Answer Interview Questions on Professional Development

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Employers aren’t just interested in the skills you have today. They want to know how you’ll grow over the long term. For this reason, when you’re interviewing for a job, you should expect to answer questions about your professional development.

It’s important for employers to hire applicants who aren’t stuck in their career and who are continually moving forward to gain new expertise.

Employers are eager to recruit candidates who are intent on developing the right skills and acquiring the right knowledge to excel in their field.

Organizations look for employees who are plugged into the latest trends impacting their field and eager to keep pace with changes in technology and best practices. They also recognize that no employee is perfect and look for evidence of self-awareness and a willingness to address any weaknesses.

Answering Questions About Professional Development

Interviewers will ask a variety of questions to get at this information. The most common tactic will be to ask about your weaknesses and how you might have addressed them in the past. Some recruiters might approach this issue by asking you about the most prominent trends impacting your field. A question like, "What is your professional development plan for the next year?" has a broad enough scope to capture both weaknesses and professional trends.

A professional development plan is your plan for developing or acquiring the skills and experiences necessary to support your career goals and your continued improvement.

Not having a plan in place will be a red flag for a prospective employer. The expectation for anyone hired for a professional position will be that you are prepared to upgrade your expertise continually. As an aside, that upgrading is valuable for resume building, too.

The Best Way to Answer

Don’t wait until you’re actively job searching. The first step is to make sure you always have a professional development plan, since you never know when you will need to transition into job search mode. You might lose your job due to a layoff or other termination and need to ramp up quickly. Having a plan ready will save you time and give you the confidence to get moving on your search.

Show off tech skills. In most cases, your professional development plan should include mastering the latest area of technology being tapped by employers in your sector. So, a project manager might be prepared to say, "I have been working on strengthening my business intelligence skills and have taken (or plan to take) a seminar on advanced Plex system ERP applications."

Try to incorporate some reference to a hot industry trend in your plan if possible. Review the latest journal articles and conference agendas for your professional associations and speak to well-informed colleagues for ideas. For example, a hospital administrator might say, "I have been reading articles on using electronic health records to generate clinical quality measures and plan to attend a seminar at the next Hospital Association conference on the topic."

Don’t be afraid to talk about areas of potential improvement. Finally, if you have been working on an area that could use some improvement you might mention that strategy as part of your plan. For example, if you are in a field where presenting to groups is not a core skill but is somewhat valued, you might say, "I plan to work on my presentation skills by taking a workshop on optimizing the use of presentation tools like PowerPoint. I have always gotten positive feedback about my presentations but would like to jazz them up a bit."

How to Create a Professional Development Plan

If your biggest problem describing your professional development plan is that you don’t actually have one, don’t despair. Chances are that you know more about how to achieve your goals than you think. It’s just matter of putting your vague aspirations into more concrete terms and learning to talk about them effectively.

To create your professional development plan, start by making a list of goals. Do you want a raise in the next year, or a promotion? Do you hope to have your boss’s job someday, or transition to another industry entirely? Write it all down.

Then, write down what you need to achieve your goals, including skills, knowledge, certifications, etc. Next, make a plan to acquire the qualifications you need and plan out your timeline. When you do so, be realistic: there’s no point in creating a plan that’s so ambitious, you can’t possibly fulfill it while you’re meeting your current commitments.