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

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 your 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.

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

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.

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