In an era of rapid technological development, acquiring new skills is more than a matter of professional development. It is a matter of professional survival. The goal is to keep pace with change and remain relevant in your chosen field. The question is how to do that strategically, especially when people now hold an average of 12 jobs in their lifetime.
At Georgia Tech, half of the Institute’s total student population is comprised of adult learners taking professional development courses. Through Georgia Tech Professional Education (GTPE), professionals in STEM and business fields strive to keep up with latest developments. These learners understand that it takes a lifetime of learning to keep your skills sharp and your capabilities aligned with shifting market trends.
The question remains though: How do you find the right program? As a busy professional, how do you focus your learning to derive the intended benefits? With so many options to choose from, how do you make the right choices?
One way is to tap into a network of mentors or career advisors.
“At Georgia Tech, as part of our vision for higher education of the future, we’ve identified the need for what we call a ‘personal board of directors,’” explains Nelson Baker, dean of GTPE. “A personal board of directors is similar to a mentorship but more explicit and broader in its application. Your personal board is a group of people who can help navigate your career and education, offering a mix of experience, talent, and diversity that a single individual can’t match.”
If you are ready to take that step, here are a few practical questions to ask yourself as you begin building your personal board of directors.
- What is my goal? Board membership should shift and change over time, just like your career goals. If you’re at an early stage of your career and you have your sights set on management, find someone who is at that level. If you’re not sure of your next career steps, find someone who can help you think through your options. And if you don’t want to keep moving up, you need someone who helps you to make sure you stay current. In all cases, find board members who can steer you in the direction you want to go.
- How do I find board members? As we envision it at Georgia Tech, a personal board of directors is more explicit than traditional networking. Don’t be afraid to seek out specific expertise, even if you’ve never met that potential board member in person. It doesn’t matter whether your board members are on a different continent or the other side of the country. If they have the skills, connections, and knowledge base you need and are willing to serve on your board, they're suitable.
- How do I approach potential personal board members especially if I've never met them? It's important to do your homework before you reach out. You need to be able to articulate the kind of guidance you're seeking and show that you are proactive and have done your own research about the field that interests you. You also need to have researched the potential board member and be aware of their expertise and background and how it can be of benefit to you in your career. This preparation before your initial contact is essential because it enables you to approach the individual with purpose, demonstrate that you are proactive and serious about your career, and that you respect their time and value the opportunity to to learn from them.
- Why would anyone want to serve on my personal board of directors? Look at it like this: Each of us in our lives can benefit from being on someone’s board. For board members, it's a way to give back. As for concrete benefits, you represent a potential source of talent to your board members. Equally, they can become resources for one another. Connecting with other mentors and expanding personal networks is helpful at all stages of a career. One key factor to keep in mind is the value of the time your board members spend to help you achieve your goals. Make sure you plan wisely so that you use their time efficiently. Be accommodating, work within their schedules, and never take their time for granted. If you show upfront that you're conscious of the value of their time, you're more likely to build a successful professional relationship.
- What kinds of skills should my personal board of directors have? Regardless of the size of your personal board of directors, ensuring your board has a wide range of expertise and experience allows you to explore new paths and new passions. You should also consider at least one board member who can help you overcome self-doubt and encourage you to take bold new steps. This board member needs good insight as to who you are as a person and how you operate in day-to-day situations. That might be someone from within your community or your personal life.
- What kinds of assistance should I seek from my board? The answer to this question is as variable are you are. First and foremost, they should guide you to keep pace with changes in your field and build the skills and capabilities needed to ensure your job security and career development. This group of advisors should also know what you’re passionate about and help you follow those passions over a lifetime. Keep in mind that passions change or evolve, and so should your personal board of directors.
Regardless of industry or profession, our workplaces and our business environments are in a constant state of flux. By surrounding yourself with the right people, and by seeking their guidance, you can stay on top of those changes. Be proactive, seek out the best board members for your personal goals, and always maintain the attitude of a lifelong learner.
In its report Deliberate Innovation, Lifetime Education, Georgia Tech's Commission on Creating the Next (CNE) outlines the concept of the personal board of directors. Find out more on CNE's roadmap for the future of higher education.
Georgia Tech Professional Education is a leader in innovative educational delivery, designed for working professionals in tech, business, and leadership. Our connection to the marketplace — coupled with our world-class faculty, researchers, and subject matter experts — provides an unparalleled prospective to education innovation, industry trends, future work, and lifelong learning. To uncover additional resources to help with questions and challenges around career advancement visit our Working & Learning page.