Professional Development and Continuous Learning


One of the interesting things about a career in business is that the more you learn, the more there is to know.  With the many functional aspects of the corporate world, such as accounting, finance, marketing, and human resources; coupled with industry trends, competition, technology, and practical experience gained on the job, a business person could spend every waking hour learning more.  What’s troubling is when people seem to stop learning, something particularly prevalent among the mid-level ranks, when formal studies have been left behind for what seems like more freedom and spare time.

Those who have successfully reached the executive level know how important continuous learning and professional development are.  Quite simply, they are a given.  Thinking that once you reach the “top job” means that you have sufficient knowledge and can take a pass on learning more is a myth, and even worse, a recipe for trouble.  Skilled executives know that in order to become and stay successful, it’s important to learn as much as you can, given the rapid pace of change and many economic factors.  Starting good professional development habits early not only brings the necessary knowledge base to generate success on the job now, it also instills the important continuous learning routine to practice throughout your career.

Experienced executives know that there are a number of skills that are crucial for achieving success in their role.  Taking the initiative to understanding and adopting these important skills can differentiate you from others in your peer group, generating better results today, while helping to prepare you for advancement tomorrow.  In this series, we have already considered the importance of comprehensive reading, clear communication, and consistent reliability.  Here’s more about why professional development and continuous learning are so important.

 Where it Goes Wrong

Early career days tend to be characterized by lots of excitement around a new role, new workplace, and what seems like endless opportunity.  Fast forward a few years to what can become days of routine, expectations that haven’t been realized, and enthusiasm can start to fade.  What’s more, your work environment can actually influence how you see the world, including your role, impact, and future prospects, and this can be a problem, particularly in a workplace that isn’t as positive as it should be.  Before you know it, your attitude is on the decline, which (you guessed it!) can start to impact your career advancement prospects.

This might sound a bit dramatic, but it unfortunately happens far too often.  With the many ways to absorb professional development these days- webinars, podcasts, online learning, and convenient breakfast/lunch seminars; being in the know is easier than ever.

Turn a bad situation around (or avoid it altogether) by getting on the professional development path; learn new skills, seek out opportunities, and spend some time with the crowd that wants to (and probably will) go places; here’s how to get started:

  • Set goals and priorities. Step back and think about your career objectives over the next year, as well as three, five, and even ten years from now. Where do you want to go?  What roles are of interest to you?  Once you have established an overall plan, it’s easier to identify the professional development programs that would be most beneficial to you.
  • Benefit from the experience of others. Get advice from others as to courses or PD resources that they have tapped into; find out what was of value and what worked well for them.  Ask your supervisor about professional development activities that would help you to advance in the workplace, perhaps to positions you have already discussed.  This approach can help to ensure that you spend your time wisely and might also identify some options you had not considered.
  • Seek out workplace PD programs. Many employers have professional development programs that offer courses and seminars and/or provide financial support to employees who successfully complete studies in areas that are relevant to their job.  These programs can provide tremendous benefit to employees, such as the chance to complete a designation program fully financed by the company, as opposed to the staff member.
  • Work within your time constraints. Have what seems to be no time at all for continuous learning?  These days, that’s not a problem, as there are so many ways to learn.  Despite a busy lifestyle, most people can find the time to tap into online learning resources or podcasts at their leisure.

Successful executives know that they can learn something from almost any situation, good or bad, and they never stop seeking out the chance to do so.  We all know that knowledge is power, so the only way you lose is by not getting started.

Put Yourself to Work (Professional Development)

Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

Building a career is something that involves many facets: an undergraduate degree here, lots work experience there, new and challenging responsibilities, an avalanche of overtime hours, a seminar or two to fill in the knowledge gaps…and around it goes.  Over time, the pieces start to meld together into the career you are building, one that is uniquely your own.  At times, you may wonder how to keep it all moving forward.  It’s important to understand that making real progress is not about the length of time spent in a particular job; rather, it is about understanding the idea of putting yourself to work and taking responsibility for moving yourself forward.  Call it a “Me Inc.” attitude.

Having a Me Inc. perspective means taking the lead role in developing your skills and experience, not just at the beginning of your working life, but also as your career progresses.  Instead of depending on an employer to recognize your abilities, it’s about making a conscious effort to invest in yourself with the objective of becoming the right candidate to move up and onward (think of it as viewing yourself as a talent to be managed and improved upon, which, in turn, increases value).

There are lots of ways to take action in building your own personal value.  In the first installment of this series, we considered the benefits of in-house seminars, training, and networking.  Actively pursuing professional development opportunities is another way to increase your personal value.

Professional development (and maybe even the cash to go with it)

Many businesses have professional development programs that encourage staff members to improve their skill and knowledge level, by taking courses, attending conferences, or even getting a designation (and in the case of those who already hold a designation, they are often required to complete a specific amount of professional development activities each year).

In order to qualify for a professional development program, courses typically have to be relevant to a staff member’s job or career path (and may require approval in advance) and the costs may be reimbursed, in whole or in part, often upon successful completion of the course.  Although some may be discouraged by the prospect of “more school”, a Me Inc. attitude sees the benefit in having the chance to gain knowledge and competency at a reduced cost, and perhaps, for free.  All you have to bring is the effort.

