Professional development takes your career to the next level!

The need for ongoing education has never been as important as it is now. Whether you're an established professional or just starting out, investing in yourself can lead to a rewarding and fulfilling career. 

In this article, we explore the importance and benefits of professional development and provide tips for continuous learning and growth. We'll cover how to approach professional development and set goals, and how to add professional development to your CV. Read on to find out how to take your career to the next level.

What is professional development?

Professional development is the continued learning and training taken to get ahead in your career. It's the courses you take, the resources you read, and the experiences you gain to enhance your current professional ability and advance your future career prospects.

Some professions require certain certificates and licences to advance in the field. Such industries include medicine, accounting, and law. Other professions require specific skill sets and experiences gained through alternative methods of learning.

Professional development is all about you and your commitment to actively evolving your professional knowledge, skills, and abilities so that you can remain competitive in the job market. 

There's often an expected level of dedication to professional development which is critical for your role and sector. It will incorporate a broad range of topics across different learning mechanisms, including specialised training, formal education, and advanced professional learning.

If you want to stay ahead of the competition, professional development can't be limited to a qualification or a set of experiences to land a job. It is an ongoing process to continually upgrade your skills, stay up-to-date with emerging industry trends, and boost your current performance and future career opportunities.  

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) 

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is the term used to describe the process of tracking the learning activities that enhance a professional's skills and proficiency throughout their career. Activities could include participating in training sessions, attending educational events, pursuing new qualifications, or learning new aspects of a job.

There are plenty of CPD resources and templates available to help you to structure your development plan. They're useful if you're feeling daunted or overwhelmed by the prospect of taking on a large chunk of learning, such as a course, or if you have a professional goal but are unsure of the steps needed to get there. 

What is the importance of professional development?

The importance of professional development is irrefutable. Here are a few reasons why professional development is key to your career success:

Career advancement

A solid professional development training plan is required if you want to climb the career ladder. You'll always gain valuable on-the-job experience at work; however, formal training can accelerate your career and help you to advance into new opportunities. 

This is particularly pertinent for leadership positions, where an individual may pursue an MBA or dedicated training courses focused on business acumen

Improved job performance

Professional development can lead to better job performance and increased job satisfaction. If you participate in a training programme or workshop, you'll gain abilities to immediately funnel into your job. Similarly, if you attend a talk which highlights new technologies, best practices, or industry trends which can be applied to your role, this can improve your performance instantly. 

By acquiring new skills and knowledge, you'll gain new-found confidence in your ability and be more motivated to take on new challenges and responsibilities.

Staying current

In many industries, technology and practices are constantly changing. Professional development can help you to stay current with these changes and maintain relevance in your field. Plus, staying ahead of the curve in your industry can help you to be better prepared for future changes and challenges, especially if you're in a rapidly advancing field like tech or digital. 

Just think, TikTok didn't exist at the start of 2016 and now it is a major channel in any brand's social media marketing strategy. It won't be long before another first mover comes along in a new sector.

Career competitiveness

By demonstrating a commitment to professional development, you can differentiate yourself in the job market and become more competitive in your career. You show that you're dedicated to your field and proactive in staying current. 

When you broaden your skill set and knowledge through continued learning, you increase your eligibility for new career opportunities too. This is applicable for career advancement and a career change

Personal growth

Professional development can also lead to personal growth and fulfilment. Expanding your knowledge and skills can help you to feel more satisfied and engaged in your work as you understand the world around you a little more clearly. 

The process of developing your arsenal of skills is also a challenging experience, which can push you out of your comfort zone. The result is extremely rewarding. 

Additionally, by committing to ongoing learning and development, you can cultivate a growth mindset, which encourages a positive attitude towards both personal and professional growth.

What are the career benefits of professional development?

There are a whole host of benefits to professional development. Here are the top five:

Differentiate yourself from others in the job market

There may be hundreds of other workers with the same job title, the same day-to-day responsibilities, and the same career vision as you. If you're proactively investing in your professional development, you can differentiate yourself from the other candidates - making you more competitive. But only if you know how to display your skills and achievements on your CV correctly!

Expand your job opportunities

Career paths are rarely linear. While typically they consist of an upward trajectory, there can be many sideways moves too. Investing in continued learning helps to unlock these sideways moves, which are increasingly common in rapidly evolving industries. However, the sideways move doesn't need to be as drastic as entering an erupting niche. For example, a copywriter might shift into a complementary field like SEO, PR, or content strategy.

Demonstrate your commitment to the industry

By participating in professional development activities, you show how dedicated you are to your field and industry. This can be very reassuring for prospective employers, especially if you're relatively new to the working world. 

Increase your earning potential

The more knowledgeable and skilled you are, the more valuable you are to a business. Continue to advance your career by investing in professional development, and you'll continue to advance your salary, too.

Build your professional network

Engaging in professional development activities can offer opportunities to meet and connect with others in your industry, which may result in valuable professional relationships and collaborations. You never know, you may hear about your next job opportunity through one of these contacts.

