Professional Career Development

The world has become a global, more competitive workplace. Part of keeping yourself on top of the job market means you will be required to commit yourself to some professional development. Whether you are wondering how to give yourself that edge to earn your first dream job or you are considering ways to earn a promotion in your current workplace, you have a multitude of options.

  • Professional development means capitalizing on an array of learning opportunities to further your personal and professional skills and job possibilities. This type of learning is an ongoing process that will differ between people, to meet their current career situation.
  • For some, professional enhancement is a personal decision to help them meet other career goals. For others, it is an occupational requirement.
  • Some of the fields that most strongly encourage professional development are education, health care, engineering, and law.

How a person manages his or her professional development is frequently dictated by the company or industry for which he or she works. If you have yet to enter the field of your choice, you may need to go to college to earn an undergraduate degree to meet basic standards. For those currently employed in their chosen professions, continuing education, often involving workshops, classes, or other forms of certification, could be required to ensure skills stay up to date.

Professional development is often advantageous to pursue while you are employed because some companies are willing to pay to further a worker’s education. Training and other educational activities can help increase a worker’s performance levels and lead to a reassignment of job duties if someone shows particular promise in a skill set. Some common training areas include communications, computer skills, ethics, and human relations. If your aspirations extend beyond your current situation, however, you may need to consider returning to college to earn an advanced degree.

No matter your circumstances, regularly pursuing professional development opportunities is worth the effort.

Consider a question posed by the International Association of Congress Centres (AIPC): “Has anyone noticed that it’s getting tougher to find well-rounded staff these days, particularly at a management level?” Sometimes, the AIPC noted, it’s not easy finding someone with the requisite skills to fill a job opening. Certainly, companies can train a person to fill a role, but that process does take time “and often the issue is as much about broadening the capabilities of people who already have knowledge and experience in one area so that they can similarly broaden their role.”

Your professional development is a big responsibility. “The good news,” an article by the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry stated, “is that this responsibility also brings increased control over one’s learning and career development, and the opportunity for a more stimulating and motivating work life.”

Creating a Professional Development Program

Depending on your circumstances, you may need to take charge of your own professional development, your employer may lay out a required course of training, or your job industry may set certain standards you will be required to follow. To grow in your professional career, you’ll need to continue learning. The following are some factors to consider.


Where do you envision yourself a few months or years from now? Are there any obstacles that could prevent you from getting there? If so, consider those issues carefully and whether any professional development could help you overcome those hurdles. Your employer may also be able to help you address these matters.

Core Skills

The business place is changing. Follow any steps you feel necessary to keep your core abilities, like communications, problem solving, and team building, up-to-date. Be inquisitive about whether there is new information you should be learning. Your abilities might be relevant now, but if there is a chance they could become outdated, you’ll need to start making future professional development plans.

Watch Trends

The best way to protect your distant future is “to stay active in short-term career planning,” Quintessential Careers has advised. As you continue to look at your short-term plans, you will better equip yourself to handle any changes that you may need to make in your long-term goals.

Consider Everything

Be fair in your assessments of yourself as you plan your career development. As the Applied Science Technologists and Technicians of British Columbia (ASTTBC)’s Career Planning and Job Search Strategies Web site noted, “Many times, we have worked and attained skills that we have forgotten about. Sometimes, we need help acknowledging skills and abilities that we’ve never given ourselves credit for.”

Employer-Led Professional Development

Studies have shown that the best employees are also some of the best trained. Employers want to know that they have made a good investment in their workforce and that you have the knowledge necessary to be of the most benefit to them.

Sometimes, however, the labor market is not filled with prospective employees who have all the skills an employer requires to fill certain positions. Professional development—beyond simply learning company policies and procedures—is becoming increasingly common to help you become an asset to your workplace.

Some companies take their employee training programs very seriously. Northwestern Mutual Financial Network has cultivated its program so carefully that the company earned a distinction in 2010 as one of Training magazine’s “Training Top 125.” Pency Byhardt, Northwestern Mutual’s vice president of field development said, “Targeted course work is absolutely paramount at Northwestern Mutual because it helps financial representatives build the knowledge and skills required to address a variety of client financial security needs.”

At General Mills, new employees work with managers to create individual professional development plans and also carve out time to attend formal programs at the General Mills Institute. Certain departments also have specific programs to further an employee’s knowledge with the company and skill building.

Training initiatives are also important at DaVita Inc., a provider of kidney care in the United States. The company was recognized six years in a row by Training magazine on the “Top 125” list and distinguished as the top provider of employee training by health care service providers. The company offers clinical and nonclinical employees the chance to attend developmental and educational training events recognized by some of the best training organizations in the country.


