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Professional growth vs. professional development?
Work Management
Last modified date

Jan 25, 2024

How to Advance Your Career Through Professional Growth

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Denisa Popescu

Blog average read time

15 min

Last modified date

January 25, 2024


What is professional growth in a nutshell? Professional growth refers to all the qualities, skills, and adjustments you can make to influence your career development positively.

Through a well-thought professional growth plan and a well-established set of skills you are ready to invest in, you will be more aware of your career goals and more assertive in achieving them.

Some of the career goals you can achieve through professional growth include:

  • Gaining new skills
  • Career advancements (promotions)
  • Professional fulfillment and satisfaction

Professional growth vs. professional development?

How do you make the distinction between professional growth and professional development?

Despite these terms often being used interchangeably, professional development and professional growth are not the same.

Think of professional development as the predecessor of professional growth. Professional development often refers to more personal, not-so-set-in-stone goals you wish to achieve. That is if you wish to pursue a certain education to achieve a desired job in the future.

Note: Your professional development goals are more likely to change through time, as opposed to the professional growth ones.

So, why is professional growth important?

Some skills can only be developed after you already have some experience in a professional field. This is where professional growth comes in.

If you ever asked yourself:

  • How can I get a promotion?
  • How can I help my team more?
  • How can I evolve at my current job?
  • How can I handle more responsibility?
  • How can I change my job?
  • How can I make my professional life easier and more effective?

Then, consider investing some time in creating a professional growth plan and finding new strategies.

It sounds time-consuming, doesn’t it? Well, worry not. This article outlines all the specifics you need to start your professional growth journey and design your personalized professional growth plan.

Why is professional growth important?

The key to success in an ever-changing job market is constant development and easy adaptation.

Even if you are content with your current professional role, consider seeing things through a meta lens when it comes to professional growth and its importance.

Skill development and investment in professional growth might not lead to a swift, short-term achievement, and to be honest, that’s not even the primary goal of this principle, ongoing, linear, and long-term success is.

According to Bill Eckstrom, the CEO of the Ecsell Institute, a lack of professional growth leads to stagnation:

“Seeking development opportunities, whether on the job or off, breaks the cycle and gets you moving forward again.”

Eckstrom says that growth opportunities are advantageous for individuals, but organizations reap similar benefits.

In a market where jobs you’d previously start in your 20s and retire from are no longer the case, and technologies are advancing so fast, you have to be constantly assertive but also constantly open to improvement and development to achieve long-term success.

Despite the ongoing change in the job market, jobs like Financial Managers or Applications Software Developers will still exist in the future. What will change is the degree of skills needed and the environment. Apps, for instance, will be built for new and more challenging devices, requiring new programming languages and robot assistants.

Meanwhile, jobs directly dealing with humans, such as nurses or physicians, will likely remain similar with extra help from new tech.

The latest statistics on employee training highlight why it’s important for companies to invest in employee development constantly.

Also,  54% of employees see continuous training as being essential to their professional development. And they’ve never been so right. It’s your duty to grow and further advance your career.

Best strategies for professional growth

Here are the main strategies you should consider implementing for long-term success:

1. Decide on your long-term goals

Once you have a set of clear goals in mind, pursuing them long-term will come from sheer motivation.

Think about it as a deadline; when you have it, you already think of steps and ways to achieve performance and finish it in time because you are already mentally aware that you must do it. The same principle works for professional goals, yet this time you’ll be the only one who gains from this.

This is a great strategy to approach both in your personal and professional life as it helps you become more self-assertive, analytical, and, frankly, happier.

At the end of the day, the key to happiness, regardless of the domain, comes from self-fulfillment.

Here are some standard goal examples:

  • Earning industry certifications
  • Learning a couple of programming languages
  • Increasing professional responsibilities
  • Accepting new tasks that might seem tricky
  • Learning new software
  • Getting a promotion
  • Being more involved in your professional life
  • Trying to learn different sets of skills from different fields related to your current job position
  • Setting up a new company

Having a guided and well-thought end goal was how companies have made a name for themselves.

