A recent idealist.org blog shared low-cost ideas that contribute to your professional development. While I agree with the suggestions, such as professional associations, conferences, and online resources, there are several costs of professional development that are often overlooked but must be considered if you really want to enhance your skills and grow your expertise:
The best results from joining a professional association come from regular attendance at events and stepping up to committee work and leadership roles. The dues you pay are a fraction of the investment, compared to the time you’ll spend. Even a one-time conference is a longer-term time investment than most people think because the best results come from following up and expanding on relationships started at the conference. Before you select your next professional development activity, consider the time you will spend overall, not just in the activity itself. Do you have the time to follow through?
Similar to time, your attention is limited. Professional development encompasses general skills (e.g., communication, presence, overall business knowledge) and specific skills (e.g., industry expertise, social media or software). The best professional development is based on your goals and your career opportunities. You may want to learn about social media, but this may not be what your company needs and values. Do you know what skills and expertise will be valued by your company or ideal employers? Do you know what skills and expertise you lack? Are you genuinely interested so you will absorb the information?
- Opportunity Cost
If you spend your money, time and attention in one area, you forego another area of focus. This doesn’t mean you can’t cover a breadth of skills over the long-term but you need to decide on the sequence of your professional development activity. This will be based on the timing of your goals and the timing of development opportunities (if a key conference is being held now, that may be a deciding factor even if you would prefer to take a class). What is available to you right now? What projects are in the pipeline or career objectives impending? What makes sense to pursue now v. later?
Financial cost is but one factor in the professional development option you choose. More importantly, the limited resources of time, attention, and opportunity need to be weighed against your goals, your company’s goals, and timing issues to make a truly informed and productive choice.
This post originally appears in my Work In Progress blog for Forbes.com.