Two words: professional development.

While some may find this surprising, I encounter quite a few professionals who seem to have completely overlooked the importance of building a structured regimen of training, continuing education, and professional development activities into their overall job search game plan.  Perhaps they’re assuming they’ll find a job so quickly that they won’t miss a beat in terms of how the work in their field is done.  Or perhaps they’re just totally burned out and needing a short break, which is understandable.  But this short sabbatical can quickly morph, as mentioned in yesterday’s blog article, into a much longer break than initially planned!

So if you’re on the hunt for a new position, and consider yourself a “professional-grade” employee, ask yourself the following questions:

•  Do you invest several hours a week, minimum, into following relevant books, blogs, and trade publications in your field?
•  Do you routinely attend industry events and association meetings?
•  Are you enrolled in any formal training classes or engaging in any form of ongoing self-study?
•  Are you keeping your certifications active?  Or do you need to acquire any emerging new certifications?
•  If I were to interview you right now, could you wow me with some killer insights related to the latest/greatest issues, trends, and changing methodologies involved in your field and industry?

If you wait tables or walk dogs for a living, no worries, you’re probably off the hook, since these types of hourly jobs (to my knowledge) don’t usually tend to change much over time or require intensive ongoing certification.   If you’re a professional-caliber candidate, though, the game changes.  You need to stay sharp.  You need to keep up with the top-notch folks you’re competing against.  And if possible, you need to help offset your unemployment status by getting even SMARTER about your occupation/industry then beforehand, when you were working full-time and didn’t have time to keep up!

In other words, if you’re looking for a new opportunity, you need to do whatever it takes to ensure you still know how to do your job.

Sure, I preach about the value of marketing and self-promotion all the time on this blog, as a career coach, but that doesn’t alleviate the basic requirement for any professional, including myself, to keep their chops up — even when between engagements.  I’m not sure about you, but I sure wouldn’t want to consult a doctor who hadn’t stayed current on the latest medical treatments and conditions.  Or hire a computer technician wearing a shirt that says “I love DOS” and who shows up to my office carrying a box of 5.25″ floppy disks.  I’d show them the door, just like I’d show the door to a marketing professional who can’t engage me in a cutting-edge discussion about social media or a VP of Information Technology who thinks “SaaS” is just something young people do back to their elders.

Even professional athletes, I’m inclined to believe, don’t spend their summer months slacking off, eating bon-bons, and “taking a break” from the rigorous demands of aerobic exercise.  Were they to do so, I have a strong suspicion their professional careers would be over the moment they got back into fall training camp!

So I just wanted to underscore this issue for those of you who might be forgetting about this critical component of marketability.  Luckily, it’s a very easy problem to fix, given the cornucopia of free and low-cost iinformation out there for the taking.  And it’s important, since for better or worse, the world is changing much faster these days and if you get caught with obsolete toolbox of skills, you’re toast!  (or at the very least, destined to taking a number of steps back, career-wise, in terms of title and pay…)