Take Five: How to develop your working self

Written by
Sarah Trounce
Illustration by

Our work selves — like the rest of our personalities — are continually growing, learning and evolving. Who we are at work can never be totally separate from who we are outside of our professional role. Every area of our life informs another. Even those of us who are happy in our current roles do not want to stand still. We always need to move forward in order to feel engaged with and connected to the world around us.

Professional development can look very different from one person to the next. In this sense, it’s always a personal decision and a unique process. There are formal training programmes that offer official certificates and endorsements; inspirational conferences and workshops designed to sow the seeds of change; and a whole range of resources that allow you to learn and develop at your preferred pace – and according to your own tastes and interests – including books, podcasts, online courses and events. Here are five approaches to consider if you’re thinking about expanding your professional development. You might try some right away, and you might save others for a later stage in your career.

Identify if you need any formal training

The need for formal training is less common in the creative industries, but is sometimes necessary or useful when you’re stepping into a role that requires you to significantly stretch your existing knowledge and skills and enter a new territory that is beyond your previous experiences. In some agencies, clients might expect formal training programmes to be in place for the team members they work with. They may see certain qualifications as indicators for professional excellence, beyond the work itself — an external validation of your capabilities.

Some businesses may require you to include evidence of any training courses you’ve completed on your CV when you apply for a job. It all depends on the seniority of your role and the nature of your work. Typically, project management, HR and senior leadership roles will require more formal training than creative roles. But don’t let this stop you from seeking training opportunities from your employer if you’re a junior creative and want to grow your skills. Most managers will be thrilled to see you taking the initiative.

Discover online learning at your own pace

The wealth of new affordable online courses from the likes of Domestika, LinkedIn and Masterclass means anyone can now learn at their own pace, from the comfort of home. Many online courses are easy to fit into everyday life as you can dip in and out, and watch the videos as many times as you like. Meanwhile, companies like The DO Lectures and D&AD offer one-off online workshops — simulating the classroom experience with live teaching, exercises and discussion. Ask your employer if they have a budget to cover this as the costs can be considerable for individuals.

Get in-person support when you can

In-person workshops and training events can feel more intimidating than their online counterparts, but they can also prove to be a more engaging and supportive environment for learning and sharing experiences. A one-off event or a regular meet-up can offer a much needed boost of inspiration and connection with your local creative community. And there’s the opportunity to chat and reflect with fellow attendees after the session has finished. If you’re looking to improve your presentation skills, getting in the room with friendly peers and an authoritative facilitator is the quickest way to get useful feedback and up your confidence.

Collect everyday inspirations

Supplement classes and events with your own curated reading and listening lists. There have never been more books written on craft and inspiration, or podcasts (free!) featuring conversations with the world’s most successful and interesting creative people. Check out Design Matters, How I Built This, On Design, The It’s Nice That Podcast, and 99% Invisible for starters. Join a library (again, it’s free!) — you’ll be surprised to find many classic design, art and management books already on the shelves, and you can always ask to order a book if there’s a new title you want to read.

Remember: most skills are transferable

It’s a CV cliché, but remember: skills are transferable from one job to another job, and from one sector to another sector. There are some skills that are evergreen — meaning they’ll always be useful in both the working world, and life in general. For example, interpersonal skills such as active listening, clearly communicating your ideas and feelings, giving constructive feedback, understanding and practising diversity and inclusion. If you’re employed, your manager may already have training programmes in place to cover some of these areas. Ask them. You may learn about a new discipline for a specific project – for example, accessible design for a public wayfinding project – but this thinking will naturally trickle down into other projects, improving your empathy for audiences across the board, and making your work more rigorous and more creative all round.

Our knowledge about the workplace – and our motivations for working – are always changing. We must constantly question and challenge our own ideas through learning and development, whether led by our employers or self-initiated. It’s not just good business. It’s good for the world — and the soul. So get stuck in!

Take Five

If You Could's Journal hosts a range of useful Guides to help you navigate key decisions at every stage of your career journey. Each Guide consists of 5 simple steps, alongside advice from professionals working across the creative industry. Read more from our Take Five collection here.

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