Seven great development opportunities in early careers

So you’re recently out of university, or your apprenticeship and have developed a lot over the last few years. It’s natural to be eager to start applying what you’ve learnt to your new role, but it’s also common to be worried that your development is going to slow down, or even stop.

While it will be much more important to use your own initiative from now on, the good news is there is no reason your professional development needs to slow down from here on in. In fact, no great professional will stop seeking to develop professionally at any point in their career – even the CEO will always be looking to improve on their weaker skills and improve on their strengths!

The challenge for a new professional can be to work out where the best opportunities will come from to gain the skills you want to develop early in your career. To help we’ve put together a list of seven great development opportunities, as well as some parting advice.

  • Embrace training opportunities:

Training activities are the most obvious way to boost your development. Their purpose is to quickly get you up to speed in a specific area. When it comes to training there are a few things to bear in mind. Training budgets can often be very limited, therefore make sure you apply for the most relevant and beneficial courses. Get advice from your manager, and colleagues over which courses are worthwhile, and, just as importantly, when there is a course that you know you will benefit from make sure you put together a strong case to be sent on the course. Secondly remember just because you have been on a training course doesn’t mean you have developed in that area. The most important thing is to apply what you have learnt on the course in your day to day work, and continue to practice that development.

  • Learn from your mistakes, and your successes:

Early in your career, every project, and piece of work you conduct, should be treated as an opportunity for professional development as it will all be new. Consider spending a couple of hours to a day, at the end of each project to work out what went well and what didn’t. Take an objective view of yourself to work out what were your strengths and weakness on this project. It is also beneficial to ask colleagues for their truthful opinion of your strengths and weaknesses to see how this matches up to your own assessment. From this new found self-awareness you should now be able to work out a plan of how you can develop your weaknesses and build on your strengths in future.

  • Take on as much responsibility as you can:

The steepest development curve always happens when you’ve been chucked into the deep end. Such situations can be exhausting, exhilarating, and stressful; but are undoubtedly the best way to accelerate your development. Often the challenge is getting into a position where you are given more responsibility. If your team is under a lot of pressure with high workloads, the best way to go about it is to simply offer to take on more. Managers are much less likely to be concerned at giving inexperienced, new members of their team critical tasks, if the whole team is swamped with work already.

  • Learn from the best:

One abundant source of development opportunities will be your colleagues, some of whom will have been working in your sector for many years. Some companies allow staff, especially at the start of their careers, to ask for a formally assigned mentor. A mentor is usually someone in a higher management position with a lot of experience of the sector, but outside of your line management chain. You can have frank and honest discussions without fear of it affecting your yearly review. This can be a great way to get tailored advice. If your company doesn’t formally offer a mentor, don’t be afraid to approach someone you respect to ask if they would give you advice in an informal capacity. The majority of people will be flattered you’ve asked and more than happy to give advice. The same is true of experts within certain fields.

  • Become a STEM ambassador:

STEM stands for ‘Science Technology Engineering Mathematics’. If you work in any of those fields then you can become a STEM ambassador. STEM ambassadors work with local schools, to inspire school and college pupils to take up STEM fields at GSCE and A-Level. Then hopefully go into higher education studying a STEM field, either at university or through an apprenticeship. This can be a great way to gain experience giving presentations, leading and organising workshops, working to develop others, and it’s rewarding too. If you want to find out more about STEM visit their website.

  • Professional Membership Institutions and chartership/accreditations:

A great way to network, improve your knowledge in specialised areas, and gain professional prestige is to become a member of a professional institution in your chosen field. Membership organisations often put on conferences and talks to learn about specialist areas. Each institute offers a slightly different array of benefits. Chartership or accreditations are also a great way to document and prove your development. They require you to conduct a log of your professional activities, as well as demonstrate experience in several competencies, which can offer you an off the shelf roadmap for your development.

  • Diversify your work:

Your professional knowledge and abilities are roughly split into two categories – depth and breadth. The depth of your ability in a specific area will define your specialism, in e.g. a specific work area, whereas your breadth of abilities relates to your knowledge of areas around your specialism, including what are known as ‘soft skills’. Your early career is a great time to develop your breadth of knowledge and to improve on any rusty areas, such as giving presentations or learning to use that troublesome piece of software. Try to take on as diverse a workload a possible – there will be plenty of time to become an expert later in your career!

But …

Don’t over-stretch yourself: It can be tempting in your early career to embrace every single opportunity that comes your way. After all, it makes sense that the more opportunities you have to develop, the faster your professional growth will be. This is great if you can fit it all in and are happy juggling many things at once, but never sacrifice quantity for quality. If you’re doing too much to gain the most out of each opportunity then don’t be afraid to drop the activities you are getting the least out of, so you can concentrate on the rest.

There you have it, 7 opportunities to develop in your early career. As a new professional new situations are frequent, and the important thing is to make some effort to embrace each new opportunity as it arises.

This post was written by Martin Suitters