Professional Development

What is professional development?

What is professional development

Professional development involves pursuing new skills, knowledge, or accreditation after joining the public workforce. Professional development is important for keeping up with recent trends or advances in your industry. It can also help with career advancement by providing new opportunities to build skills that may help qualify you for certification necessary for promotions. Some employees need continuing education to stay competitive in the job market. Others, such as entrepreneurs and freelancers, need new knowledge to remain competitive or attract clients who require specific skills or services. In addition to an advanced degree program and industry certification exam prep, you may choose to take online courses or find a mentor who can guide you as you develop new skills.

Here is a closer look at the important process surrounding professional development.

What are the goals of professional development?

Whether formal or informal, professional development is meant to increase professional knowledge, provide you with new competencies, give you more confidence, or prepare you for a more advanced position. However, professional development can appear in a variety of forms — ranging from advanced degrees, online courses, or on-the-job training.

Whatever form professional development manifests as, it can bring a variety of outcomes and benefits.

Increase earning potential

Professional development may sometimes result in higher earnings. Earning potential for those with specific skills or professional certifications can vary by industry and job type. Certain certifications in project management, marketing, and tech jobs may lead to higher earnings.

With higher income, come other benefits may come along, including the ability to send children to better schools, and the chance to save for retirement.

Learn new skills

For some professionals, the end goal of development is to learn new skills. There are always areas for improvement. For example, a skilled software engineer can become a Scrum Master and learn a new, streamlined framework for managing all the different aspects of a software development project.

This type of professional development can also focus on soft skills, which are not associated with industry certifications but are often necessary for thriving in senior decision-making roles.

Experience new things

Professional development allows workers to learn new things and perhaps change a career path that has become uninspiring. If you choose to pursue professional growth opportunities, you can learn new things that can keep you from feeling stagnant in your job.

In this way, professional development can help with job satisfaction and fulfillment and bring a level of excitement to your work that will help break up the routine. In some cases, professional development can help you discover a passion that can take your career in a new direction.

What are the elements of a professional development plan?

As previously mentioned, there are innumerable professional development options. When asking yourself which path is best for you, it’s best to retrospectively look at your life — bother personally and professionally. Look at your goals. Create goals that can guide your choices for classes, mentorships, degrees, and certifications.

After you set goals for professional development, earnings, or skill acquisition, you need to look at your current abilities. Then, you can then decide what skills or documentation you still need to reach your goals.

Here is a closer look at this process.

Skill assessment

Before you start any professional development efforts, it is crucial to understand what skills you already have. You do not want to enter a program that focuses on topics you already know.

Once you define the areas that you need to work on, you can find the best program for developing these new skills. You can also gauge how long the process will take and how much it will cost in terms of money and time.


Professional development can not only further your career goals, but also your personal goals. Ultimately, you want to be sure that these two sets of objectives align. For example, if you have personal goals related to your family, living situation, or hobbies, you do not want your professional development efforts to get in the way.

When it comes to professional goals, you should ensure they are specific and realistic aims. You don’t want to burn yourself out in the meantime, after all.

After you begin to define your goals, you can set measurable benchmarks and develop a realistic timeframe for completing the goals. These benchmarks can help break down long-term goals into shorter-term objectives, and keep you on track without upsetting your work performance or work-life balance.


If you think you can go through professional development on your own, you may find yourself drowning in courses and stress. Instead, seek out a mentor to guide you through this journey. Getting insight from someone with more professional experience than you can prove helpful on several levels.

First of all, mentors have likely been through the professional development process, so they can warn you about pitfalls and let you know if your development plans will help meet your goals. They may be able to provide alternative plans that’ll help you reach your goals quicker or with less time commitment.

In some cases, a mentor can directly teach you the skills that you need to reach your professional goals. Many internships and entry-level jobs involve this type of senior-junior work relationship.

In addition to the insight and on-the-job skills development, mentors can also aid with networking. They can introduce you to other professionals or industry decision-makers who can offer additional insights or even provide career advancement opportunities.


The final, but most important, step is gaining documentation. Documentation is essential to prove that you have the necessary professionally developed skills and/or experience.

For example, as you apply for new jobs, you need to attach a copy of your degrees or certifications to your resume or present them to your prospective employer during the interview process. Letters of recommendation are a less formal, but widely accepted, form of skill documentation.

It would help if you also documented your professional development for yourself. In addition to obtaining certificates, you can update your resume or LinkedIn profile when you reach a benchmark in your development plan. This personal documentation is a way to formalize the process and give yourself recognition for achieving each goal.

Where can you take professional development courses?

There are different options for professional development. On a positive note, many of these options are widely accessible, and they are tailored for working professionals who have a limited amount of time to spend on studying and class attendance.

  • Online professional development courses are extremely popular because of their accessibility and convenience. Depending on your plans, you may undertake an extended program or just complete a single course that teaches you the skill you need for your goals.
  • Advanced degree programs are available both online and at brick-and-mortar universities. If you have ambitions that require a master’s degree, you will need to spend between one and three years completing the program.
  • In some professions, such as healthcare, your employer can facilitate professional development courses. Corporations, meanwhile, may hire instructors to come to your place of employment and offer training. In a very large company, you may need to inquire about these opportunities with the HR department.

You can combine these courses with informal mentorships and independent study to help you reach your career goals.