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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

Great Ideas for (Cheap!) Professional Development

Investing in your professional development is one of the best ways to advance your career. Just like the time and energy you put into earning a degree got you to where you are today, taking the time to sharpen your skills or learn new ones can help you reach the next level at work.

Thankfully, you don’t need an expense account or a six-figure graduate degree to stay at the top of your game. There are dozens of classes, webinars, and resources out there to continue your education—even on an entry-level salary. Here are some of our favorite ways to get smart for less.

Getting Started: Find Your Focus

First, identify areas where professional development activities can fill gaps in your knowledge (if you’re a marketing professional who isn’t up to speed on social media, for example) or where it can complement and strengthen your existing skill set (if you’re a web designer, consider learning to shoot videos).

Need some help? Check out Eat Your Career’s DIY Professional Development Plan program. For less than the cost of one personal career coaching session, you’ll get seriously handy tools on analyzing your background and developing a plan that will keep you on track with (and accountable to!) your career goals.

Once you know what you’re after, try these sites and programs to build the skills you’re looking for.

Tech Tips

Need to brush up on the Excel skills you told your boss you knew inside and out? Or want to learn new skills in animation, design, or video? Check out Lynda, an online library of 1,000-plus video tutorials on every software skill you could imagine. (Unlimited access starts at $25 per month.) 

If you’re a Mac gal, hop over to your Apple retail store for free workshops on building a website, creating a training video, or managing your business finances. (But remember, if you’re trying to save money, being talked into buying the latest iPad and all of its accessories isn’t exactly what you came for…)


At some point in your career, you will be asked to write, and it’s likely going to be for the web. Ace the task with communications firm Ragan’s How to Write Killer Content for Your Website (only $29.95).

And if the communications world—PR, advertising, journalism, or social media—is your world (or you want it to be), you’ll love Media Bistro’s video courses. To date, the site boasts 563 videos in how to build a career in these fields as well as more broadly applied skills such as improving your writing or developing a social media policy for your company. Take a free two-week trial, then pay only $19 per month after that.

Mad Math Skills

Turns out, knowing the difference between mean, median, and mode does come in handy in real life (yes, high school math teachers, I am eating my 10th-grade words). If you’re faced with (and stumped by) how to multiply or divide fractions or any other algebra, geometry, or trig skills you promptly forgot after graduation, check out Khan Academy for quick refresher courses on tons of common math problems.


General Ed

Working for an industry you know nothing about? Or just missing your sophomore-year Asian History course? Plug in your headphones and download free online courses in—literally—any topic you can think of on iTunes U. Browsing the online library can be more overwhelming than, er, an actual library, so check out Open Culture’s list of great courses by topic.

Business Basics & Everything Else

Some people think you can’t learn career skills in a classroom. We say, check out MindTools, which offers courses on “essential skills for an excellent career,” such as time management, decision-making, and creativity. First-time managers will love courses on building virtual teams, dealing with conflict, or understanding leadership styles. Many resources are free, and subscription plans get you extra resources like participating in a coaching clinic.

Or, watch one of CareeRealism’s free webinars—most are an hour long or more—on topics like How to Make Everyone Love you at Work and 7 Things Your Boss Wants You to Know on Day 1.

Tell us what we missed! What are your favorite resources for cheap professional development? How else do you advance your career without spending a lot of cash?

Photo courtesy of Ray from LA.