September 2, 2015
When you work full-time at a big company, you start to take things for granted – steady pay, benefits, even finding great snacks in the break room after a big meeting. But one thing you may not give much thought to as a full-timer, and especially as independent, is your own career development.
When you work for someone else, there’s no shortage of classes, coaches, conferences, webinars and seminars that you have access to for beefing up your skills and credentials, especially if you’ve got learning and development tools available from HR. But when you’re juggling the roles of CEO, CIO, CFO, and HR director as an independent, it’s easy to let these things slide. So, to save you some time, here are five ways I figured out to get the professional development train back on track during my decade of independent work.
- Start With the Usual Suspects. Whether you’re looking to refresh your skills, pick up new ones, or earn a new degree or certification, start with what you know. Explore offerings from your alma mater, reach out to former HR managers/trainers to get their recommendations, or go directly to where you last got certified. This is the easiest way to make sure you’re up to date with the most relevant skills.
- Know Your Weaknesses. No, this isn’t like those trick interview questions where you feel compelled to say that perfectionism is your weakest point. If you’re not a strong presenter, you know it. If you can’t tell the difference between a PowerPoint deck and an Excel spreadsheet, you know that, too. Recognizing where you CAN grow and improve is the first step to actually getting better, and will help you pick out the development opportunities that make the most sense for you. If you for some reason can’t see past your own awesomeness (It happens), you can also solicit feedback from clients and colleagues.
- Look High and Low for Opportunities. Take a class at the local community college. Sign up online for webinars from the likes of Lynda.com or even watch the latest “How To” tutorials on YouTube while you’re waiting for your oil change. (Don’t laugh, it’s how I learned Photoshop.) Or, join the association(s) for your industry. If you’re already a member, consider a leadership role. The point is, even if you’re not officially in a “Professional Development” class and don’t end up with a fancy certificate, you can still learn, grow, and generally get better at what you do – sometimes for free.
- Know Your Strengths. There’s a model that suggests that effective professional development is the result of 70% hard work, 20% support from mentors and managers, and 10% courses and reading. That means you’re probably already doing more than you know, and professional development isn’t all about taking classes and getting certified. If you’re particularly good/experienced at something, share it with the world. With over 20 years in the business, I was able to take on adjunct teaching assignments for marketing classes at local colleges, and BOOM. I have teaching experience. Write blogs. Submit articles for publication. Or do like I did and hang out by the fence of a college until they ask your to teach (I kid, it did NOT go down like that).
- Get Smart About Your Business. Renew your subscriptions to industry publications. If you’re short on time, sign up for one of the many excellent SmartBriefs that consolidate industry news from trusted sources. Go to industry conferences – the more interactive, the better. Join relevant LinkedIn groups – and join the conversations. Just keep current on trends and news that apply to what you do – that alone will have you well-versed for your next interview.
So, long story short, not every professional development opportunity involves a syllabus – as long as you’re learning something relevant to your business every day, that’s a professional development WIN. Keep your eyes peeled and your ears open – and in the meantime, start with some MBO webinars and guides.
As an independent consultant it's important to know what exactly soft skills are, why they matter, and how you can improve yours.
News and notes for independent workers and their clients. This is the September 12, 2016 edition.