It’s not unusual to experience a professional rut. Maybe it feels like your work isn’t challenging or that it doesn’t contribute meaningfully to the organization. For whatever reason, you might not feel as motivated and satisfied with your job as you once were.
One way to spark your enthusiasm for work is to explore career development opportunities.
Continuing to learn, no matter what stage of life you’re at, can help you feel more motivated, improve your chances at promotion, and even increase earning potential. And on a personal level, learning new skills boosts your confidence.
Whether you’re at the beginning of your career or a seasoned veteran searching for ways to recover from burnout, there are many types of career development programs and activities to help you out. Explore these examples of development opportunities to find some that work for you.
What are development opportunities?
Any activity that lets you expand your professional knowledge base, whether hard or soft skills, is a development opportunity. You don’t have to be constrained by a formal training program. Professional growth can be as simple as reading a book on leadership or learning how to network.
If you’re interested in learning new skills or earning certifications but don’t feel you have time, many learning formats are more flexible. Consider taking online courses, watching seminars, or finding a mentor at work. Even a few hours a week can help you grow.
As your skill set increases, so will your value as an employee, especially if your growth directly relates to your job.
If you get a relevant certification, for example, your employer could reward your initiative with more responsibility, a promotion, or a salary increase, taking you one more step toward your professional development goals.
The benefits of career development
Promotions and benefits aren’t the only way development opportunities can help you. Around 90% of workers felt stuck in their jobs in 2022, and career growth is one way to find a new appreciation for the role.
Here are some other benefits of seeking career development opportunities:
Discover new areas of interest: Your attempts to broaden your knowledge could introduce you to an alternative career path or specialization that you find more fulfilling.
Provide a new challenge: If you’ve been working the same job for a while, its tasks and responsibilities have likely become routine. Learning something new may spark innovation and improve your process.
Keep you feeling motivated: Upskilling could put you back in touch with why you entered your field of expertise in the first place. You can reignite your enthusiasm for your job, set new goals, and encourage your best performance moving forward.
Impact your job search: If you’re making a career change or are looking for a new job, development opportunities can help you make new contacts and find your path. You can also leverage your expanded skill set to apply for advanced or specialty roles.
Increase confidence and credibility: Adding new certifications and skills to your resume demonstrates your commitment to the field. You’ll know your abilities are up to the challenge of an evolving workplace.
Examples of career development opportunities
Each avenue of career growth offers its own benefits and challenges and can impact your professional development differently. If you’re going to put the time and effort into these opportunities, choose ones that suit your goals. Here are 20 ways to develop professionally:
1. Professional organizations
Most professions have an affiliated association to keep workers up to date with the latest industry trends, hiring opportunities, and best practices. Become a member to stay up to date and meet people in the same field as you.
2. Networking events
Connect with other professionals at an industry networking event. The relationships you develop could provide insight into your work, referrals to exciting opportunities, and professional references.
3. Industry conferences
Similar to networking events, conferences let you connect with other professionals, attend seminars led by subject matter experts, and explore opportunities in your field.
4. Self-awareness training
Many online courses, assessments, and webinars can provide insight into your individual habits, motivations, and passions. This increased self-awareness can help you understand yourself and your professional motivations better.
Get professional insight into your development from a career coach. A coach can guide you through your next career move, evaluate your existing skill set, and identify opportunities for improvement. They’ll cheer you on as you continue to grow.
6. Performance reviews
Find out where you stand at work by meeting with your manager to review what you do well and what you should improve. You can also discuss your professional goals and opportunities for advancement in your current job.
7. Internal presentations
Find a topic or project you’re passionate about and share it with your department or organization. Test your public speaking, analysis, and communication skills.
8. Special assignments
Take the opportunity to work on projects with a new team or on a new topic. You’ll expand your professional network, be exposed to new work processes, and have the chance to develop new skills.
If you’re launching your career or considering switching to a new field, an internship can help you investigate different jobs and responsibilities before making a leap. Some internships are part-time or paid so you can continue to support yourself while exploring your options.
