Professional development is your responsibility. Any woman serious about career advancement always has it on her mind and in her sight. The biggest misconception is that it is costly to continue professional development. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Money is the number one reason why a lot of people bypass professional development and end up stunting their career growth. But blaming cost is a cop out.
There are several low cost things you can do to invest in your professional development.
- Get biblical with it and “tithe”. OK for those of you who attend church faithfully, you understand the concept of tithing. It’s where you give 10% of your earnings to the Lord. Well I content that you can tithe to yourself as well as the Lord. I always tithe in thirds. 10% to church, 10% to build my savings and 10% dedicated to my professional development. Set yourself up a Professional Development Fund. It can be a separate savings account at your local bank or credit union, or even using the envelope system. Each month count up your contributions and decide whether to invest in a course or certification or if you want to continue to build the account up to invest in a conference or something bigger. But no matter what, don’t touch that money for any other purpose. You’ll be surprised at how much money you accumulate.
- Remember that Reading is Fundamental. I am a voracious reader. I have been since I was a child. Don’t over look your local library. Granted some area libraries are better than others, but take an afternoon and stroll through. My local library has a book sale the first Saturday of each month. I always find great books (it could be because I live in an area where a lot of prominent business people live). I’ve paid anywhere between 50 cents and $5 for quality books. I’ve gotten books by Jack Welch, Seth Godin and many more prominent thought & business leaders. You never know what gems you’ll find. Also, sign up for member cards at book chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders. You get special discounts and sales. I love the clearance table! And of course there are online book sites such as Amazon.com, Half.com and Alibris. Reading books keep you up to date in your industry and social trends.
- Trade with your friends. If you hang with an intelligent crowd, which I’m sure you do, you can always trade books, CDs, and programs. My friends love coming to my house because I have an actual library in my home. Yes, a separate room that is a dedicated library with all my books, CDs, Magazines and DVDs. Rather than lending stuff out, I make trades. That way I know I will get my things back! You’ve heard of cookie swap parties and even clothing swap parties. Each month, make it a point to have a Knowledge Swap Party. Everyone invited should make a list of what they have (books, CDs, DVDs, etc) so there is no overlap. Then have everyone bring the items to the party and trade. You are educating yourself and helping your friends educate themselves at the same time. Trust me it’s fun and saves lots of money.
- Enlist your boss in your professional development plan. I know times are tight, but some companies are still willing to invest in their top talent. If you are a valuable employee and you stay on the cutting edge of your field (and that in turns brings value to your company’s bottom line), your company may pay for you to attend conferences, training and/or certification courses. It’s up to you to write a compelling proposal and presentation that convinces them why you are the person to attend, what benefits you’ll gain, and how it fits into the company’s success. The burden of proof is on you so make it a good case. Request a meeting with your boss and explain to him or her where you’d like to see your career go. Then ask for his or her help in achieving your goals. Inquire about tuition assistance or tuition reimbursement programs.
- Learn a new language. You can access tons of free and low cost websites, buy CD and DVD programs, instructional books or get a tutor. Local community colleges offer courses for continuing education credits. Visit their websites and find out what language classes they offer and what levels you can take. Being bilingual (or multilingual) can dramatically increase your earning potential. While some people still fight embracing additional languages (Spanish in particular) the smart people are immersing themselves in new languages. Learn a new language.
- Can’t afford to return to college, look into continuing education courses. The beauty of continuing education is that you can often get credit that can be applied towards certain certifications and job promotions. There are certificate, diploma and certification programs in everything from Office Management to Project Management to Bookkeeping & Accounting. These courses prepare you to sit for certification exams.
- Get a team of mentors. Yes, a team. No one mentor can fulfill all of your needs. Also, no one person is meant to be your mentor forever. It’s a great professional move to find multiple mentors from varying backgrounds and experience. Draw from the collective experience. Make sure you set up regular appointments with them on a rotating basis. Take plenty of notes and challenge yourself to learn more in between your meetings. Remember to give back in return. After all, your mentors are being gracious with their time. Even if they don’t ask for or require anything in return, it is still proper etiquette to establish a give and take relationship.
- There’s always the internet! When all else fails, you can find a wealth of information on the web. There are resource websites available on every imaginable topic. Exercise your Google skills to find new and up to date information. While some would caution you to stay away from opinion blogs, I say read them, but be objective. It’s always good to get other people’s point of view on different issues. Set up Google Alerts so that you are notified every time an article, blog post or event pops up on the internet.
Don’t let lack of money keep you from advancing your career. In this economy, you must be creative and resourceful. It is your responsibility to cultivate your career. Over time, you will find that you’ll be able to afford more sophisticated professional development. Until then, try the suggestions above.
Til next time.