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4 Professional Development Opportunities Outside the Office

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While we hope our employers will invest in us by providing leadership opportunities and professional development, it is important to seek out opportunities ourselves beyond the workplace. The advantages to professional development outside of your office include the following:

  • Broader network – Working with folks outside of your organization expands your personal and professional network. This not only helps you long term as you navigate the professional world, but it helps in the short term by exposing you to different ideas that could be applied in your current role.
  • Connection to the community – We can often get sucked into our own work bubble. But participating in professional development outside the office allows us to stay connected to the larger community and further develop our understanding of what is happening and how our organizations can help.
  • Expanded professional development – Often times, work-sponsored professional development is based on the needs of that organization. What if you want to eventually leave that organization? Professional development from a third party may expose you to skills and knowledge needed in other work places.

So what are great opportunities for professional development outside the office? Here are four potential opportunities to seek out in your community.

  1. Community Leadership Programs – Programs like Leadership Greater Washington generally provide professional development opportunities by exposing participants to the critical issues facing communities and how leaders in the nonprofit, business and government sectors are seeking solutions. While program curriculum varies, many include multiple one or two-day sessions based around a specific topic. They often include leadership curriculum, allowing participants to learn more about their own leadership skills and how to effectively apply them in life. To get started, find programs in your area and interview an alumnus to learn more about the program and how to get involved.
  2. Nonprofit Board Service – Some of the best professional lessons I’ve learned came from sitting on nonprofit boards. Board members get experience thinking strategically about an organization, creating a deeper impact on the communities, and finding outlets for passions that may not be met during our day-to-day jobs. To get started, see if your community has an organization like Nashville’s Young Leaders Council or On Board that will help you prepare to be an effective board member and find placement on an appropriate board.
  3. Civic Groups – Civic groups like Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions Club often have weekly meetings for networking and to hear a guest speaker about an important community topic. They often organize various volunteer and fundraising projects to make a difference in the communities. Such groups may also provide leadership opportunities to further enhance your skills and apply them outside of the office. To get started, research potential civic groups in your area and determine which might be a good fit for you; then contact them to see if you can attend as a visitor.
  4. Conferences – Professional conferences, like GovLoop’s upcoming Next Generation of Government Training Summit, is a great way to learn best practices, interact with thought leaders and high-level practitioners in an area of interest and expand your network. To get started, I recommend figuring out where you might like to visit in the next year; then see if there are any conferences in that area so that you can combine a trip with a professional development opportunity.

While these all may come with a cost, you may be able to discuss with your employer whether professional training dollars could support your development in these organizations. If that isn’t the case, some organizations may offer scholarships or a reduced fee for younger professionals. Either way, investing to develop yourself is always a wise investment.

How do you seek professional development outside of the office? I would love to hear your favorites in the comments below.

Meredith Benton is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Profile Photo Christine Burke

Thanks for the NextGen Training Summit shout-out! Are you attending? Another professional development opportunity is utilizing university alumni organizations. My alma mater, Virginia Tech, has a huge alumni network and hosts seminars, career fairs and other networking events after work in D.C.

Profile Photo Meredith Benton

Christine, I will be there and hope to meet you! Great to know that your alumni network is so strong on professional development. Another great option for readers to explore. Thank you for sharing it with us.

P Sanchez

Great tips! Don’t forget, however, that federal government employees are covered by ethics rules regarding volunteering for outside organizations, especially representing such organizations before any Government agency. That may limit your ability to be an officer of a nongovernment agency that receives federal funds. The U.S. Office of Government Ethics website has guidelines.

Profile Photo Meredith Benton

Thanks for sharing. You always want to ensure there are no conflicts of interest as a board member or potential board member. Working for a state regulatory agency, I also have to be careful about soliciting funds for the organizations on which I serve on their boards. I am still able to contribute my time, talent and own treasure to organizations as a board member. I still encourage all professionals to explore nonprofit board service as an option to both give back to the community as well as develop professional skills that may not otherwise be developed at work. Thanks for your thoughts as ethical compliance is of the utmost importance.

Laura Free

Volunteering has been a great way for me to build leadership skills. Serving as a steward for the Emerging Leaders Network at EPA has connected me to peers in other offices. Working on a local committee of a national nonprofit ahs given me broader experience with fundraising and organizational management.

Profile Photo Meredith Benton

Laura, Great to hear. I have a similar experience. If you haven’t already, be sure to include those experiences on your resume and LinkedIn profile and feel free to use them when responding to questions in interviews. Volunteer experiences like the ones you listed do provide valuable professional development that current and future employers will hopefully value. Keep up the great work!