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10 Professional Development Tips to Take Your Career to the Next Level

April 2, 2019

They say practice makes perfect, so why should your career be the exception?

Here’s a simple fact. Whether you’re just starting your career or you’re a 30-year veteran, technology is changing the way we work. You’ve probably already seen the way new software and tech is impacting your office environment and the way you do work.

Though nothing beats good ol’ fashioned networking tips, there are new and innovative ways to focus on your professional development, help you stand out in an ocean of qualified candidates, and promote your career growth.

Professional development ideas that work

Advancements in technology are making the job field more competitive than ever and that means you need to evolve alongside them.

We asked real working professionals to share their tips for career development and tell us how they advanced their careers. Check out some of their answers!

1. Don’t be afraid to take a unique path to your goal

“Something people need to realize is that you can move laterally instead of starting over from the bottom. Don’t be afraid to shift positions within the same industry or even within the same functional area (i.e. sales, HR, IT, etc.)

This can allow you to make sure you never fall down a rung on the career ladder while still getting closer to your goal.”

– Sean Sessel, The Oculus Institute

2. Make a point to work with people you butt heads with

“I think too many people avoid working with people who have different perspectives than they do and that’s a mistake. Having people who think, act, and perform differently from you helps you grow and expand your ability to contribute more broadly across your organization.

“Your ideas can become more refined and relevant when the views of others—especially opposing views—are there to challenge your thinking. Practically speaking, we can treat opposition and challenges to our assumptions as a sandpaper metaphor: They may rub you the wrong way, and there may be a little friction, but you will come out smoother and more refined in the end.”

– La'Wana Harris, Certified Diversity Executive and ICF Credentialed Coach

3. Use technology and social media to build your personal brand

“Technology is great and you should be using it for your professional development! In regards to social media, don’t let it drive you crazy. You should look and sound like you and the brand/reputation you are building. Whether yours is polished or more informal, chatty or academic, humorous or snarky, it is a way for your personality to come through.

“People do business with people they know, like and trust so you have to get out there to build your reputation online and off. Prospective customers and jobs can come from anyone anywhere anytime. Be nice to everyone and make friends before you need them, you never know who is in or will be in a position to help! Having a great reputation online and off, working hard and building a strong network are the best ways to set yourself up for success.”

– Paige Arnof-Fenn, Mavens & Moguls

professional development statistic

4. Make yourself uncomfortable in order to grow

“I’m a leadership development coach, and my best tip for career development is to put something on your development plan every year that scares you. Because our greatest growth comes from a place of discomfort (and sometimes fear), making sure you’re a little scared by your development can be a great thing!

“If you’re scared about public speaking, make it a part of your development. Join Toastmasters, take a class, or ask for a project that will require you to get up in front of others and share your ideas. Maybe your fear is around spreadsheets or sales or sharing your writing with others. You can develop in all of those areas, too!

“If you have a fear of skydiving or spiders, that might not translate well into growing in your career…but what if it could?”

– Kate Dixon, Dixon Consulting

TIP: Career development means having to have uncomfortable conversations along the way. Learn how to ask for a raise to ensure that your salary reflects the quality of the work you're doing. 

5. Find a mentor who can help guide your growth

Finding a mentor should be a priority for your career development. If a mentor doesn't come to you naturally, you should seek one out. Ask friends, neighbors, colleagues if they admire/respect someone who is an executive that might be willing to work with you.

“I have found that it can be very rewarding to have an external mentor – someone who is not associated with your organization or industry or field. I've helped introduce people to those opportunities, and it is great because when you get different perspectives, you bring different perspectives. I find people are very receptive to help and work with other people if they think or know they can help.”

– Caitlin Morse, 10x Digital

6. Network outside of professional settings

“Get outside of your professional bubble and network in places you wouldn’t normally. A great place to start is volunteering. Aside from looking great on your resume, you may be surprised at the employment opportunities you find with your fellow volunteers - many of them are advanced or retired professionals with a vast network.”

– Reuben Yonatan, GetVOIP

7. Find someone in your company that your skills compliment

“Find someone slightly above your current level with an opposite personality style to yours and figure out how you can become indispensable to that person. Not only will you learn and develop while working with them, but as they get promoted they will be inclined to pull you up with them. The reason this works is because your strengths will match that person’s weaknesses.

“You're also not a direct competitive threat because of your different personality types so those relationships tend to work very well. Think of the introvert working with the extrovert. It's one of the few instances when synergy actually works.”

– Lou Haverty, Financial Analyst Insider

8. Don’t paint yourself into a career corner

“When trying to carve out your career path, try not to be too rigid in your thinking. Today it is more than common for us to explore multiple careers. People don’t follow a single career path their entire career, which is why you should shift your thinking around the traditional way of career planning.

“Ultimately you should embrace a flexible mindset for what success looks like. You can grow, find yourself, and change your mind as many times as you want in today's rapidly evolving workplace.”

– Amba Brown, Finding Your Path

Tip: Watch Amba’s Tedx Talk on finding your career path.

9. Embrace remote work as a way to advance your career

“The flexibility of virtual work makes it an ideal solution for working professionals who are caregivers or parents, like me, as well as world travelers and even those who live in parts of the country where jobs in certain fields are scarce.

“By opening yourself up to working remotely, you open the door to thousands and thousands of jobs that may not be available in your area, which can mean increased opportunity for advancement and more lucrative roles, particularly for those who live in regions with a low cost-of-living.

Some are hesitant to approach remote work because they’re afraid to forego a regular salary—but the belief that most work-from-home jobs are freelance or gig-based is nothing more than a common misconception.”

– Laura Spawn, Virtual Vocations

10. Spend time on hobbies outside of work

“The best thing I ever did for myself was continue to build passion projects outside of my workplace. This was incredibly valuable for my full-time career because it helped me gain new skills and, more importantly, gave me something to put all of my creative energy into.

“Bad days at work were more tolerable because I knew I could go home and work on something that I genuinely cared about. As an extra bonus, these passion projects eventually manifested themselves into more than a side-gig and now I'm able to work full-time for myself while making a salary I could only dream of at my regular employer.”

– Ron Stefanski, MBA, Jobs for Teens HQ

Become a lifelong learner

No matter what point you’re at in your career, there is no shame in becoming a student again. Make it a goal to learn one new skill every year and challenge yourself to step outside of your comfort zone – you’ll be surprised by the results!

Looking to continue your career development? Check out our career advice Hub.

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