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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By Emily G. Paulson
March 3, 2015
I love professional development, because it’s all about growth. Maybe it’s because I still have so much to learn, but I think even experts in a given field can benefit from seeking opportunities to grow. In order to be the best stewards of our work as we can, we have a responsibility to stay sharp and avoid stagnation. I’d like to take some time to discuss a few ways in which we can do that.
One valuable and accessible professional development resource is books. Books are great because you can generally find one on exactly the area in which you’d like to develop. There are books on general topics like: team-building, effective communication, the power of diversity, how to do more in the same amount of time, leadership development, understanding your intrinsic motivators and dealing with occupational stress. There also books on more specific, function-oriented topics. Almost everything you want to read about has a book written on it.
How do you find those books? Well, you can always start with a search online for book lists and reviews. I like to wander over to the business section of a nearby bookstore and devour back covers until I find one or two items I just have to have. And, please, don’t forget about your local library. These books are kept there just for people like you and me, who want to bring our best self to the professional table. You might also ask your manager, a friend, or a colleague if they have any favorites at home they’d like to lend you. Some of my favorite books are ones I’ve borrowed.
Seminars, webinars, and workshops are another great resource. Do a search online for events in your area, ask your organization to identify opportunities to bring in guest speakers, and keep your eyes and ears open for advertising on billboards, bulletin boards, the radio and newsletters. Get to know a couple organizations that specialize in your area of interest, and ask them if they offer any learning opportunities to outside parties who want to hone their skills.
Mentors are amazing. Without a doubt, the official and unofficial mentors I’ve had have caused me to grow more than any book or workshop. A mentor is a resource that can actually get to know you and dialogue with you. They can see your strengths and weaknesses over time in a unique way, and can tailor your conversations to fit your specific needs or desires. This is valuable for people of all ages and abilities, not just rookies, like me.
You might even already have one and you just don’t know it. Think about the people who speak into your life professionally. Maybe it’s a co-worker, an old boss, a professor from school or someone you met volunteering or attending a seminar. This is someone whose advice you cherish, company you enjoy, career you admire and character you respect. Think about ways you can support and nourish that relationship. Find time to grab a coffee regularly and use that time intentionally.
Professional associations, like ASPA, are also incredible resources. Not only are they a great way to learn about opportunities like those mentioned above, but they are a great networking tool, too. Get involved in local chapters. Attend meetings and other association-sponsored events, where you can network and grow with other public servants.
Another great idea for developing professionally, if you have the time and financial resources, is seeking certification or other continuing education opportunities. So many schools now offer certificate programs for people who aren’t seeking a full degree. Check with your alma mater or a school near your workplace to see what’s available. Several really great schools also now offer some courses online for free and at your own pace. What an opportunity! Not only are continuing education classes and certificate programs valuable development tools, but they have the added bonus of looking great on a resume or when you’re negotiating a raise.
I’d also like to mention that many organizations have in-house professional development resources. Ask your manager or your human resources department about opportunities available to you, from workshops to seminars to continuing education reimbursement. You may never know what your employer offers until you ask. And, once you do, take advantage of what you learn.
Let’s recap. Here is a list of opportunities you can seek out.
I recommend setting a goal. Maybe you want to check out at least one item on this list each month. Maybe that’s too ambitious, or maybe it’s not ambitious enough. Only you can know that, so I encourage you to think intentionally about what you can carve out the time for and focus on. Then, hold yourself to it. I think you’ll be really glad you did.
Author: Emily G. Paulson resides in Minnesota, where she is pursuing her MPA at Hamline University and carving out a career in public safety and community outreach. She keeps busy volunteering and freelance writing, and believes in firm handshakes and shameless smiles. Contact her at [email protected].