Professional Development

How to improve your job skills and grow professionally

If you want to grow your career, improving your job skills is an important step. Investing in your career by developing new skills and abilities can lead to additional opportunities.  

1.   Review your goals

Before you can effectively decide what job skills you should pursue, it is important to review your professional goals. Having clear and well-defined professional goals will help guide you in determining which new skills and abilities would be of the most benefit to you.

Your professional goals should be realistic and support your efforts to enhance your career. They should also be long-term interests that motivate you daily.

For example:

  • If you know that continual learning and development is fundamental to your job, then having professional goals such as “developing my industry knowledge” or “increasing my technical skills” would be appropriate.
  • Another example would be if you are interested in becoming a leader within your company or profession, then having goals such as “finding ways to develop my people skills” or “becoming adept at delegating tasks” may be appropriate.

Note that effective professional goals should meet the SMART criteria: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. This will help keep your professional goals on track and allow you to see the progress you have made.

2.   Research learning opportunities

There are many different learning opportunities available besides traditional classroom courses. Consider the following options:

  • Online learning experiences: Many online computer-based learning opportunities are available, such as MOOCs (massive open online courses) from educational institutions and other organizations.
  • Training courses: You can find a wide variety of training courses available through private organizations, non-profit groups, and industry associations.
  • Self-study programs: Many books and other learning materials are available for those who want to pursue their education on a more-independent basis.
  • Virtual training/coaching programs: Technology is making it possible to take advantage of the expertise of industry experts and other professionals.
  • Professional development courses: Professional development courses are offered through professional associations and academic institutions and can be excellent opportunities that provide online, self-led and self-paced for learning new job skills.

If you are interested in a job that requires specific skills and abilities, there may be opportunities for learning experiences tailored to the particular requirements of the position.

For example:

  • If you’re on the social media marketing track, you may want to take courses in digital marketing for social media. You can also consider classes that will teach you how to use particular social media platforms, such as LinkedIn or Twitter.
  • For those looking into a development track in digital marketing, whether for Search Engine Marketing, Analytics, Mobile Marketing, or Content Marketing, you can find lots of learning opportunities in all these fields.

Once you have done your research, you can begin to narrow down the learning experiences that will be most beneficial for you.

3.   Ensure potential learning opportunities are credible

Professionalism in the workplace is paramount, and this applies to your learning opportunities as well. Potential learning experiences should be accredited or credentialed in some way so that you can verify that they are of high quality. This may include:

  • Being endorsed by an industry association.
  • Having certification from a professional society.
  • Being offered through accredited academic institutions.

For example, those looking into digital marketing should consider Google Ads or Google Analytics courses. These courses should be created by industry subject matter experts and teach skills needed to pass industry certifications.

Credible learning experiences will provide you with the knowledge and expertise you need to pursue your professional goals while ensuring that you stay current in your field, all of which can lead to increased job satisfaction for professionals looking to further their careers.

4.   Consider self-teaching

While there are advantages to traditional classroom courses, it can be beneficial to explore other learning opportunities. For example, self-study programs offer many of the same benefits as traditional courses, but they do so without requiring you to commit the time or expense of enrolling in a full-time program.

You can also find great learning opportunities in the form of:

  • Online courses
  • Networking with colleagues
  • Attending conferences or workshops
  • Taking advantage of any other professional development activities available to you through your company or industry.

Do your research when it comes to self-teaching. Just because something appears good on the surface doesn’t mean it will always live up to its promise.

A few tips for finding credible study tools include:

  • Research the learning opportunity you’re considering. Ensure it provides a certificate of completion or digital badge as a credential, and look for reviews from those who have used it before.
  • Look into the way the learning opportunity was created. Check to see if they are credible and trustworthy and whether their experience aligns with what you expect your learning experience to be about.
  • Ask people you know who have used the program before what they thought of it. Word of mouth can give you a good idea of how valuable a learning opportunity might be and whether it lives up to expectations.
  • Decide what you want to get out of your learning experience by identifying your goals and determining how the learning tools meet those goals. This will make it easier for you to narrow down your choices and set yourself up for success when you begin studying.