Put yourself to work

  • Find out what your company’s professional development program includes: time off to attend courses, partial or full reimbursement, specific requirements to qualify for reimbursement? Understand the guidelines before moving forward.
  • If your company does not have a professional development program, it is still an area to pursue. Seek out seminars and events that are free of charge or within your budget and utilize your lunch hour or after hours time to attend.  Think of it this way: you’re still investing in yourself, regardless of the cost or who pays (and you take that investment with you wherever you go).
  • Ask around to see what courses or designations others in your company have completed, especially in the case of staff members who are working in areas that are of interest to you. Researching the career paths of others can be just as useful as researching courses and programs.
  • Take a long term view, but recognize that you have to walk before you can fly. Think about where you ultimately see your career heading, but be realistic about the professional development and work experience steps that are required to get there.  And get started!
  • Spend some time online to identify and learn more about available courses and programs. Take the opportunity to attend information sessions to ask questions and network with those involved.
  • Set yourself up for success, not failure. Be realistic and ask yourself what type of professional development activities would best fit within your interests and time constraints.  Are you willing to make the commitment to complete a designation or are short term courses and seminars a better approach?
  • If you are considering embarking on an area of study that is new to you, start with a general course to introduce yourself to the topic area. Getting too specialized too quickly can backfire (and you might find that you don’t even like the topic!).  A more general course provides a digestible introduction to further study and is always of value, even if you don’t pursue the topic area any further.
  • Once you get started, look for opportunities to put into practice some of the knowledge you have gained so that it is retained, not lost.

Having your own personal professional development program is an integral aspect of the Me Inc. attitude.  Before long, you will have developed a base of knowledge that builds on what you already know and can set you apart from others in your workplace.  Not only that, active professional development can create a whole new network of knowledgeable and well connected resources, and you just never know where that might lead.

Put Yourself to Work (Seminars, Training, and Networking)

Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

Unfortunately, most of us know what it’s like to feel passed over for a promotion or opportunity for advancement.  You know the feeling: you’re sitting at your desk scrolling through your email box, only to see an announcement that a colleague down the hall has been promoted.  You stare at the screen and wonder how this could have happened, given that you both have a similar amount of time on the job and your skills and experience are at about the same level.  To make matters worse, maybe you didn’t even know that there was a promotion opportunity available at all.  Not a great way to start off the day!

The corporate world is often built on standards and processes, designed to develop an employee group of people with similar abilities and competencies.  Employees, however, are individuals that develop and progress at varying levels. Beyond that, there is something more that can make the difference between moving forward and staying put: it’s not length of service or time in a particular job; rather, it is understanding and investing in the idea of putting yourself to work.  Call it a “Me Inc.” attitude.

Having a Me Inc. perspective means taking the lead role in developing your skills and experience.  Instead of depending on an employer to recognize your abilities, it’s about making a conscious effort to invest in yourself with the objective of becoming the right candidate to move up, perhaps, into that job you’ve always wanted.  Beyond that, it’s viewing yourself as a company or talent to be managed and improved upon, which, in turn, increases value (your personal value, in fact).

Taking action to invest in yourself can be very fulfilling, and as you start to experience the benefits of gaining new skills and abilities (and being recognized for doing so), you will be surprised how motivated you will become to keep going.  Not only that, taking action to invest in yourself will become second nature, something you will do without even thinking about it.

But, how do you get started?  Chances are there are a number of opportunities to invest in yourself that are right in front of you.   In this series, we will consider some ideas to increase your personal value, with the goal of putting yourself to work.

In-house seminars, training, and networking

Many businesses host in-house seminars and training programs as part of their normal operations (these types of sessions are typical in the world of accounting and other professional services firms).  In-house sessions can cover a wide range of areas, including technical training, new service offerings, and guest speaker presentations.  Given that they often take place before or after the regular workday, attendance can be limited, in some cases, which represents an opportunity missed.

Put yourself to work

  • Make the effort to attend these types of sessions, not only to gain the knowledge of the content, but also to “see and be seen”.
  • Don’t limit yourself to sessions that are only within your department or particular functional area. If a session is open to all in the organization, make the time to attend; this is a great way to learn about new areas and build relationships.
  • Network with those in attendance, not only to find out what they are doing, but to also make others aware of your skills and interests.
  • Look for opportunities to participate directly in these types of sessions, such as helping to organize or host, providing assistance to speakers, or acting as part of the presenter group in areas where you have sufficient knowledge to do so. You might be surprised by how often these types of events are in need of volunteers.
  • Look for opportunities to put into practice some of the knowledge you have gained so that it is retained, not lost.
  • Spreading the word and encouraging others to attend shows a good attitude and an effort to help the organization be successful. Good managers recognize leadership among their employees, and know that it can be present (or absent!) at any level.

Keep this up over time and you will be recognized as part of the group that “shows up”, as opposed to those who don’t.  And showing up is easily half the battle.