Greatest example? Here is one of Elon Musk’s main strategies, provided by this Linkedin article that studied his mindset:

“Elon Musk has a vision for the future that guides his actions and decisions. He sets specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals that align with his vision and motivate him to work hard. He also breaks down his goals into smaller sub-goals and tasks that make them more manageable and realistic. He constantly monitors his progress and adjusts his plans as needed.”

2. Take on new and challenging opportunities

Challenge is enticing and exciting for the human psyche—incorporate that into your professional growth.

If you describe your job with the words “same ol’ routine,” take on some new responsibilities and tasks that seem out of your comfort zone to refresh your view on your position.

This is a great way to analyze your potential and test your limits.

Beyond having a full-time job, lie other career opportunities too.

Start a blog on Medium, open an Etsy shop, get your best friend and record a podcast together, or start that YouTube channel you’ve always wanted. Even better, go rogue and become a freelancer. There are endless ideas, and you just have to start pursuing them.

3. Seek out a mentor or be someone’s mentor

As Robert Boyce once said, “Knowledge is power. Knowledge shared is power multiplied.”

Learning new skills, or even new perspectives, mainly from someone pursuing a similar career to yours, will broader your professional horizons greatly.

A mentor can bring enough experience and knowledge so you won’t make the same rookie mistakes they did. Guidance is often offered as advice on how they handled similar issues in the past or red flags to pay attention to.

By mentor, I’m not specifically referring to a higher-up but rather someone you look up to from a professional standpoint. This could be your colleague, boss, or even an online personality.

Honest feedback, regardless of your position, will keep you goal-oriented.

Constructive criticism will also help you better understand which skill set you need to improve on from an outside perspective.

This is important because we cannot be objective with ourselves, so relying on someone else to “tell it like it is” will make you comprehend where you genuinely need improvement but also where you excel.

Prioritize the task you excel in and make it your main focus, “show it off” as much as possible, yet do not disregard the tasks that need improvement. Instead, maximize them and make them smart additions to your primary skill.

professional development mentors

4. Hone in on professional development skills

As previously discussed, professional development is the predecessor of professional growth.

If you haven’t been driven before to attempt any schools or seminars for your specific field, don’t worry – you can develop specialized skills and practical knowledge through your job!

Realistically, while having a stable job, pursuing an education is challenging, but if your main goal is to develop your current career, take any opportunity to attend any specialized seminars, courses, or training sessions specifically designed for your domain. These courses can be found and done individually or through your company.

Sometimes these training courses give you more specific information that can be used practically at your job than formal education will.

That said, pay attention to furthering your education to achieve long-term success.

Why? Furthering your education will open many doors in your future. For example, if you consider working in a different field at some point, education is vital to a swift transition, but that’s not the only advantage.

Benefits include:

  • boosting your chances of getting your desired job, mainly if a degree is one of the requirements
  • increased salary regardless of your job position
  • a more professional-looking resume

The benefits of pursuing your education can be seen in the graph provided by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics:

professional growth statistics

5. Develop time management skills

Advance your education through time and focus on your time management skills.

From my experience, attending university courses and finishing degrees while having a full-time job is a challenging task. Give yourself time and focus on your priorities. Keep a record of your work with the help of time-tracking software. Try to achieve your goals step by step and consider making a “future plans” calendar to stay on track.

Developing your soft skills is another tactic mainly linked to personal development rather than professional development that can benefit you in the long run. Strong communication skills, empathy, and emotional intelligence are prime examples of soft skills.

This is highly beneficial to your professional growth since interviews, meetings, or even setting up a company are mainly linked to your awareness of your soft skills.

They are the base of your future environment, career goals, and long-term happiness.

While negotiating your salary or setting the base of your company and finding the people you will work with, you only use your soft skills at first.

Employers and employees alike are unaware of each other’s hard skills firsthand, which can make or break your future aspirations if you don’t develop your soft skills.

Time management is crucial for knowledge workers, creatives, and consultants since it’s tied to efficiency, productivity, and profitability. Opt for time-tracking software with consultants as the primary audience.

6. Use what you are learning

Learning doesn’t end when you finish acquiring new skills. You need to use everything you’ve read or practiced during training. Teaching others is the best way to teach yourself a new concept or master any upcoming skills. You can start your project and share your knowledge via a blog or video or join an NGO to lend a hand to a good cause.

