Asked&Answered: How Much Should I Spend on Professional Development?

Welcome to Asked&Answered, our monthly advice column in which Ellen Mehling, Job Information Resource Librarian at Brooklyn Public Library, answers reader questions.

Q: How much of my own time and money am I expected to spend on professional development?

A: While there is no set amount or percentage of income for professional development that is right for everyone in all circumstances, it is important to keep your skills sharp and your network strong. This can be accomplished with continuing education, professional memberships and service, subscriptions and conference attendance.

Costs can quickly add up, though. If your employer will pay for some of it, great; if not, remember this is a necessary expense and without it your career will suffer. Here are some tips to decide which options are best for you and to get the most out of the money and time you do spend.

  • Have a plan in mind: be sure that the majority of professional development options you choose are ones that will improve on or add to your existing skills or experience and/or expand your network and visibility.

  • Choose activities and memberships that support your current interests and goals. These goals and your career priorities (as well as the amount of money you are willing/able to spend) may change over time. Review your current memberships and consider whether it maybe time to drop one or more, at least for the time being. Get input from people in your network if you are having difficulty deciding.

  • If you are looking to switch from one type of information work to another, you’ll need professional development activities related to your future work (and this may require spending more time and money, as you will be starting from scratch in some respects). Informational interviews can be helpful here, as you determine what memberships and additional training you’ll need. Keep yourself informed of new developments, trends and technologies for the kind of work you are interested in via job postings, blogs, professional journals, listservs and LinkedIn discussions. And paying attention here can do double duty for your professional development by helping you decide what classes and workshops to take.

  • It is good to have a mix of local organizations and local chapters of regional or national organizations if you can. Be active in the organizations that you join, rather than paying a fee just to list a membership on your resume. Consider the opportunities professional organizations provide for networking, professional writing, and presenting.

With some thought and planning you can get the professional development you need to stay current, while spending within an amount that is comfortable for you.