Once you’ve identified what you want to get out of your learning experience, look into the different options available and find one that’s a good fit for you.

5.   Stay in the loop in your industry

To stay current in your industry, start by identifying one or two areas where you want to improve your skills. Then search for learning opportunities in those areas such as:

  • In-person or online courses that teach practical skills in your industry.
  • A digital badge or industry certification exam to demonstrate advanced knowledge in your chosen field.
  • Tools such as online courses or e-books that you can use to further your knowledge.

For example, when recent college grads are looking for ways to build their resumes and improve their chances of getting a job in the competitive world of digital marketing, they can look to courses that provide digital proof they have learned real-world skills. Providers that offer digital badges or certificates of completion can help you showcase your achievements through social media.

6.   Find a mentor

There are some specific things to consider when you’re searching for a mentor. For example, look for someone who:

  • Has the necessary expertise in areas that are relevant to you, such as industry or profession.
  • Is willing to take the time needed to help mentor you.
  • Is someone you aspire to be like — look for a match in personality and values, not necessarily job title or status.

It can take time to find the right mentor. Don’t give up if the first person you reach out to says no, or simply doesn’t have enough time to help. Instead of fixating on finding one perfect person, think of it as an ongoing process that requires patience and persistence.

Make the most of your mentor relationship by always coming prepared with specific questions to ask. Good topics include:

  • What do you wish you knew when you first started working in your field?
  • What are some mistakes or mishaps people usually make at work? How can I avoid those mistakes?
  • What skills do you think employers look for as they’re hiring? What can I be doing now to improve my chances of getting hired?

Take advantage of one-on-ones and other learning opportunities outside of your formal relationship with the mentor. Keep the dialogue open — you want this person to be someone who will give you honest advice and push you to be your best.

7.   Network

Try to make in-person events part of your networking routine, but don’t limit yourself to in-person networking. Use LinkedIn and Twitter to find people in your chosen field, connect with them there first, then move the conversation offline if possible. Other advisable ways to network with the pursuit of job skills in mind are:

  • Join relevant professional organizations or participate in social clubs that put you in touch with professionals who share your interests.
  • Attend industry-related conferences to expand your network both personally and professionally.
  • You can also extend your network by participating in online communities, which let you connect with people from all over the world.

Networking is an ongoing process; it’s much more than attending an event and leaving with business cards in hand. You’ll get the most out of networking when you continue putting yourself out there, being open to new opportunities, and taking advantage of those opportunities when they arise.

8.   Ask for feedback

One way to figure out what you need to learn next is to ask people whose opinions you trust for their feedback on your work. If you’re not sure how to go about soliciting feedback, here are some suggestions that may help:

  • Think of two or three people who know your work well, whether they’re co-workers, managers, clients, professors, or friends (and this includes friends outside of work).
  • Look for someone who is in a position to give you helpful feedback. They don’t have to be an expert, but they should at least know enough about the area in which you’re looking for advice so that they can provide relevant commentary.
  • Come prepared with specific questions to ask. Before diving into more-targeted topics, you may want to start by asking if they have any general feedback for you.
  • Ask them if there are ways you can improve in the areas of their expertise and what steps you should take next if they suggest that you learn more.

By asking for feedback on your work and then acting on that feedback, you can continue to develop the job skills that will help you advance professionally.

For instance:

  • You might ask a colleague how you can improve your presentation skills, then make it a point to participate in more training sessions or workshops centered on public speaking.
  • If an experienced professional tells you that your writing could use some work, ask what you should read or do to get better. Subscribe to industry-related publications, take a class or participate in workshops where writing is the focus.

Ultimately, taking steps to improve your job skills and grow professionally should be a natural and ongoing aspect of your work — not something you think about only when it becomes necessary.