When employers map out mandatory professional development programs, they consider a variety of factors to be certain the training conducted will be of the most benefit to employees and, subsequently, the company. Quality instructors and course materials are important because employees can use them not only during but after training is finished. Successful companies also work hard to encourage a “culture of learning,” Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corporation has explained. Training is best if it’s an ongoing process and not limited only to new employees.

When a program is well assembled, it motivates employees to continue their professional growth and improvement. If a company has a required professional development program for employees, workers should look at the benefits such requirements can actually offer. Everyday tasks can be made easier by learning new techniques for completing jobs more efficiently, and training provides a chance for employees to become more involved in their work. By mastering the skills available through training, they may eventually see doors open to new job possibilities.

Choosing for Yourself

The success of your career is your responsibility. Whether you work for someone else or are self-employed, you know your career aspirations best. Much like other professional development ventures, you will find a variety of resources to help you cultivate the skills you need and value most.


If you are new to the idea of self-employment, several resources are available to help you understand how to start your own business and secure any training you may require. Decide whether you will need additional academic training and whether you should pursue a degree from a local or online educational institution.

For those who already have a degree, other types of professional development may be in order. For example, organizations, such as the U.S. Small Business Administration, offer free online courses to teach a future entrepreneur how to write a business plan, how to use technology to its fullest, and even how to start an online business.

Seek out other training if you see potential weaknesses in your business skills. Communications and leadership courses are just a few areas you might consider improving.

If You Work for Someone Else

While there may be times when you rely on your employer to help you with your professional development, you must also recognize the instances when you need to take charge of your own training. If you are interested in advancing within the company for which you currently work, consider speaking with your boss during an employee review or whenever another convenient opportunity arises. Have some specific talking points ready, and be prepared to discuss with your boss or manager any teams you want to work with or tasks you hope to assume.

Depending on how your employer is faring financially, you may still have to lead your own professional development. If your employer has cut back on the training budget, continue to independently search for courses, workshops, or other learning opportunities in which you are interested.

For Those Seeking Employment

At times, the job market can be quite challenging. Naturally, you need to ensure you have the skills that will make you competitive among job seekers. However, you’ll also need to see that you have given yourself other professional advantages. “The single best way to get a job in any market is through a personal connection. Connections come through the careful cultivation of relationships,” stated.

College graduates may find their experience and professional connections limited. Start by completing an internship to get your foot in the door.

Some Final Advice

The American Institute of Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA), a professional accounting organization, has created the SMART acronym for people planning their professional development. Keep your plans Specific. Make them Measurable. See that they are Attainable and Realistic. Finally, keep them Time bound, or set a deadline for your goals.

“Career planning is an ongoing process that evolves along with your work capabilities,” the AICPA has explained. “Taking charge means taking action, so start as soon as possible.”

Legally Required Professional Development

Depending on your chosen field, the professional development or continuing education you pursue may actually be dictated by law. Often, this is laid out by the state in which you live or practice.


Individuals must complete rigorous training and meet requirements of the state in which they wish to work to before they are allowed to work as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Before most states will allow a CPA to renew his or her license, the individual must complete a set number of hours of continuing professional education. Professional associations often sponsor seminars, study programs, and other forms of training to help fulfill these professional development requirements.


Some physicians choose to become certified by a specialty board. To maintain certification, each physician must go through a renewal process after a certain period to demonstrate that he or she has kept up with continuing education and meets quality standards for providing health care.

The Legal Field

Upon completion of law school, lawyers are still not free from a continual course of study. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 46 states and jurisdictions mandated that lawyers continue their professional development as of 2008. Certain states allow lawyers to continue their education via online courses, and some law schools and state and local bar associations provide courses to help lawyers meet their professional development obligations.


Every U.S. state and the District of Columbia require that public school teachers be licensed, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some teachers choose to obtain certificates to show that they possess knowledge beyond what is required for their licenses. Voluntary national certification may be completed through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Pursuing this type of professional development can offer benefits such as a higher salary and reimbursement for continuing education and certification fees.

Other Professional Development

Beyond fields such as these, other forms of professional development may be legally mandated where you work. Under law, employers must provide a safe and healthy workplace for their employees. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) helps ensure these laws are followed and provides training to help employers meet these standards.

Workers might also be obligated by the companies for which they work to participate in sexual harassment training. In certain instances, there are laws about how this training must take place. California became the first state to set legal requirements for proper sexual harassment training, “setting the standard not only for California but for the rest of the country as well,” ELT, Inc. noted. Training requirements vary by state, but Maine and Connecticut have also established laws for harassment training.

Keep an eye on your field for any other required training you must fulfill. If you serve as a notary public at your place of work, for instance, your state may have certain training standards you must meet. Through proper research and working to continually stay abreast of changes in your field, you can ensure you fulfill any legally required professional development.