What Is Professional Development? Definition and Examples

Updated July 31, 2023

Professional development can increase your skills as an employee, which can lead to new opportunities and career advancement. Professional development includes advancing skills, traits and competencies that contribute to your success in the workplace. If you're interested in advancing your career, you might want to know how to improve your professional development.

In this article, we discuss what professional development is and why it's important, then provide four ways to improve your professional development.

What is professional development?

Professional development is improving yourself through learning and training to advance your career. Companies may offer training sessions to further teach their employees, but an employee typically works on their own professional development independently. There are many ways that an employee can work on their professional development, such as taking classes, going to workshops or teaching themselves new skills. Professional development can also refer to staying up to date on new trends within your field and applying new practices to your current methods.

Why is professional development important?

Professional development is important because it can make you a better employee. This could help you receive more opportunities for career advancement, such as promotions or lateral transfers. Professional development can make you a more desirable candidate because of your knowledge and level of expertise in your field. Professional development improves your skill set and knowledge, but your company also benefits from your growth as an employee. This is important because they could recognize and potentially reward your success.

Read more: How To Grow Professionally in Your Career

Benefits of professional development

Some benefits of professional development may include:

Improves confidence

Professional development can increase your confidence as an employee. Learning new skills and abilities may make you more confident and could help you feel more comfortable in your position as your knowledge expands. For example, when an employee has been at a company for a long time, they know much more than they did when they first started. Because of this, they probably feel more confident in completing their job responsibilities. Confidence is a desirable trait for an employee because they're more likely to accept new opportunities, make informed decisions and display characteristics of leadership.

Enhances hiring potential

Professional development can enhance your hiring potential because you increase your knowledge, skills and competencies. Because of the skill advancement that results from professional development, employers may be more likely to view you as a desirable candidate. If employers see you as a qualified candidate, they may be more likely to hire you over the competition.

Develops skills

Through professional development, you may increase both hard and soft skills within the workplace. Hard skills refer to job-specific knowledge you receive through training or education, while soft skills are personal habits that define how you work, such as communication. Developing your skills can help you become an expert in your field, share your knowledge with new employees or discover opportunities for career advancement.

Related: How to Develop Your Skill Set to Advance Your Career

Increases job opportunities

Professional development can increase job opportunities, such as receiving raises or promotions, within your current role. If your employer sees that you're putting in the effort to improve yourself, they may be more likely to consider your for advancement opportunities. They could see how you're becoming more knowledgeable and skilled but also that you're an independent learner. This can help with job opportunities because your employers might recognize your growth and decide to give you a higher position.

Expands networking opportunities

Professional development can also increase your ability to network through events that many professionals attend, such as:

  • Seminars

  • Webinars

  • Conferences

  • Workshops

  • Volunteer events

  • Classes or programs

These events typically welcome professionals from within your industry, making them valuable ways to meet experts and influencers in your field. Networking can help your career by meeting colleagues, mentors or hiring managers. Mentors may provide career guidance, while colleagues and hiring managers might tell you about job opportunities.

Provides mentorship

Another way to improve your professional development is to find a mentor or role model. A mentor can help guide you and ensure that you're meeting your goals. They may also teach you new skills or give you advice. Try to find a mentor or role model who has a position or quality that you may like to have so that you can learn what they do or how they got to that point in their career. Mentors can also tell you about different career opportunities or positions that fit your wants and needs.

4 ways to improve professional development

Here are four ways to improve your professional development:

1. Create a schedule of goals

To begin your professional development, create a list of goals and a schedule. Having a schedule for your goals can help you create a timeline for your growth. This can track your progress, which can help you increase your productivity. You could create a schedule by using an agenda, an online app or a journal. Creating goals can help you map out how you want to progress or the areas that you could improve. It can also help you visualize the outcomes, which can motivate you to complete the tasks. Examples of some goals could include:

  • Learning a new skill

  • Completing a training program

  • Attending conferences

  • Reading a developmental book

Read more: How To Write a Professional Development Plan (With Examples)

2. Attend training programs

You can attend training programs, such as webinars and seminars, conferences or workshops to improve your professional development:

  • A webinar or seminar is an instructional event where a speaker teaches the attendees a new skill or educates them on a topic.

  • A conference is typically a larger event where there are multiple speakers and the purpose is to discuss a specific topic.

  • Workshops are events where attendees learn about a topic by participating in and completing tasks.

By attending these programs, you can learn and experience new work-related skills , which can lead to professional growth and development.

3. Take new roles or responsibilities

You can also improve your professional development by taking on new roles or responsibilities in your position. You could do this by asking your manager if you can do some tasks that a different position normally does. Having more responsibilities shows your managers that you can take initiative and that you can successfully complete tasks outside of your usual responsibilities. Learning how to do new tasks and increasing your company knowledge contributes to your professional development by showing that you can learn new tasks and accept additional responsibilities.

4. Continue your education

To improve your professional development, you could continue your education. You can achieve this by:

  • Earning a certificate

  • Earning a license

  • Taking classes or programs

  • Getting a higher degree

Further education can improve your professional development because it increases your knowledge and it shows your dedication to your career. Having a higher level of education may also allow you to receive different job opportunities.

Related: 10 Key Areas of Development for Employees (with Examples and Tips)

Examples of professional development

Here are a few examples of other ways you can contribute to your professional development:

  • Read a book: Reading a book about self growth or career growth is a beneficial way to improve your professional development. There are plenty of books to choose from, but you can always ask a colleague or mentor for a recommendation.

  • Shadow a coworker or manager: Shadowing a coworker refers to watching, following or imitating a person to learn about their role. This is a great way to see if you're interested in a certain position, like a managerial role.

  • Attend a workshop: Workshops allow you to improve your critical thinking and problem-solving skills to complete a specific task. This usually involves working with groups to learn how to do something, such as learning a new software or computer program.

  • Speak at a conference: Speaking at a conference allows you to share a project, idea or work concept with large groups of people, which requires public speaking and communication skills. Speaking at a conference gives you a platform to improve these skills and talk about career-related topics.

Frequently asked questions

What is a professional development plan?

A professional development plan creates actionable strategies or steps to expand your skills or enhance your career performance. Often, it involves reflection on where you are professionally and where you wish to be within a specific time frame, like in two years. Creating this plan also includes goal setting and investing in yourself, such as returning to school or taking an online course for certification.

What are the five components of a professional development plan?

There are five components of professional development plans, which are:

  • Assessment: Think about where you and your skills are now.

  • Goals: Plan what you seek to achieve with realistic steps to obtain it.

  • Resources: Consider what you require to achieve your goals.

  • Strategy: Develop your plan to gain the resources and accomplish your goals.

  • Evaluation: Reflect on how you did and where you can improve.

What are some examples of a professional development goal?

Professional development goals are objectives you can establish to focus on improving your career. Consider these goal examples to help you brainstorm your own ideas:

  • Take a relevant in-person or online course.

  • Learn a new skill in your field or industry.

  • Expand your professional network.

  • Increase your leadership abilities.

  • Learn how to ask for feedback and apply it.

  • Earn a promotion.

  • Increase sales or revenue for your employer.


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