Chances are you’ll forget what you don’t use simply because forgetting is in our nature. Technology is ever-evolving, forcing us to keep up with its changes constantly. So, taking a data science course now and only using what you’ve learned ten years from now will be impossible without consistent practice. Or mastering the latest task management software is invaluable in this ever-evolving digital workplace.

This is why many organizations require their members to attend training events and conferences throughout their lives to keep their membership and right to work in the field. PMI®, for instance, allows its project manager members to renew their certifications only if they earn professional development units (PDUs).

Brush up your digital skills and adopt a new project management tool – anything from time management, e.g., an automatic time tracker, to task management, e.g., a Kanban tool, to name a few examples.

Or opt for the software used in your niche or industry with time tracking and cost estimation. That might be an agency project management software fit for a small company on a budget, or a project management tool curated for architectural needs, or software for educational institutions.

This kind of software expertise ensures professionals can stay updated with any changes and will be ready for all challenges the future workplace might bring.

How to create a professional growth plan

Now that we have discussed the primary skills you should consider developing to reach your professional growth goals, here is how you could adapt them to a more specific plan.

1. Decide your specific and reasonable goals first

For a professional growth plan to work, start with more easy-to-achieve goals.

Why? Because theoretically, setting up your big, long-term goals is helpful, but to achieve them, you need to be ready to embrace the “planning” mindset.

Small goals that get achieved faster will keep you motivated while also giving you insight into how to practically pursue this growth plan in the future.

A small win is a motivation boost, making bigger goals that seem unattainable now appear less challenging.

These small goals can vary from the simplest tasks to more complex ones.

For example, tidying your work desk could lead to professional self-improvement because it stops you from procrastinating, makes you more aware and focused, and improves your self-esteem. Yet the main benefit is that it practically makes you stick to a plan and helps you get in the mindset of self-managing.

Some other examples include:

  • Choose a specific professional task to improve on, such as time management, professional interactions, specific skills, or any task that can be done in the present to help your future goals.
  • Do some specific research on the main skill you wish to improve
  • Apply to courses or training sessions
  • Set up a clear schedule and keep up with it
  • Volunteer for different causes that align with your job domain

2. Decide your main long-term goals

Analyze how you can embed your qualities and already achieved short-term goals into your long-term plan.

As I’ve previously mentioned, professional growth will be an ongoing process, so you must make everything you know and wish to know count.

After you’ve achieved your short-term goals, you already have the mindset and motivation to make specific plans for long-term goals.

Write down all of your future aspirations and start analyzing them.

To give you a more specific example, here is the professional growth plan I made for getting a master’s degree:

professional growth plan MA

In this vein, look for Master’s degree programs in project management that align with your career goals and interests. Consider factors such as program length, cost, curriculum, and reputation. Once you have identified a program that meets your needs, apply and enroll in the program. Be sure to meet all application requirements and deadlines.

3. Join professional groups and associations

The best way to get accurate feedback on your work is to have multiple people analyze your efforts and results. Sure, one mentor is great, but in the end, you’ll be delivering results for more than just one person. Professional networks give you the right environment to grow correctly. Plus, extra perks like access to exclusive training events, discounts, updated learning materials, the best work management software, and the chance to meet influential people in your field. Think of your network connections as your key professional support, and always surround yourself with the right people.

Note: If you’re working in established industries or very particular niches, like construction or engineering, you’d benefit from project management software with time and collaboration features crafted for engineer minds.

4. Start pursuing your plans

See this plan as a specific list of tasks you’ve set for yourself, and constantly remind yourself of the benefits.

Don’t follow your plan just in theory. Set specific and realistic timeframes and deadlines, and see your aspirations as practical tasks rather than theoretical guidelines.

For example:

  1. Give yourself two months to develop your soft skills, and add one specific weekly task to your plan (be vocal in a meeting, ask for a raise, talk to your boss, etc.)
  2. Set an hour every week to clean your work desk.

Stick to your plan as closely as possible, mainly in the beginning.

5. Acknowledge you will encounter setbacks

You will feel motivated and self-assured at every step when you reach one of your goals, but be aware that sometimes you will encounter setbacks.

Turn those setbacks into learning opportunities, don’t see them as drawbacks. Don’t strive for perfection, but rather for self-assertion.

