You got a bachelor’s degree in your twenties, then went back for an MBA in your thirties. As an aspiring life-long learner, what professional development options are available now?
If a Ph.D. isn’t in the cards—or the budget—you can still find ways to flex your cerebral muscles. Nowadays, there are dozens of in-person and online outlets available to learn anything from data visualization to organizational leadership. In fact, the options are so expansive that they can become overwhelming.
Because of this, I suggest dividing your professional goals into categories. These could include maintaining relevancy in your field as technology changes it, specializing or establishing thought-leader status, or even just acquiring a new skillset based on personal interest.
Once you’ve listed a few motivations and grouped them into similar categories, you can start combing through the plethora of tools out there to help scratch your learning itch. Focusing on your end goal before jumping the gun on a class or conference will save you time and potentially even money.
Say you’re interested in programming but don’t intend to become a software developer. In this case, you wouldn’t focus on enrolling into an immersive like the Flatiron School—unless you don’t mind spending several grand on your interests.
As you can see, partaking in professional development opportunities requires a bit of planning. Here are several ways—broken down by the end goal—to help you maintain your edge without stepping foot on another college campus.
To Become a Subject Matter Expert
Sure, in some cases working your way through a given career path may qualify you as a subject matter expert (SME). But, how many jobs can you think of that don’t change during the ten or fifteen years it takes to reach that expert level? True SMEs know the ins and outs of their field or subject area—which includes its past, present, and future.
If this is your goal, massive open online courses (MOOCS) or skill-sharing platforms can be instrumental at filling in knowledge gaps. Udemy and Skillshare are two such platforms that feature specific lessons taught by experts of all kinds. Most classes go for a flat fee, so research the instructor’s qualifications and experience before getting out your wallet.
If you prefer a more formal approach, go with EdX or Coursera, which offer real college courses online. Unlike a formal degree program, these classes don’t award college credit and are sometimes free.
To Become a Stronger Leader
Respect in the workplace is only partly due to experience. A blend of emotional intelligence and an emphasis on the followers who make you a leader also contribute to that respect. Even managers who have been heading teams for years can stand to brush up on their methodologies or general workplace perspectives.
In this case, opt for webinars, webcasts, and podcasts, which will both feature curated perspectives, speakers, and topics. The American Management Association, and other national organizations like it, often include plenty of resources to strengthen soft skills with regular listening. Podcasts offer similar flexibility in terms of pricing, subjects covered, and on-the-go listening. If you didn’t know, there are hundreds of podcasts about leadership, business, marketing, etc. Some are even intended to be delivered as courses, rather than normal listening segments.
To Build Upon Existing Skills
Sometimes all you need is a bit of a push in the right direction without a full-on course or web series. In those cases, or if you’re not able to commit several weeks to learning (as is required by most MOOCs), tutorials, apps, and free certifications can help.
Professional development tutorials can take you a long way in terms of learning very specific skills in a short time. Codeacademy, for instance, can teach the basics of building an application with Ruby in as little as 5 hours. If you’re looking for confirmation of your enhanced skills, opt for courses that come with some sort of certification. Hubspot Academy, for example, has several options to choose from that take you through a self-paced course (with roughly 5 hours of video content) before testing your knowledge with an exam. If you pass, you’re certified, which can be a valuable confirmation of skills for even professionals with previous subject matter experience.
Apps, on the other hand, can be used to cater to your personal skills. The basic format of “brain training” apps is as that of a game. Rather than toil away at formal documents or presentations, you just play games that simultaneously improve your ability to listen, focus, or analyze everyday situations.
To Cross-Train or Innovate Within a Job Title
For many, the point of professional development is to climb the career ladder. Sometimes, this means being prepared to hop to the ladder next door by cross-training or fusing new experiences with years of work history. If your company doesn’t offer specialized training or development programs, there are still ways to make the leap.
General Assembly connects learners to immersive programs online or in person that go by much quicker than 2- or 4-year degrees. These in-depth programs prepare you take on a new field or innovate within your own through full- or part-time courses taught in a variety of fields.
If you’re happy with the ladder you’re currently climbing but need to expand your horizons, attending state and industry conferences are a no brainer. Oftentimes, your company will be more than willing to send you. Even though you would attend events related to what you already know, these opportunities are pivotal when it comes to keeping pace with emerging trends.
To Have Fun and Explore
Of course, not all professional development has to be for a specific outcome. The very name implies that you’re simply developing, which can mean growth in a variety of ways. If you’ve maxed out you resume on certifications and conferences, look toward giving back or using your knowledge to help others.
Volunteering doesn’t get the credit it should. Sure, you’re working for free, but this doesn’t mean you aren’t learning. If your mental image of volunteering is limited to food drives or highway cleanups, you’re in for a surprise. VolunteerMatch helps find opportunities nearest your location or on a virtual level—and several gigs take just as much gusto as a full-time role. Here’s a few titles in the New York area: Corporate Relations Development (Strategic Alliance), Fundraising Director, Volunteer Business Advisor.
Side projects and blogs can also elevate your skills and push you toward true greatness. Not only do these allow you to attach your name to a public project or publication, but they allow you to present yourself as a thought leader or innovation mogul. Many successful businessmen and women write monthly columns, use LinkedIn to publish short takeaways, or launch completely different side projects that demonstrate their creativity and professional excellence.
Suggested options: Start a Medium blog, host a weekly Meetup, or create a Skillshare class of your own!
As you can see, professional development is so much more than tacking a second master’s degree to an already impressive resume. So, what are you waiting for?