Investing in Your Professional Development

Whether you’re taking classes, attending seminars, catching a lecture or just reading a book, growing your professional skillset can give you a marked return on investment. Not only can you become a more valued employee, you can wind up being a better paid one too.

“Ask your boss what core skill sets they’re interested in you developing, and Nicole_Williamsattach it to a raise conversation,” suggests LinkedIn’s career expert, Nicole Williams. “So before you actually sign up for a course, you can have that raise in the bag.”

To give you even more incentive to hone your talents, that employer might very well chip in for your career development, as we explored in our new video series, Financial Etiquette: Workplace Edition.” Beyond that, though, there are other things you may want to consider as you look into professional development: When’s the right time to upgrade your skills? How much should you be setting aside to do this? And where can you go for improvement?

Here Williams helps you take your career to the next level, telling you when and how to orchestrate your career evolution:

When to invest in your career

How can you tell when it’s time to bring your professional skills up a notch? Williams points to some telltale signs, such as if you’ve been in the same position for three to five years, haven’t gotten a raise, aren’t invited to meetings and get left off key emails.

“You’re just looking for a lack of attention,” Williams says. “I think sometimes people want to lay low so nobody yells at them. But when someone is yelling at you, that means they’re invested in your development. I think worse than anything, like in any kind of relationship, indifference really is the killer.”

And while we’re on the topic of timing, when you’re looking at new job opportunities, Williams encourages you to consider how much that potential employer can chip in toward your skill growth. Even if you get offered a salary you consider low, that employer may also foot the bill for courses that might otherwise cost you a good amount of money on your own.

How much to set aside

When you can’t count on a company or organization to bankroll your development, you may need to finance it yourself. How much you’ll need to save can vary greatly, depending on your situation. Williams says, though, that 3 to 5 percent of your salary may be a good rule of thumb.

“I’m someone who really believes in personal development,” she notes, “so I probably spend closer to 10 percent yearly on courses or conferences.”

And keep in mind: Money you spend on career development may qualify you for tax write-offs – especially if you’re a small business owner, Williams notes.

Where to go for professional development

You may think you need to further develop your professional talents. But maybe you’re not sure what kind of improvement you need. For starters, several types of courses can usually benefit people across a number of fields, according to Williams. “I always recommend that people take a public speaking course,” she says. “Whether it be in your conference room or on a larger scale, being able to express yourself and communicate in a way that makes people listen will obviously help you go further in your career.”

Williams says you may also want to consider a writing course, particularly if you always depend on your computer’s spellcheck and grammar-check tools to do all the heavy lifting. She also suggests you think tech. “Ultimately, a win is always anything related to technology,” she says. “Whether it be anything from Photoshop to HTML coding, that’s going to bode well for you.”

Professional development, by the way, doesn’t necessarily require taking courses. “You can look at career development as making connections with people who can help you continue to learn,” Williams says. “This might be an informational interview – connecting to someone smarter than you. These opportunities are everywhere.” And don’t forget: This kind of development is free.

How do you invest in your professional development? How much do you put aside to grow your career skills?

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