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Training opportunities in the workplace, or professional development, have become a sound investment for employers. In addition to reducing recruiting and retention costs, professional development has been demonstrated to boost productivity and job satisfaction. For employees, it also offers new opportunities for enhancing skills, and for positioning themselves for new opportunities within the organization outside of regular promotions. For the past seven years, your company has sponsored a professional enrichment program (PEP). Each year, a small group or cohort of six to eight employees is chosen to participate in special professional enrichment activities in both group and individual formats. They are paired with mentors from leaders across the company. Employees submit a letter and career plan that serve as their “application” to the program.
This year, the application process has been announced and your direct manager has encouraged you to apply. You struggled with the decision to apply: You enjoy working for your company but had not previously envisioned what your long-term career path would be within the organization. You were also worried about the time investment, as the program represents a significant personal commitment on your part. However, upon completing your own research into the program and its graduates, you’ve discovered that the opportunity would be more valuable to you personally than you had previously imagined. Historically, employees who were involved in the PEP program received opportunities to advance within the company, sometimes making lateral moves and changing to departments and roles entirely specific to their own passions and interests. One previous program participant is currently a member of the senior leadership team. It also intrigues you that while not everyone has stayed with the company, they’ve all used this learning opportunity to continue to grow as individuals. For example, one participant left to pursue a passion for working with global nongovernmental organizations and accepted a position as a human resources coordinator with Doctors without Borders.
Part 1: Letter (approximately 250–300 words)
Your Learning Experiences: One of the requirements for acceptance into this selective group is submitting a letter for your candidacy to the program. The committee wants to understand who you are as an individual and how the knowledge and skills you’ve gained during your academic experiences have shaped you, so that they can gauge by those experiences how they could expect you to grow as an individual during this professional development opportunity.
Ensure your letter addresses:
Key knowledge topics and skills acquired during your academic program
Specific examples of experiences you engaged in based on projects you completed during your academic program
The influence of these experiences on your personal or professional interests
Strategies: You want the committee to know that you have the ability to overcome challenges and use them as a springboard to learn and develop new skills. You are constantly learning and building on your experiences. Ensure that your letter addresses:
The approaches used to address challenges as a learner
The value of these approaches in other aspects of your life
Importance of Feedback: The committee wants to know that you will value the opportunities for growth that the program offers and are open to learning and accepting constructive feedback. In particular, you will be receiving feedback from the coordinators of the professional enrichment program, your peers, and your mentors throughout the program. Describe how feedback has been important to your growth as a individual. It can be positive or negative, or perhaps you didn’t receive specific feedback. For example, you may have not received feedback that would have changed the situation for you. Ensure that your letter addresses:
The impact of the feedback on your perspective on a given issue or life situation
Did it point you in new directions?
Did it change your approach?
The impact of the feedback on shaping you as a learner:
Did it point you in new directions?
Did it change your approach?
Part 2: Career Plan (approximately 1,000–1,500 words)
Areas of Opportunity: If you are accepted into the program, the training will focus on developing you and your peers. The committee wants to see that you can identify areas of opportunity for yourself and show them that you have a capacity for growth. Ensure that you address both contexts for growth:
Long-Term Goals: It is important to show the committee that you are thinking ahead and see a concrete future for yourself. Your long-term goals should be:
Specific and measurable, meaning they are concrete and you can identify ways to measure them
Attainable and timely, meaning you can achieve them within a specific time frame
Action-oriented, meaning they are focused on results
Action Plan: You want to let the committee know that you’ve thought about a strategy and resources for putting your goals into action.
Strategies: What tasks or steps will achieve each goal?
Timeline: What is your timeline for the tasks/steps? What is your deadline for the goal?
Resources: What resources will you need? For example, will you need to learn a language, or will you need help from a professional network member?
What to Submit
Letter (approximately 250–300 words)
Create a letter that helps the application committee understand who you are as an individual and how the knowledge and skills you’ve gained during your academic experiences have shaped you, so that they can gauge by those experiences how they could expect you to grow as an individual during this professional development opportunity. In particular, the committee wants to hear about your experiences as a learner, the key learning takeaways you distilled from those experiences, and the importance of feedback to you as a learner.
Career Plan (approximately 1,000–1,500 words)
Your career plan is a strategy document for navigating your professional life. It can help you make decisions and guide you in taking advantage of key opportunities that present themselves. It is meant to be a dynamic or living document that you use and continue to adjust and edit throughout your professional life. Your company is very flexible and open to growing individuals within the organization, so even if your ultimate professional goals are not aligned with your current position, you would want to ensure you are outlining what is appropriate for meeting your aspirations for your professional career, and not what you think the company wants for you.