Be careful not to exhaust yourself as you’re smashing your goals – here’s our guide to recovering from burnout if that’s you already.

The negative things you will learn from this experience are the best way to acknowledge what you are best and worst at, what motivates you and what doesn’t. Some skills you’ve considered in your PGP might not fit you best. This happens to everyone, be conscious of why things didn’t go as planned and move forward knowing you have experienced and learned what to do in the future if you encounter something similar.

Reassure yourself that every experience is to your benefit regardless of its outcome.

6. Revise your professional growth plan if you feel uninspired

Your goals can change through time, or you might’ve already achieved your primary goals. Make sure your plan adheres to this and changes accordingly.

Professional growth relies on constant learning and development throughout your entire career, so your plan will also constantly develop and change.

Once you’ve reached your primary goals, it’s time to start the process once again so you never lose sight of or neglect your professional progress.

7. Always remind yourself this is to your benefit

You must ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?”. At the end of the day, regardless of the outcome, if you consider starting a professional growth plan, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Remind yourself constantly throughout this journey about the benefits of this process. For example, how many personal and professional doors this will open and how fulfilled you will be after reaching your first goal.

Professional growth examples

Next, we will present some specific goal examples you can set for yourself.

1. Acquire credentials

Increase your credibility through knowledge.

How?

  • Professional certificates
  • Degrees
  • Training courses
  • Volunteering
  • Job experience
  • Recommendations

Why?

  • List it in your resume
  • Get a better salary
  • Get a promotion

2. Earn trust

Be seen through taking on job responsibilities

How?

  • Plan a new meeting
  • Inform your higher-ups you want to learn a new task
  • Keep in constant contact with your colleagues
  • Get to know how other departments work
  • Consider joining a professional organization

Why?

  • Improves team communication
  • Improves relations with your higher-ups
  • Self-development
  • You develop your soft skills
  • You get more feedback

3. Develop your soft skills

Improve early feedback, achieve your goals through communication

How?

  • Take on a leadership role
  • Improve your time-management skills
  • Try public speaking
  • Attend team-building activities
  • Focus on teamwork
  • Stay motivated
  • Improve your analytical thinking
  • Listen actively
  • Focus on developing your emotional intelligence

Why?

  • Be a better communicator
  • Adhere to and improve the team’s productivity
  • Negotiate easier
  • Learn how to communicate your needs as a project manager, team leader, or employee
  • Learn how to upscale professional benefits
  • Be more content with your professional life

Professional growth in the field of AI

What is AI?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a technical field that focuses on developing theories, methods, technologies, and application systems to replicate human intelligence. It aims to enable machines to perform complex tasks that would otherwise require intelligent humans. AI simulates human behavior, such as cognitive capacity, understanding language, reasoning, solving problems, learning from experience, etc.  These are all human-like activities deeply entrenched in our daily lives, both personally and professionally.

Jobs, positions, and career paths have risen significantly in these six branches of AI:

  • Machine Learning is the science of getting machines to interpret, process, and analyze data to solve real-world problems. It gives computers the potential to learn from experience and datasets. Think self-driving cars and speech recognition.
  • Deep Learning is a subfield of machine learning that uses neural networks to mimic human decision-making. It’s like having a little scientist constantly analyze data analysis, learning, reinforcing, and learning some more from it.
    Neural Networks are a series of algorithms that recognize underlying relationships in a data set through a process mimicking how the human brain operates. This happens thanks to perceptrons, which are the equivalent of human neurons. Thanks to deep learning and neural networks, computers can process gigantic amounts of nameless raw materials (text, audio, image) and label them accordingly. For instance, if you have thousands of e-mails, with AI, these can be labeled and grouped into categories in minutes.
  • Cognitive Computing involves creating systems that can adapt and interact naturally with humans. Now that AI has complex neural networks, it can solve complex problems by learning how to interact with humans and understand their behavior. This is how chatbots understand human input, behaviors, and emotions and can make decisions and suggest feedback.
  • Natural Language Processing focuses on enabling machines to understand, interpret, and respond to human language. For example, voice assistants, translators, and voice search engines.
  • Computer Vision aims to develop techniques that assist computers in seeing and understanding digital images and videos. Use cases: electronic invoices, MRI scans, X-rays, etc, to minimize human errors.

