Professional Development Planning for New and Advancing Professionals
Brenda McKenzie, Kent State University
“Successful performance depends on a number of variables, many of which require efforts toward continuing education and the development of personal and professional knowledge” (Ward-Roof & Payne, 2004, p. 63). The following tips offer general professional development ideas and help outline strategies for new and advancing professionals. Although this information serves just as a starting point, there are a number of broad, general ways you can plan for your professional development.
Read. Reading is a great way to stay on top of new ideas and trends without committing a lot of time and money. The Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors’ (AFA) Perspectives, Essentials, and Oracle; The Chronicle of Higher Education; and ACPA – College Student Educators International’s (ACPA) About Campus are all excellent resources, as are books and magazines from the business management field.
Attend conferences. Conferences are a good way to gather new information on a number of topics in a short timeframe. Do not limit your conference attendance to just one specific functional area, but consider attending a more generalist conference offered by organizations such as ACPA, NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA), or consider attending a conference with a more academic focus such as the Association for the Study of Higher Education's (ASHE) Annual Conference. Also, look outside of higher education. For example, if you have responsibility for designing newsletters or publications, attend a one-day conference on publication design or training on a publication software package.
Attend campus workshops. If you are a campus-based professional, these are convenient and, best of all, free. Topics offered are typically broader in nature, which allows you to gather information specific to your needs. Attending workshops on your campus is also an excellent way to make connections with individuals and departments you might not interact with otherwise.
Take classes to expand your knowledge base and improve your critical thinking skills. Obviously, being a student again takes time away from other responsibilities in your life, but can be worth the extra effort. This does not necessarily mean working toward a degree. For example, if you work on a campus with a student personnel program, and they offer a course on assessment, consider taking the course to learn how you might better enhance your assessment efforts.
Look to other professional areas for new ideas and ways of solving problems. This can encourage creative thinking as well as provide a different, fresh perspective on campus issues and challenges.
If you are a new professional, you may not yet have a fully conceptualized professional development palette. You may be transitioning into a new position, moving to a new area, and making new connections. This may also mean that you are not necessarily thinking about your own professional development, but it’s never too early to start planning.
Set goals for yourself. Where do you want to be in three to five years? What skills and experiences do you need to get there? Then assess your skills in these goal areas to see where you are currently. Using this information, work with your supervisor to develop a plan of action for yourself. Once you have developed a plan, regularly revisit your progress and discuss it with your supervisor.
Join one or more professional associations and get involved. At first, this may feel intimidating. It may seem like everyone knows each other, and you are an “outsider.” Just remember, everyone was an “outsider” at one point! Look for opportunities with which you feel comfortable, that allow you to get to know more about the association, and that give you a chance to have an active voice.
Identify conferences or workshops that are of interest to you. Not everything you attend has to be related to your position. Look for experiences that will benefit you as a professional in the short and long-term. One important consideration here is the expense of attending conferences. Should you work at an institution that cannot support conference travel, you will need to consider whether attending conferences is important enough for you to consider paying for it yourself.
Submit a conference program proposal. If you are nervous about presenting alone, find someone to present with you – a colleague, a supervisor, or a friend from graduate school. Ask other professionals who have presented at conferences for advice on what reviewers look for in program proposals and what makes a great conference presentation.
Write an article. This does not mean you have to do a whole research project. You could submit an article to AFA’s Essentials or Perspectives about a current trend or program within your own fraternity/sorority community or consider writing a book review.
If you are an advancing professional, you are in a different place than new professionals and graduate students. You have some professional experience under your belt and may be looking for your next move or advancement opportunity. Many of the ideas suggested above for new professionals are still applicable to advancing professionals, but can be taken to the next level.
Determine your long-term career and personal goals. Meet with your supervisor to develop an action plan that will address ways for you to achieve these goals. This may include job shadowing, classes, conferences, active involvement in professional association leadership, taking on more responsibility, or moving on to a new position.
Serve on planning committees for state, regional, or annual conferences. This is an excellent way to become more involved in a professional association and to network with other advancing professionals in your field. If serving on the planning committee seems like too much of a commitment, conference planning committees are always looking for program proposal reviewers.
Volunteer or run for a leadership position in a professional association.
Several opportunities are available within AFA to serve on committees, help plan programs, and help develop new Association resources. Consider filling out an AFA 2010 Volunteer Involvement Form
Write an article or book chapter. Find some colleagues on your campus who are interested in a critical topic related to what you do and partner with them to conduct research and share the results. If you are on a campus with a graduate program in student personnel, this could be an ideal connection with a faculty member or a graduate student.
Professional development is not a static process; it should be ever-changing to meet your needs and the changing demographics of students. It takes time and effort to create a plan of action for your own personal and professional growth, and it should be individualized to meet your needs.
Ward-Roof, J., & Payne, C. (2004). Professional development. Orientation Planning Manual. Minneapolis, MN: National Orientation Directors Association.