How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Professional Development

Professional development. Pretty boring topic, right?

Wrong.

Professional development is, in so many ways, the key to making more money, the key to finding a better job, and, most importantly here, the key to advancing in your career. So, yeah, if you're the type of person who thinks achievement and excellence are boring topics, then professional development probably isn't for you. Then again, if professional development isn't for you, then that probably means working for a living isn't for you either … which also means that earning a steady paycheck probably isn't your thing … which ultimately means that you're probably reading this blog post off your friend's iPad because you don't have a job and/or enough money and/or much desire to get one for yourself. You see how these things go hand-in-hand?

At Isom Global Strategies, we encourage our associates to seek out and take advantage of any and all professional development opportunities. And with good reason.

Getting the job is one thing, sure. But keeping the job is whole other ball of wax. It's still a tough job market out there, regardless of what the nightly news says. For instance, as of early August 2015, more than 90 million people in the US were out of the work force. What that means for you is this: the people who do have jobs are facing tough competition to maintain that employment. Just because you make a steady paycheck right now doesn’t mean you're entitled to one forever (and if you don't believe that, then go ask your boss). The key to keeping both your paycheck and your job –and securing a shot at advancement, too– is to get better at your job. Sharpen your skills. Broaden your knowledge base. And the only way to do either of those things is via professional development.

Simply put, professional development is the process by which you learn your chosen trade at a deeper and more thorough level. In the words of the IGS human resources department, professional development is sort of like a young professional’s "practice" session. In much the same way a baseball player takes batting practice in order to increase his hitting prowess, so too does a public relations professional attend seminars to learn how to reach his or her audience better. In much the same way an ice skater attends skating practice in order to train for the Olympics, so too does an accountant attend professional development sessions in order to learn the newest tax laws and loopholes. Remember all those afterschool soccer practices as a kid?  Turns out they have 'em for grownups, too – only now you have to wear a suit instead of a jersey, and heels instead of cleats (or wedges instead of cleats – whatevs). There's always plenty of professional development opportunities available – especially in a city the size of DC. Your best bet to finding the ones that suit you is to hook up with a professional organization within your chosen work discipline (for instance, the first stop for those of us in the public relations field is usually the National Capitol Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America – and in fact, I attended a seminar held by the local PRSA on behalf of IGS just this year!). They should have plenty of opportunities. Failing that, ask your boss – he or she will no doubt appreciate the effort on your part. I mean, who wouldn't want that kind of go get 'em type of employee on their payroll?

However, professional development efforts aren't simply limited to attending meetings. They can be –and often are– far more internal and organic efforts. For instance, you can pledge to improve your writing efforts by reading a book on effective written communication (William Zinsser's On Writing Well is a good place to start, btw – at IGS, we’re always looking for good writers who can think fast and write even faster!), or you can pledge to learn a new computer program by finding and reviewing online tutorials. The key here is to find a weakness in your current skill set, and then take steps to remedy that weakness. And while you're doing all this, remember that it never hurts to let your boss know how hard you're working; write these goals down, post them, get your supervisor to sign off on them – all while keeping track of your progress, of course. Ultimately, the benefits will be two-fold: you'll get positive attention from your superiors while also getting better at your job. Nothing wrong with either of those things, right?

Finally, when writing down your goals, make sure they are SMART goals – as in, make sure they are structured in such a way as to maximize benefit and limit liability. As such, the acronym SMART stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measureable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time specific

Assuming that you're an intern at a progressive, grass roots organization dedicated to education reform in DC, an example of the above would be pledging to attend one seminar on social justice each month for the next three months, then writing blog posts for your organization on each topic. By mapping out your goals in accordance with this type of plan, you're sure to achieve genuine, palpable, and measurable results.

Bottom line: employers appreciate employees who go the extra mile. This means you!  Here at IGS, employees are actually refunded the amount of money they spend on professional development courses and training (up to a certain dollar amount). And while that's a pretty good deal for us associates, it's also a win for IGS management. After all, if you want more of something, subsidizing it is always the way to go. By baking the concept of professional development into the standard employment contract here at IGS, supervisory staff is always sure to have people on hand who want to learn and want to get better. Because there's nothing boring –ever boring– about a vibrant, constantly-learning staff.

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