The applications of AI are becoming more widespread. Now, AI makes automated loan or hiring decisions, sifts through massive amounts of data with few(er) errors, and uses business intelligence for optimization and algorithmic data for project and portfolio management.

Here are a few steps to consider for professional growth in AI:

  1. Pursue a degree or certification in AI to gain the necessary skills and knowledge to work with AI systems.
  2. Cultivate a growth mindset and continuously learn new, in-demand skills.
  3. Use AI-enhanced tools and platforms to guide your career path and progression, analyzing market trends and aligning recommendations with your individual ambitions and preferences. AI-driven personal development will become a hot topic. Just ask ChatGPT.
  4. Collaborate with AI for data-driven career guidance, sparking creativity, and identifying skills in high demand.
  5. Keep up with the latest advancements in AI technology and industry trends.
  6. Adopt a skills-first model when hiring and developing talent. Focus on the skills and inclinations that will allow employees to work successfully with AI.
  7. Maintain a balance between human and AI capabilities, ensuring that human talent, guidance, oversight, and collaboration are integral to the success of any AI system. AI won’t replace humans—completely.

Even if you’re not pursuing a degree in AI, simply taking in new information related to AI and putting it into practice engenders professional growth and positive change.

Let’s say you’re using AI tools for assistance and guidance. Firstly, AI can support your growth through personalized feedback and recommendations based on your skills and interests, somewhat like a VENN diagram of your ikigai.

Secondly, AI can help you identify which skills are in demand in your industry and tailor your expertise to meet evolving needs as it scours the Internet for industry data.

Also, the mere fact that you’re learning about AI means you are developing a growth mindset and picking up new and in-demand skills.

Most importantly, AI will help you cut down on unnecessary administrative or tedious tasks as it automates the minutiae. You’ll have more time to invest in your growth and do meaningful, deep work.

Where should you look for opportunities for professional growth?

We have already discussed why professional growth is essential to reaching your career goal. You probably have a professional growth plan by now, and you’re looking for resources, free or paid. There’s an endless list of resources available on the internet. I’ll list a few to get you started:

1. Professional growth blogs worth reading

Ramping up your reading list with one of these career inspiration blogs. These are just a few that I found to be interesting. Should you have another suggestion, I would happily list them below.

2. Professional growth speakers 

We all need a little motivational speech at times, just enough to give you a boost. If you haven’t found your favorite professional growth speaker yet, I am happy to introduce you to these professional speakers that will kindle change and growth through their presentations.

3. Professional growth courses

Of course, you should opt for project management courses or industry-specific coursework that suit your career path. However, I find these suitable for everyone.

4. Ted Talks Professional Development  

If you have never listened to a TED Talk, I think it’s about time. If you’re looking for inspiration on how to grow your career, these are by far the best TED Talks to listen to. You can watch them on your phone, tablet, or laptop, on your daily commute, or chilling with a drink in hand.

5. Professional growth books

These great career development books are a must-read for everyone looking into professional growth.

Set these in motion as you’re working your regular job, focusing on your productivity, or even better if you want to explore how to work remotely and grow at the same time.

Results of professional growth

professional growth confidence

Through professional growth, you boost your confidence, morale, and self-esteem. This translates to increased job performance, higher productivity, and overall professional satisfaction.

Having a clear professional path that you are content with also increases your overall life quality because, through structure and clear goal-setting, you also give yourself more time to pursue personal development.

Tip: Implement the skills you’ve learned through professional growth in your personal life too! Establish personal OKRs or learn how to reduce mental overwhelm or procrastination.

Professional growth will boost your self-esteem and motivate you to pursue your goals, so now is the time to consider a personal growth plan. Take on healthy habits such as sports or pursue a healthy lifestyle.

Denisa Popescu

Author

Thanks to her expertise in Applied Modern Languages and her passion for copywriting, Denisa likes to embed creativity and analysis in her work. Through in-depth research, she has found a new passion for project management and personal time management, and enjoys anything that can further develop her creative thinking.

Alexandra Martin

Editor

Drawing from a background in cognitive linguistics and armed with 10+ years of content writing experience, Alexandra Martin combines her expertise with a newfound interest in productivity and project management. In her spare time, she dabbles in all things creative.

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