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Be Intentional About Your Career Development

​Maintaining professional designations. Forming partnerships with peers. Finding innovative solutions to workplace problems. Investing in professional development. Paying attention to current and coming trends.

These are just some of the ways attendees of the Society for Human Resource Management Leadership Development Forum said they are growing as HR professionals.

Kathy Corbitt, the director of talent management at the University of Delaware's Office of Development and Alumni Relations, recently earned her master's degree in business administration. She also launched an internship program to help her department recruit and retain hard-to-find fundraising professionals. And, of course, she was attending the conference.

[SHRM members-only HR Q&A: Career Development: What educational resources should I consider to further my HR career?]

Still, she isn't about to rest on her laurels. She said she wants to keep her thinking fresh and continue to progress in her career—which is why she decided to attend a concurrent session at the conference focused on staying relevant and achieving career success.

Presenter Michael J. Lyons, an author and former business executive in the hospitality industry, applauded those attendees who are being thoughtful about their careers. "Most people," he said, "sit back and wait for good things to happen, for opportunities to come up. You have to be opportunistic."

Personal Brand

One way to do that is to be proactive about developing your personal brand. In the same way every organization has a brand, so does every person, Lyons explained. Be aware that your brand is what people think of you, not what you think of yourself. Our self-perception always differs from how others see us, he noted.

He stressed that people will judge you based on the results you deliver, not on what you promise to deliver, so be sure to articulate your value in concrete terms.

Lyons identified four elements of a personal brand:

  • Appearance includes attire, body language and posture.
  • Personality is made up of behavior, communication skills and attitude.
  • Competencies encompass your experience and skill set.
  • Differentiation separates you from others and enables you to leave a lasting impression.

If the idea of developing a personal brand is daunting or uncomfortable, keep this last point in mind: "Every single one of us has an unfair advantage because we are all unique."

Strategic Planning

Organizations don't just state once at the beginning of the year where they want to go and hope employees do what's needed to get there, Lyons noted. They write out their plans and strategies. Only 7 percent of people do the same.

"If you have a career plan in mind, sit down and write it out," Lyons advised, and then figure out what you need to do to get there. It's difficult to measure where you are unless you have it in writing, he noted.


"Building your network is critically important" to growing your career, Lyons said.

He encouraged attendees to be brave enough to break away from the friends they arrived with the next time they are at a networking event or professional happy hour.

It's great if you can build connections with thought leaders, he said, but the most important thing is to associate with the "right" people—those who will give you good advice and cheer you on when you take risks.

After the session, Corbitt said Lyons' advice about writing out a career plan resonated with her. She intends to take some time to focus on goal setting and strategic planning for her career.

She also left the session feeling more motivated to build her personal brand. Because she moved from a training and development role to her current position in talent management two years ago, she said it's a good time to rebrand herself.

"I really need to be more intentional about what my brand is," she said.


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