Chris Proulx, president and CEO of eCornell and the newly launched RedShift, an online program providing MBA-level content, real world projects and access to mentors and coaches, suggests you keep the following in mind when evaluating professional development opportunities.
1. Know what you're getting. With online tools and in-person classes, there are countless opportunities to learn new things. "In looking at a proposed program, ask questions related to the success of past participants and ask which employers use the program or recognize the credential," Proulx notes. For example, if you're planning to enroll in a certificate program, make sure it is well respected in your professional community or that it is accredited. Be sure to talk to people you respect to solicit their opinions of any program you consider and touch base with people who have enrolled in the programs you're investigating. Take this feedback seriously before you make any choices.
2. Results matter. When you spend time learning content, be sure you're learning information you'll be able to use to demonstrate results in your career. Proulx suggests you look for a program with opportunities to grow your own skills with a real-world takeaway you can use to prove you're ready for the next assignment. Sometimes, this takes some extra effort. Try to predict what skills and information will help you succeed in your career in the future. What's the next great thing that people in your field will need to know? When you can position yourself as someone who is on the cutting edge, you'll have more opportunities in your career.
3. Grow your network. Be sure to focus on quality, not just quantity. "Many programs, even online ones, provide specific and meaningful ways to network with others and grow your professional community," Proulx says. Expanding your network is just as important as learning new information when it comes to your professional development. Be sure to ask how a program will ensure you can grow your network and connect you to mentors. You may want to ask if online programs encourage you to connect with other participants via social media tools or online groups.
4. Value your time. Your time is valuable. With so many options, you can be in control of your schedule. Identify courses that have convenient start dates or even on-demand access. "Students are more successful when they integrate learning and professional development at a time that works for them," Proulx notes. Make sure the program or courses you select are well-suited to your life. It's not worthwhile to enroll in a course or a series of courses that you won't be able to complete.
5. Get feedback. Keep in mind that content and information is key, but as Proulx asks, "If access to content was enough, who would need coaches and mentors?" He suggests you make a point of seeking personalized feedback regarding your ideas so you can gain the edge you need to differentiate yourself. "Feedback is critical in accelerating your application of new skills to your workplace and your career. Make sure whatever you select includes expert, practitioner feedback," Proulx says.
Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media consultant, career coach, author, speaker, resume writer, and owner of Keppie Careers. She is author of Social Networking for Career Success and 100 Conversations for Career Success. Miriam teaches job seekers and entrepreneurs how to incorporate social media tools along with traditional strategies to reach their goals.