Fall is my favorite time of the year, for many reasons. One, in particular, involves heading back to school. As the youngest of ten kids, everything I had was a hand-me-down, with the exception of new school supplies. Crisp and clean white pages of a new notebook, never touched crayons exploding with color, a shiny set of pens and freshly sharpened pencils, a full bottle of glue with no messy residue around the tip yet, and a fun new school bag with which to carry it all around. Pristine supplies, the crisp fall air, and the sense of new possibilities cultivated a visceral response and general eagerness enticing me back to the pursuit of a formal education.

As adults, we don’t necessarily have the same right of passage as the start of a new school year. And most of us don’t have a structure or discipline for expanding our professional development, particularly as we become more seasoned pros. Yet that’s exactly what many of us need to provide a fresh lens to the work we do.

With the start of a new school year, I challenge you to build your own professional development plan to support your career growth, and maybe expand outside of it as well.

Back to school

Below are considerations for developing your learning plan.

Identify Knowledge Gaps. Examine the areas you may need to expand skills, learn a new one, or simply polish up an existing one. Speak with your manager, talk to those you admire in your profession, look at what skills job boards are looking for, and identify the gaps you need to fill.

As a PR professional, technology plays a key role in my ability to effectively and efficiently tell stories. Expanding tech skills for most of us is probably the best investment we can make in ourselves. As we get busy in our lives and jobs, it can be easy to put off learning something new. Meanwhile, technological advances keep moving at a rapid pace and we fall even further behind. Make the commitment now to build those skills.

Establish a Budget. Does your company offer training dollars you can incorporate into your education plan? What investment are you willing to make yourself? Look at the annual dollars you have to play with from all sources and build a plan that works for you. There are loads of free online training resources out there, so take advantage of those when and where you can. There is something available for everyone at every budget. In this day and age, there is no excuse for not continuing your professional development.

Research Resources. There are numerous resources online and off to expand our skill sets and advance our careers. September is Professional Development Month over at TheMuse.com, one of my favorite career sites. They offer great ideas and advice for those seeking to give themselves a competitive edge in their professional life.

Talk to colleagues and peers to find out what training resources they suggest. Check professional association websites for online courses, webinars, podcasts, or even networking events with a learning component. What industry conferences and events align to what you are trying to learn? There are so many training and education resources out there—you just have to look for them.

Here are a few I use to help get you started:

Mix It Up. Research shows that learning something completely outside of our current professional world can exercise the brain in entirely new ways, expand our creativity and productivity, and can simply help to make us happier in our current jobs.

Give it some thought–what are some things you’ve always wanted to learn? Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn a new language or to play a musical instrument, or maybe learn how to paint. As you build out your education plan, incorporate learning opportunities that have absolutely nothing to do with your job. The impact will be greater than you could have imagined, and you might even have some fun in the process.

Commit the Time. As with any good plan, committing to dates and deadlines helps to keep us accountable and on track with our goals. Be realistic with what you think you can manage, but also consider pushing yourself just a bit outside your comfort zone.

Acknowledge any work-related time frames you may need to align in your plan. If you know that promotion considerations occur at a certain time of year, prioritize your training needs and complete with plenty of time to prove your new skill to your boss. Or if a particular project opportunity is coming up, let your boss know you plan to complete a training course and would really like the opportunity to apply that new skill to the project.

Repeat. Establishing a professional development plan should be an annual activity for career advancement. Consider the ritual of kids going back to school as an opportune time to commit to your own education. And don’t forget to check in throughout the year to ensure you’re on track to meeting your goals and adjust where necessary.

So go get yourself some new digital crayons and start coloring.

How about you, do you have a professional development plan? What other resources would you recommend? Are there any tricks or tips you can share about ensuring a successful professional development plan?

Images: ©iStock.com/arinahabich, and ©iStock.com/KentWeakley

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Content Strategist, Messaging Pro, Storyteller


  1. Pingback: Top 7 Skills for Tomorrow’s Communications Pro | Blog | TARA JANTZEN

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