5 Tips to Professional Development & Career Advancement

life hacks

Professional development is critical to career advancements in the form of promotions, raises and new opportunities. A continuous quest to learn new skills and techniques is important, because it is through these new abilities that you will position yourself for offers of greater responsibilities and leadership tasks in the workplace. For example, since most advanced leadership positions come with profit and loss responsibility (if you’re in marketing), you would benefit greatly if you became familiar with financial forecasting and planning. Armed with some financial acumen, you may be able to manage an entire marketing campaign — not only in relation to leads and sales, but also in relation to the overall profitability of a project.

So, how does someone go about learning these new skills and developing professionally? Well, the default answer — and it’s usually a good one — is to visit your human resources officer and explore any professional development paths offered at your company. Certainly, this is a great place to look, but if access to this professional development knowledge were simple, everyone would be in charge — right? Additionally, what about smaller organizations in which HR departments are not as advanced or even available? Follow these suggestions for seeking out viable professional development opportunities and take matters into your own hands.

I. Business Networking Events

Before you rush out to sign up for all the big industry conferences and seminars, consider a look in your own backyard, as you will often find an array of networking and business development events. Local chamber of commerce functions, for instance, are great places to meet new contacts who can help expand your business horizons and knowledge base or provide prospective leads for your organization.

Special-interest venues, such as venture capital forums, provide opportunities to meet new people and foster new business knowledge and skills. These avenues are also far more convenient and may be more attractive to your employer than it would be to send you to the big out-of-town national workshop. If your organization has not suggested that you attend one of the bigger out-of-town deals, asking for a four-figure budget (registration, plane ticket, hotel, meals, etc.) may be met with some doubt, particularly if it seems like an excuse to party on the company’s dime rather than to build new relationships and business skills. Your organization may have a more flexible budget for the occasional luncheon and could be more receptive to you being away from the office for two hours than for two days.

Even if your employer will not front the bill for these events, they are affordable enough for an individual and can be well worth the investment. Of course, if some real professional development arises from these smaller local events, it may be easier to get the company to send you out to Las Vegas for a national session.

II. Hit the Books

Bookshelves are teeming with books and periodicals that can help your professional development. More often than not, you simply have to look to the New York Times’ best-seller list to find a handful of the most current business and professionally focused reading material to peruse. Another idea is to specifically identify an area you would like to work on and select a book that addresses that subject. Reading one book per month will greatly improve your knowledge and your professional skills. Many of these books are relatively easy reading, and don’t feel discouraged if some of the material is not immediately processing or if you are struggling to apply the new techniques at work. Situations will arise, weeks or months after reading the book, to trigger the knowledge.

It’s also wise to not force your new knowledge into work situations. In most cases, even though you are excited to apply the fruits of your reading, when the application is forced, you may take actions that you don’t fully understand, which is bad. Additionally, it may bother people, especially when they see you reading a book and a week later you are spewing quotes as if you are the new master of all. Finally, consider subscribing to a couple of special-interest trade magazines or journals that fit the bill — they often provide consistent reading and are a great source for professional development ideas.

III. Back to School
Going back to school to get your master’s degree is certainly not a bad idea, but it may not be the answer for many of us. To save some money and to remain employed, visit the local universities or community colleges in your area — many offer evening or weekend courses that cover many topics, from business management to web site development or check Online MBA Schools.

Additionally, many employers offer tuition reimbursement programs that can be used for the one-off class approach, rather than full graduate school. If your employer does not offer such a program, they may be open to reimbursing you for your expenses — even splitting it with your employer would be a good deal. Consider presenting the idea to your manager along with a business case on how you can use this new knowledge to take on a project at work. This will make the educational tract appear to be a potential boon for the company and not just for your individual advancement and professional development.

IV. Prepare for Time Sacrifices & Commitments

Regardless of the path you take to further your professional acumen, be prepared to commit a good portion of your free time to the cause. Finding success in business and in your professional life is similar to succeeding in a relationship, a sport or any other activity — it takes time and energy. Certainly, that sounds trite, but since your job likely preoccupies your day, you’re left with only evenings and weekends to spend on professional development. Additionally, you will find that most classes and seminars take place outside of normal business hours.

Before you get too discouraged about forever missing out on weekend partying, consider how you can blend some fun into your professional development. It might seem like a slight to your friends, but perhaps you can find a new set of golfing buddies with whom to hit the links. However, rather than your high school friends, keep an eye out for opportunities to play a round with people that you can learn something from regarding business or networking. And while you’re at work, make an effort to go to lunch with one of the executives rather than the typical social crew of peers.

V. Professional Prosperity

Honing your professional skills and abilities is not a task to be taken lightly. It will most likely come with big time commitment and some financial expense. But if you are serious about positioning yourself for greater and more lucrative opportunities in the workplace, it is critical to become the proverbial jack-of-all-trades. As your knowledge base expands, opportunities to run and manage upper-level projects should become more frequent and more successful.

Via Terence Channon @ AskMen.com

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