Turning Professional Development Into a Competitive Advantage

Friday, June 9, 2017

Professional Development Competitive Advantage
Hiring managers face a difficult task today: trying to identify and secure commitments from in-demand professionals.

Job openings, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, are currently at one of the highest levels on record. While the demand is there, the supply of available candidates with the needed skills is not. In a Robert Half survey, the majority of CFOs reported challenges finding professionals with in-demand expertise. In addition, in May, national unemployment hit its lowest figure in 16 years, and rates for specialized positions, such as those in accounting and finance, are often even lower.

Compounding this problem, employees enjoy more opportunities to advance their careers by jumping to another firm. Thus, the hiring cycle begins anew.

Professional Development Taking on Added Importance 

How are employers to respond? No doubt, attractive compensation is one of the most effective tools available. But it’s not the be-all-end-all option, and budgets can only stretch so far (if they can stretch at all).

One growing trend among professionals is a greater emphasis on working for a company that will develop and act on a clear career path for them. For example, a report from Robert Half and Enactus found that the top priority for Generation Z when looking for a job is opportunities for career growth. And it’s not just the newest entrants into the workforce craving this. A Robert Half survey found a lack of opportunities for growth and advancement is among the top three reasons employees quit their jobs.


In such an environment, professional development serves as a competitive differentiator for firms. This isn’t lost on companies, which were nearly three times more likely to increase than decrease their professional development budgets this year, according to Robert Half Management Resources research.

Turning Offerings Into Opportunity 

A proven performance enhancer, professional development also serves as a force in helping organizations recruit and retain star employees. The bedrock of a successful program is having a strong one in place, but it can’t reach its full potential as a differentiator unless employers spread the word effectively.

Start with your current employees. Let them know your company prioritizes their growth and development and invests in programs to make this happen. Promote available opportunities, new and ongoing alike, to staff. Gaining buy-in from employees will heighten morale and boost retention; it also turns them into ambassadors for your organization.

You can focus on job seekers, too, selling them on the benefits of working for your company. Highlight your professional development when advertising openings and speaking with network contacts about your hiring efforts. In interviews with candidates, pinpoint specific offerings from your organization that will help them succeed and grow their careers.

A Competitive Differentiator for Professionals 

Actively pursuing continuing education improves employees’ performance and marketability. In addition to cutting-edge expertise, employers seek individuals with a commitment to lifelong learning.

Unfortunately, professionals may sometimes think that they lack professional development opportunities at their current company. But all is not lost; here are strategies for those finding themselves in this situation: 

  • Talk to your manager. Your manager may know of additional offerings and be able to go to bat for you to secure other opportunities. At a minimum, your boss can give you stretch assignments and help you find an internal coach or mentor
  • Look beyond training. While training is an integral component of professional development, they aren’t synonymous. Firms offer a number of programs, including mentorships, role rotations, job shadowing, and cross-departmental task forces. When your company brings in consultants, tap them for insights on projects where you work together and best practices they’ve seen at other organizations. 
  • Build a business case. If you seek a program that isn’t offered by your firm, develop a case to present to your manager, including showing how the company will benefit. For example, taking a course on the latest financial software could enable you to ease the adoption process for your department and train your colleagues on it. 
  • Find external opportunities. Don’t limit your search to your office. Coaching sports sharpens your leadership skills, for instance, while serving as a treasurer for a local community organization helps hone your finance expertise.

    Making Professional Development Work for You 

    Professional development will always be critical to business and career success. Today, it’s playing a leading role in helping companies and individuals differentiate themselves from their competition and peers. If you don’t immediately see that what you need is available, be proactive and creative. The options are out there, waiting for you to turn the offering into an opportunity.

About the Author
Tim Hird is the executive director of Robert Half Management Resources, the premier provider of senior-level accounting, finance, and business systems professionals to supplement companies’ project and interim staffing needs. The company has more than 140 locations worldwide and offers assistance to business leaders and consultants at
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