What Is Professional Development? We Unpack the Essentials

UPDATED: October 27, 2023
PUBLISHED: October 19, 2023
Young light haired Latina business woman developing as a professional and looking toward her future

Have you found yourself at a career crossroads? Maybe you feel stuck at your job or unsatisfied with your advancement. You’re not alone. For millions, degrees and experience aren’t enough to build lasting fulfillment and growth. To move from simply “getting by” to reaching your full potential, you may want to ask yourself: What is professional development? And how do I pursue embracing the best opportunities out there?

Before getting there, let’s unpack the essentials of what skill training really is. Then, we’ll look at the benefits along with examples of how to achieve your biggest goals.

What is professional development?

Professional development is an investment in yourself and your career. It refers to proactive measures you take to acquire new skills, knowledge and competency while increasing your value as an employee or entrepreneur.

Rooted in the belief that skill acquisition doesn’t end after formal education, job training bridges the gap between academic knowledge and practical, on-the-job requirements. It encompasses a broad spectrum of activities including online courses, mentorships and even top personal development books to assist you on your journey.

This commitment to personal growth within a profession may be specific to your current field. For instance, if you are a marketing manager or engineer, you may take a course to better harness the power of artificial intelligence. But it can also offer traction for a career change, such as when a solopreneur takes on the soft skills required for presentations or sales. The opportunities are limitless.

What does continuous professional development mean? 

Technology addresses former challenges while creating new demands. What you excelled at yesterday can become ineffective in tomorrow’s job marketplace. Learning new skills is paramount to success. Continual learning is no longer an added effort but required to remain relevant in nearly any field.

Why is professional development important?

By developing as a professional, you take personal responsibility for your career while demonstrating your commitment to a growth mindset. Furthermore, the knowledge you gain provides the strength and confidence you need to meet emerging challenges throughout your organization and beyond. Colleagues, clients and employers alike see that you don’t just react to change. You proactively engage with and use it for mutual growth and success.

What are the personal benefits of developing as a professional?

Amid the high-stakes world of commercial investments, funding challenges and corporate mergers, we often forget that we, as employees, are a major commitment. Unlike capital investments in machinery or a plot of land, we never depreciate. Professional development provides the opportunity to increase your value in the marketplace.

As an individual, you will become more skilled, innovative and adaptable to change. You will reap the benefits of greater career satisfaction and the broadening of your opportunities.

Some personal benefits of developing as a professional include:

  1. Enhanced skill sets: Acquire new skills and refine existing ones to meet ever-changing market demands.
  2. Career advancement: Increase your opportunities for promotions, transitions or entrepreneurial opportunities.
  3. Network expansion: Build professional connections with peers, industry stakeholders and clients.
  4. Increased marketability: Stand out in a competitive job market with a diverse and updated portfolio.
  5. Adaptability: Effectively manage unexpected changes such as industry shifts and technological advancements with new skills.
  6. Boosted confidence: Gain the assurance you need to tackle complex challenges, take on a leadership role or begin your new career.

Professional development examples

The benefits you experience from continued learning can be transformative for you and your livelihood. Nonetheless, getting started on your own journey is surprisingly simple. Consider these examples of professional development. Choose just two or three to tackle at first. Then, as you grow and become stronger, revisit this list to take on more.

1. Leadership training

Leadership skills are fundamental to career growth. Even if you are not in a leadership position, the strategies and tactics of greater self-awareness, communication and a growth mindset will benefit you. Attend any leadership workshop your company offers or take advantage of top professional development courses offered online.

2. Technical skills upgrade

Whether you code software, are a customer service representative or design digital graphics, the technical landscape has likely changed since you attended college. Universities, community colleges and online programs can teach you how to use the latest industry-specific tools to remain at the cutting edge.

3. Personal development coursework

Personal development enriches your life as an individual. But the soft skills you learn related to communication, teamwork and conflict resolution apply equally to your professional development and career advancement. Choose from among the best personal development courses to enhance your prospects.

4. Networking

Has your company ever invited you to attend an industry conference hosted by one of many globally recognized speakers? Or perhaps you’ve been invited to join a professional organization such as a chamber of commerce. Don’t be shy! Take advantage of these opportunities including industry-related webinars. You will gain knowledge while fostering new connections and allies in your field.

5. Mentorship

Apprenticeship has served as a foundation for accumulated knowledge, craft and commerce across millennia. The legacy of mentorship has built civilizations. Engage with experienced professionals either inside or outside your workplace for guidance and wisdom. Likewise, offer your own mentorship to help others with their professional development.

6. Cross-disciplinary training

Colleagues take vacations. They retire or move to a new company. Become the person who can fill in that role during their absence. Cross-disciplinary training not only makes you a go-to person on the job, but it also helps you advance with a broader end-to-end understanding of tasks and skills required to complete the mission.

7. Cultural competency

Embrace diversity through diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training. Research culturally diverse global markets or learn a new language. If your company decides to book a DEI speaker to promote creativity and expand market reach, attend and take notes. In each case, you will find new and fulfilling ways to broaden your mind and supercharge your career.

There are many ways to keep developing as a professional. When considering your next areas of professional development, remember to choose the opportunities that make the most sense for you and your goals, and you’ll be on the right track. 

Photo by NDAB Creativity/Shutterstock.com

Bryan enjoys the digital space where arts and technology meet. As a writer, he has worked in education, health and wellbeing, and manufacturing. He also assists smaller businesses in web development including accessibility and content development. In his free time, he hikes trails in central Florida.