As a contractor, constantly updating and expanding your skill set can be critical to a thriving career. While you may be a natural candidate for training classes, you don't want to waste your time or money on classes that have no solid takeaway.
How can you evaluate a course to make sure it's what you want and need? These six tips will help you identify and get the most out of the right training and professional-development opportunities.
"You should play a very proactive role in your professional development," counsels Charmaine McClarie, president of McClarie Group, an executive-development consultancy. "The clearer you are about what you want and need, the easier it is for you to get it. I recommend clients write their own takeaway list of the three to five things they would like to get out of a professional development workshop first. Then, find a best fit by comparing your ideal takeaway list with workshop offerings."
Before signing up, check out the methods used to deliver the learning, says Ted Demopoulos, founder of Demopoulos Associates, an IT consulting and training company. "Avoid ‘spray and pray' training that throws lots of information at you and hopes some of the knowledge sticks and is actually used someday," he says. You should also look for sessions that help you learn how, not just what. Do that by asking the instructor how participants will be moved from understanding to application.
Use Your Network
A great way to evaluate a training program is to ask other people, says Kenisha Thompson, a communications specialist with insurer Aflac in Columbus, Georgia, and a veteran of many training courses. "There are several ways I evaluate training programs offered, and I usually use a combination of them," she explains. Her primary resources: colleagues who've taken the course and the course instructor. A bad review from past participants or an unsatisfactory response from the instructor is a red flag you don't want to ignore.
Beware the Buzzword
"Avoid vague descriptions or programs that make huge promises, and be careful of programs that are designed to sell products or systems unless that is what you are looking for," suggests Michelle Neujahr, a professional speaker from Yarmouth, Maine. "Some things to look for are general words like motivation, fun, energetic. And if there is no content -- no ‘as a result of this session you will learn' -- keep looking."
Look for Prework
Does the program ask you to do some work before you get there, such as reading a book or thinking about an analogous project you're working on? "That often separates the good training programs from the great training programs," says New York City-based independent trainer Andrea Nierenberg, founder of The Neirenberg Group. "Great programs know that effectively learning new information is more than just showing up and hoping the program pours new information into your head." Plus, going in warmed up will help you get up to speed faster.
Seek Challenging Situations
Make sure the program is going to stretch you. "A good program will also hold up a mirror in front of you and challenge you to work on your weaknesses," says McClarie. "You may not like what you see in your reflection, but any unease you experience will help fuel you to the kind of action that will create results."
The next time you're looking for a training program or professional development opportunity, keep these tips in mind. They're the best way to make sure you'll get a good return on your time and monetary investments.