher education? Microlearning—bite-sized learning on the go—will fine-tune your professional development in a flash.

That’s because it’s laser-focused with measurable goals. Engages you with audio, video, and games.

Combine your microlearning with:

  • Joining an organization related to your chosen career
  • Networking with experts and peers at conferences
  • Getting hands-on experience at workshops
  • Shadowing a colleague for a day or more
  • Volunteering to help out in another department

Here’s a pro tip. Demonstrate (without being asked) that you know how to solve a problem.

Say that you’re interested in web design. Find someone who needs help creating a website. Offer to learn more on the topic to assist.

Write up your results and post them on social media. Create a video and upload it to YouTube.

Earn Advanced Certifications

A certification is a credential. Proof that you possess a necessary skill for a specific job.

Certifications differ from licenses that tradespeople, such as plumbers and electricians, must earn.

Many certifications are offered in specialized sub-fields. Figure out which certification program best fits your specific goals.

Align your certifications with your passions. Consider certificates that build upon the previous ones you’ve earned or teach a new skill. Get the most up-to-date training available.

Don’t forget to find out how long the certification lasts. Some need to be renewed.

About Professional Development Programs

About Professional Development Programs

Areas of study

IT certifications open many doors.

Google Digital Garage offers some free online courses. Its Fundamentals of Digital Marketing course includes a certificate.

Take a free course in machine learning on the Coursera platform taught by its co-founder, Stanford professor Andrew Ng.

Not a techie?

A Project Management Professional (PMP) certification is ideal for many industries.

  • Healthcare
  • Publishing
  • Information services
  • Professional services
  • Construction
  • Finance
  • Insurance

Similarly, human resources (HR) certifications are highly valuable to any company.

If you’re pursuing a career in sales, marketing, or customer service, Salesforce offers multiple certifications based on your role.

The structure of professional development programs

People learn things in different ways.

Some prefer a traditional course with reading and other assignments. Others are more inspired to finish a task when they have an audience.

A hands-on workshop offers an intensive educational experience in a short amount of time. Gives attendees a chance to talk face-to-face with those who share common interests.

Don’t limit yourself. Keep experimenting with different learning structures.

How long does it take?

Professional development is a lifelong journey.

Many people design their plans around attaining a specific number of instructional hours. Perhaps attend a few training sessions a week for up to 48 weeks.

A good rule of thumb is to identify what you want to be doing in a year, then 5, 10, 15—and so on. Set short-term goals between each stage.

Leave wiggle room in your timeline for unexpected events.

The truth is, most people overestimate what they can do in a year. And underestimate what they can do in 20 or 30 years.

What about online?

Take an online course that offers learning opportunities in a virtual classroom you can put to use right away in the workplace.

ELearning may be quick and convenient but choose your courses carefully. They vary greatly on quality, credentials, and price.

Make sure the eLearning course has more than straight lectures. How much interaction is a teacher going to have with a student?

Find professional development courses where you’re going to have a mix of reading, watching short videos, and online simulations or exercises.

Before you sign up, sample any content available. Read reviews.

Seek out providers willing to share data about outcomes. If they’re not, look elsewhere.

Some Additional Tips for Professional Development

Some Additional Tips for Professional Development

Here are some additional tips for your professional development plan.

1. Take stock of past decisions

Evaluate what you did in the past and why you did it. People usually make decisions based on their emotions.

You can avoid making a poor decision by playing devil’s advocate.

Take the contrarian viewpoint. Divide a sheet of paper into two columns, pros and cons.

Over the course of a few days, put down every thought that occurs to you in the appropriate column. Estimate their respective weights. And make your choice.

2. Practice self-awareness

Being self-aware involves looking at yourself as honestly as possible. Being curious about who you are and what you want to experience.

Don’t be afraid to ask loved ones how they see you. Avoid getting defensive.

Journaling will help to crystallize what’s driving your feelings. Jot down what triggers your positive and negative emotions.

If you can understand why something makes you miserable, it’s easier to figure out what to do about it.

3. Adopt a learning mindset

A professional development opportunity is not a chore. It’s a chance to learn.

Set aside a certain amount of time each day to engage in learning. Break down large projects into tiny tasks. Complete your most demanding task first thing in the morning.

Give your mindset a lift with a ‘done’ list. Each week, revisit your accomplishments from the previous week. Congratulate yourself on a job well done.

4. Put pen to paper

If you think of writing as drudgery, give freewriting a try.

Set a timer for 15 minutes, and start scribbling on a piece of paper (yes, by hand).

Write about anything and everything that crosses your mind. Keep your hand moving until the timer goes off. Don’t be self-critical, and don’t edit yourself.

Regular freewriting does more than improve your communication skills. It unleashes your creativity, helps you loosen up, and avoid striving for perfectionism.

So let your pent-up words flow. There is no end goal.

5. Share your knowledge

Share your knowledge

Did you know that the best way to learn something is by teaching it to someone else?

You don’t have to know a lot more than your students do. In fact, you may be a better teacher if you’re just a few steps ahead of them.

That’s because some experts suffer from what’s known as “the curse of knowledge”. They know so much about their topic that it’s difficult to get in the shoes of a beginner.

You can teach about any small skill that you have by sharing it in the context of your own experiences.

6. Don’t take peer relationships for granted

Developing friends at work will help you perform at a higher level.

Find ways to connect with people who have similar interests. Employer-sponsored events and social media outlets are good places to start.

Take walks together. People tend to relax and open up during a walk. Find out their passions, and you’ll understand what motivates them.

Don’t forget to turn off your phone. And limit your group to two or three people. Any more than that is distracting.

7. Keep your nose in a book

The more you read, the better equipped you’ll be to tackle any challenge.

When you read, you have to remember things. Every new memory forges new pathways in your brain.

Explore topics seemingly unrelated to your career, such as history and art. Stay in the loop about global events and scientific breakthroughs.

Take joy in reading. Savor the words. Did something catch you off guard? Read it again and think about it.

Stimulate your imagination with stories. Storytelling is a valuable skill for many career paths.

8. Seek out mentors

You’re going to need a trusted advisor to give you support and encouragement.

Choose a mentor who is a good teacher, possesses some of the expertise and leadership skills you desire and is successful in your field.

Prepare an elevator pitch that explains to your proposed facilitator why you’d like him or her to guide you on your journey. Keep in mind that mentoring is a big responsibility.

In addition to the workplace, you can find mentors through professional associations, nonprofits, or local businesses.

9. Encourage feedback

Feedback is all around you. Pay attention to the words people use, their tone of voice, and the silences they allow.

Cultivate honest feedback with active listening. It’s one of the most underrated skills in the workforce.

Ask people genuine questions based on your goals, and listen closely to their answers. Better listening builds better relationships.

Good relationships can have big payoffs. Internal referrals are the top source of hires.

An Easy Way To Ignite Your Professional Development

An Easy Way To Ignite Your Professional Development

We’ve given you a simple way to start your plan. Align a career development goal with your personality.

Make a list of your personal strengths. Maybe you’re good at coming up with clever ideas. Or have a good sense of humor.

Leverage your uniqueness. You’ll stand out to employers.

And be first in line for raises and promotions.

Don’t wait. Launch your professional development plan today!

Patricia Saya is a Smart Blogger Certified Content Marketer and AWAI trained Copywriter who writes well-researched SEO content and copy. A verified Case Study Specialist, she helps businesses grow with distinctive customer stories.  Connect with her on LinkedIn or visit her website at