06/05/2012 12:08 pm ET Updated Aug 05, 2012

Beyond Training: Tips for Building Professional Skills Outside the Classroom

By Lauren Coulston, Integration Manager, Women & Co.

In the corporate workplace, there is a lot of emphasis on training to develop professional skills -- classes, workshops, seminars, webinars... You name it, they offer it! My personal experience is that the typical training setting may work in some cases, but many times I learn best through experience. Case in point -- I recently participated in the first ever Citi Skills Marathon, a volunteer event that utilizes Citi employees' personal or professional skills to deliver services to nonprofit organizations. It was an invaluable learning experience, plus I honed my own leadership skills by acting as a team leader.

If you are more of a "hands on" learner like me, keep reading for some fresh ideas on how you can build professional skills beyond the usual training course:

Affinity Groups

Does your organization have affinity groups such as a Women's Network or a Pride Group? Often, these groups' missions are to promote advancement, and as a result, by being an active member, affinity groups can be a great vehicle to round out your skill set.

Adds Karyn Likerman, SVP, Director of Citi Employee Networks and Citi Work Strategies:

A rewarding way to add to your business success is by joining an employee resource group to help you connect with others that are outside of your daily work group. Whether you take on a leadership role or only attend events that interest you, you'll gain personal insights as well as make lasting connections that will help you broaden your organizational understanding.

I took Karyn's advice and am currently serving as Events Chair of the Citi Working Parents Network, NYC. As a result, I've had the opportunity to plan and execute an events strategy, which isn't something I would do in my day job or through taking a traditional training session.

Cross Functional Teams

Some organizations offer opportunities to work on a team or task force that cuts across many departments. Raising your hand for this type of assignment is a way to build your skill set by working on a project that is outside your day-to-day responsibilities. Not to mention it can give you great visibility across the organization. Jasmine Thomas, Program Officer at the Citi Foundation said, "These opportunities engage emerging managers and executives to assume leadership in a way that they never would have otherwise. It helps mid-level staff own and lead a project while removing the internal hierarchy and etiquette required in their own team."


Do you currently volunteer your time with a nonprofit or other organization? If so, this could be the perfect chance capitalize on something you are already doing to broaden your horizons and develop new skills. Anything from being class parent at your child's school to doing pro bono work with a nonprofit organization affords the chance to advance your development. Think about what you may already be doing to give back that can help develop your skills. This type of work can also give your resume a boost.

Professional Organizations

Many industry professional organizations offer seminars or annual conferences with breakout sessions to help you develop certain skills. Getting outside your company can give you a fresh perspective on how others in the industry work, and provide an opportunity for networking.
The bottom line? View every opportunity as a chance for your personal and professional development. You should be sure to involve your manager in discussions about your professional development. Besides the tips offered here, he or she is bound to have some suggestions as well.

About the Author:

As Integration Manager, Lauren manages Women & Co.'s strategic partnerships to syndicate content and build integrated programs on websites frequented by women. Lauren brings over 15 years of financial services experience and a passion for helping women feel financially empowered. Lauren holds a B.S. in Finance from Tulane University's A.B. Freeman School of Business. In addition to her role at Women & Co., Lauren is Events Chair of the Citi Working Parents Network NYC and serves on the Citi International Women's Day Steering Committee.