The 3 different types of professional development

As you can imagine, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to professional development. There's a range of activities and methodologies that contribute to the learning process, from formal training and qualifications to informal and experiential learning. 

Quality speaks volumes over quantity when it comes to professional development. You need to reflect on your ambitions and needs and then identify the opportunities within and outside of your workplace that will help to elevate your development. 

Having access to a variety of professional development opportunities, both formal and informal, is crucial in today's modern workplace. They can be broadly categorised into three types:

1. Structured: Active learning

Structured learning is an active form of learning. It involves participation and interactive elements like asking questions, solving problems, having group discussions, and practising skills. Structured professional development often occurs in the following formats:

  • Training courses

  • Workshops

  • Conferences

  • Seminars

  • Lectures

  • E-learning courses

Structured learning has a rigid approach and follows a curriculum. As a result, it often includes career-oriented exams and assessments - but be aware that preparation for exams falls under the category of self-directed learning, mentioned below. 

2. Reflective: Passive learning

Reflective learning is a passive form of learning. It's where the learner does not actively engage in the process, but rather receives and absorbs information through observation, reading, or listening. Examples of passive learning include:

  • Reading news articles, case studies and industry updates

  • Listening to podcasts and lectures

  • Watching presentations

3. Self-directed: Unstructured learning

Self-directed learning occurs when the learner takes responsibility for their own education and actively pursues their own learning goals and objectives. They decide what they want to learn, how they want to learn, and when they want to learn it, with minimal guidance from an instructor.

This unstructured approach allows the learner to explore topics or skills at their own pace and in their own way, without the constraints of a specific curriculum or schedule. Unstructured learning includes:

  • Self-directed study

  • Hands-on experimentation

  • Real-life experiences

How to set, track, and record your professional development goals

Setting professional development goals can help to guide your career in the right direction. Before you set them, you need to identify your areas of focus. The goals should be tied to your long and short-term professional aims.

Define your goals by making them as specific as possible, so that they're realistic and attainable. There are two methodology options for this. First is the SMART framework, which states that all goals must be:

  • Specific: Goals should be clear and concise, describing exactly what needs to be achieved

  • Measurable: Goals should be quantifiable, with clear and objective ways to track progress and determine if the goal has been achieved

  • Achievable: Goals should be realistic and achievable, given the resources and constraints available

  • Relevant: Goals should be meaningful and aligned with your overall career aims and priorities

  • Timed: Goals should have a defined deadline or timeline to help with prioritisation

The other is the OKR framework, which emphasises setting and tracking measurable, time-bound objectives and key results. It consists of two parts:

  • Objectives: These are specific and measurable goals that define what you want to achieve

  • Key Results: These are the metrics used to track progress towards the objectives

From here, create a roadmap of learning activities with a timeline that will help you to reach your goal. This is known as a CPD log or a personal development plan (PDP). As you complete your continued learning, keep a record against your plan to track your learning and development and to show how your skill set has developed over time.

The PDP will be personal to you and your development needs. It's your responsibility to own your development plan, although your line manager may be available for support and feedback if this activity is taking place at work. 

Regularly review your progress and adjust your plan as needed, to reflect the changes in your goals or priorities. And don't forget to celebrate your successes and reflect on what you've learned.

Example of a professional development goal

To inspire you, here's an example of a professional development goal using the SMART framework for improving presentation abilities:

  • Specific: Improve my presentation abilities by learning and applying effective techniques for engaging audiences and delivering clear, compelling messages

  • Measurable: Attend two workshops or training sessions on presentation skills and deliver a minimum of five presentations in the next six months, with positive feedback from at least 75% of the audience

  • Attainable: This goal is attainable as there are many workshops and training sessions available on presentation skills and the required number of presentations can be achieved through work or volunteer opportunities

  • Relevant: Improving my presentation abilities is relevant to my professional development as it can help me to better communicate my ideas, increase my confidence, and enhance my credibility with clients, colleagues, and peers

  • Time-bound: This goal will be achieved within the next six months, providing a clear deadline for action and allowing for regular review and adjustment of my progress

How to list professional development on your CV

Including a professional development section on your CV can help to summarise the activities and credentials that qualify you for a vacancy. You can add a “Professional Development” section above or below your main qualifications section, or you can add it to the qualifications section itself. 

Types of professional development you could include are:

  • Certificates

  • Research studies

  • Talks and presentations at conferences or events

  • Training programmes and courses

  • Becoming a member of a professional organisation

When listing the professional development experiences on your CV, use reverse chronological order, the same as you do for your employment history and qualifications sections. Include the year and title of your professional development experiences.

To ensure that your professional development experiences are easily digestible and highlight the most important takeaways, keep them concise. This helps prospective employers to quickly scan each point and gather essential information about your professional growth.

Compounding day-to-day work experience with dedicated professional development is a winning strategy for accelerating your career progression. Submit your CV for a free review to find out if your learning activities and enhanced skill set is written in the best possible way.

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