New Professional Development Opportunities for The Future of Work

What is professional development?

In the first 12 years of my career, I have seen traditional professional development be put into a box.

Think about it - when “professional development” comes up in your work, what do you think of?

I can bet it is one of the following:

A one hour training.

A half day off-site workshop.

How about 2-3 day conference,  that probably costs more than $1,500?

Well it’s time to re-define what professional development means and how you plan to advance your career.

Below are a handful of questions I recently answered. The first four questions I address are for my good friend Alissa Carpenter a Millennial Expert and Forbes contributor. The second set of questions are summarized from a recent presentation I delivered to Johns Hopkins University social media and marketing practitioner group.

To start, if you really think about it, professional development is at your fingertips. A simple Google, Youtube, Linkedin or Twitter search and you will be presented with several options to learn a new skill or connect with a new colleague. The best part is I can guarantee this approach is 100% free.

Let’s jump in.

1. What is the best way for a millennial to reach out to their supervisor to participate in professional development?

Be as specific as possible. Don't just come and say "I want to network" or "I want to go to a conference."

Come with specific solutions and ideas on how professional development will not only enhance you as a professional but how the development opportunity will tie back to the department's/organization's goals. Basically, presenting it in a way in that this opportunity is not going to just help me, this is going to help us and here's why.

2. If an organization doesn’t provide professional development, what are some additional options for millennials?

It's at your fingertips. A simple Google, Youtube, or Twitter search and there are several options to learn a new skill - 9/10 it's free.

However, we need to redefine what professional development means. The common way we think professional development is done is traditional one-hour training, half-day workshops, or 3-day conferences that cost thousands of dollars. I always suggest visiting Eventbrite or Meetup because there are hundreds of free or $5 events every evening in your city that you can attend.

To go one step further, professional development is everyday experiences in your work environment.

Ask your supervisor how they put a budget together.

Stick around the meeting with the event planners and ask how they pulled this event together and what they were thinking.

Invite someone interesting (within your organization or someone in a different industry) out to coffee.

3. If millennials are looking to advance in their career, how can they determine the most appropriate professional development opportunities?

Millennials and recent college graduates are coming out of college and they have been told all through school there is a checklist on what they have to do to get an "A" in a class or "100 on an exam." The first thing we as a society need to do is throw that mindset out the window. In the real world, there is no longer a checklist. It's a jungle gym.

A great piece of advice I was given in my 20's is to print out a job description for a position you aspire to hold one day. This could be three years from or 15 years. Figure out what work experience, skills, and network you need to build to get there.

However, there is one caveat that comes up when I talk to professionals trying to find their niche and advance their career - it is always evolving. Don't put the blinders on. You want to find a sweet spot where you feel like you are thriving but feel challenged with your work while feeling invincible that you will do whatever it takes.

With that said, let your passions drive you. Don't be afraid to follow a new interest or skill set lead you into a new direction. Especially in the first 10 years of your career.  

People are best at what they passionate about and that's where they will do their best work.

4. What is professional development and how often should we be participating in it?

All the time. But only if your career goals and ambitions are looking for advancement. It's going back to #2. We need to expand our mindset on what is professional development. It's anything from practicing public speaking and getting feedback or reflecting on a failure. It could even be leading an "article of the month" (because you probably don't have enough time to read a whole book at work) with your team. Pick a trend and everyone picks an article around that trend and shares their perspective, thoughts, and knowledge. You could do this with a variety of content: blog post, video, or live stream.

Here are the second set of questions I addressed for JHU’s marketing workgroup monthly professional development series. These answers are higher ed-marketing specific but can be applied to a variety of industries.

What resource, training, workshop, online tool, webinar, etc. would you recommend for social media professionals in higher education with a small personal development budget? Feel free to list more than one.

Again, traditional marketing or social media trainings is viewed as one hour class, training, workshop, thousand dollar conference.

However, a traditional places to look is on Eventbrite, Meetup, or Creative Mornings. Generally these events, meet-ups, or trainings are less than $50. Creative Mornings are free and have chapters in cities around the world. The only catch is that they are very popular and you have to anticipate when their next event will be so you can register as soon as it’s announced.

A few other resources I would recommend is:


Art of Paid Traffic by Rick Mulready (great podcast)

General Assembly

Online programs can be beneficial but keep in mind that 85% of online classes are never completed for one main reason: accountability. I am still a big believer meeting face to face. You get to not only learn in a physical environment but you can also network and help one another out.

Here are some more non-traditional ways to approach professional development in marketing:

- Invite someone interesting out to coffee.

- Search for social media influencers on Instagram and Youtube in Baltimore (this is the city JHU is located). Invite them into share real tactics on how they grow their following or make engaging videos.

- Find local companies, corporations, or small businesses in your city. For example, Baltimore is home to Under Armour, the Orioles, Black and Decker, local breweries, bakeries, coffee shops, yoga studios, etc. For the larger companies, you are one email or Linkedin message away to their marketing executives and for small businesses you generally can DM or email them and their owner will reply.

What advice would you give a seasoned social media professional who is looking to advance his career in higher education?

There is no one track or checklist. You have to be able to communicate what you do and relate back it to the emotional heart center of your department or your boss’s values.  Find a way to tie the importance of high level digital marketing and how it ties back to your organization’s “why” or mission. For example, student affairs units preach about open door policies, being there for the well being of their students 24/7, etc. Creating a solid community management and social care plan to create content and engage with students digitally is the same if not more important that being there face to face during traditional office hours.

From a technical side, it is important for higher ed marketing colleagues to understand what is happening with Instagram and Facebook messenger, live streaming, voice marketing (i.e. Alexa), and how to  creating a series (Youtube daily vlog or weekly audio podcast).

As you move up, you will not only need to balance multiple moving priorities and the above technical trends but it will be important to connect high level strategy with a deep understanding of how to actually execute in each platform.

The last piece of advice for this question I have is to: look outside higher ed. There may be skills and ideas you want to execute on and for one reason or another (budgets, support, etc.) you are unable to. There are several other organizations that will value your point of view and skill set.

Bringing It Together

Now that you’ve read I hope this gives you some ideas and a new mindset on how to look at professional development.

Here are three actions you can take by to your own professional development:

  1. Pick one new professional development opportunity that costs $5 or less and set it up within the next 30 days. This could be coffee with a colleague, meeting with your supervisor to learn a new skill, or attending a meet-up.

  2. Research businesses and their colleagues that are adjacent to your role but outside your industry and find ways to connect with them for either a site visit, training, or skype call.

  3. Include this new mindset in looking at professional development in your next staff meeting and see what ideas your team can bring to the table.

Anything else you would add?