Engaging with a mentor can provide valuable insight into your role and industry. They can also offer guidance and advice to help you advance your career. Choose a mentor who has followed a similar path to the one you want to forge.
11. Job shadowing
For anyone interested in exploring new employment opportunities, job shadowing gives you a day-in-the-life overview of what it’s like to work in that field. The experience could help you decide whether it’s a role you want to grow into.
12. Informational interviews
Discover more about your chosen profession by chatting casually with someone working in the field. Ask about their skills, career progression, and a typical day to decide if it’s the job for you.
They can also help you plan your next steps by suggesting which certifications or qualifications you need to succeed.
Seeking a more senior position within your company shows commitment to your development. A new role can teach you new skills and give you experience doing something new.
14. Lateral career moves
A lateral career change means finding a new position that teaches you new things, even if it doesn’t give you a raise. It can give you more experience at a company that might fit you better or have more growth opportunities.
15. Career changes
Moving into an entirely new field is a big step, but it opens up a wealth of learning opportunities. Start with the basics and use your transferable skills to find a new position. Once you’re in, begin additional certification and training to help you advance.
16. Industry training
Depending on your expertise, you may have access to industry training programs, whether that’s with your workplace or an external organization. This helps your professional knowledge evolve in step with industry trends and innovations.
Find certifications that are relevant to your field and take steps to earn them. These are different from courses. Instead of many classes, a certification is usually just an exam you have to pass. Then, you can put it on your resume and LinkedIn profile to show your commitment to career development.
18. Advanced degree programs
Going to grad school to get your master’s or another advanced degree can enhance your eligibility for a senior role. You may even be able to take advantage of your company’s educational benefits if you have them.
19. Professional recognition
If you’ve created a noteworthy report or presentation, consider submitting it for an award or presenting it at an industry conference. The recognition could enhance your credibility and raise your professional profile.
20. Taking a sabbatical
Taking extended time off from work — like a few weeks or months — can give you time to develop without worrying about your current job. Use a sabbatical to regroup, take a course, or work on a project.
4 steps for effective career development
Now that you’re more familiar with career development opportunities, it’s time to plot your journey. Here’s how to start planning your next steps:
Before committing to a career development opportunity, whether it’s going for a new position or taking a course outside of work, research as much as possible.
Paint a clear picture of how professionals in your field achieved their success. Read articles, speak to colleagues and mentors, and review recommendations to help you reach your goals.
2. Explore opportunities within your company
When you’re ready, discuss your professional goals with your manager or colleagues. They may identify areas of training that could put you in line for a promotion or a new job opportunity.
In addition, your current employer may offer career training as part of their employee development and retention strategy.
3. Identify areas for improvement
It might be tempting to lean into your strengths. Filling in the gaps in your knowledge and skill set is more advantageous in the long term. By focusing on areas of weakness, you’re developing a more diverse range of qualifications while building confidence in your abilities.
4. Set SMART goals
Once you’ve decided where and how you’ll pursue your development opportunities, set your goals and write them down. Ensure they follow the SMART framework — specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely — to set targets you can reach.
Put them in a place where you’ll see them often so you don’t forget why you’re putting in the effort.
Key areas of development
Lack of career advancement is a key reason why people leave their jobs. Deciding what area you want to advance and develop in is the first step to staying motivated. Here’s some inspiration if you aren’t sure what skills you should focus on improving:
Time management: Streamline your efforts by taking control of your day. Prioritization and planning skills take center stage to let you work smarter, not harder.
Communication skills: Learn to communicate effectively with individuals of different experiences and backgrounds. No matter where you work, communication will help you thrive.
Listening: Active listening skills can help you forge connections with coworkers, reduce miscommunications, and increase comprehension and learning.
Adaptability: Being able to adapt to changes in your workplace, project deadlines, or deliverables can help reduce stress and maintain productivity when faced with unexpected challenges.
Find your inspiration
Seeking good examples of development opportunities can help you identify areas of improvement and take steps to reach your goals. Anything from finding a career coach to taking a short class can put you on the path to development.
Let your passions inspire you to keep learning and create a positive example for others in your workplace.