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Professional Development

Important professional development keywords that every HBCU student, alumni and employee should know.  Send us recommendations for our workplace glossary.

Career Banding

If you work in government, you could hear this expression in the workplace in discussions about salaries and pay grades and pay ranges. You might also hear discussions about salary steps and salary ranking.

Career Coaching

Guidance and training given to help employees develop personally and professionally. The goal is to assist employees to become more productive and/or to assume leadership roles within a company. Coaches may be external consultants or other internal employees. Employees can identify and work with their own coaches or work with coaches assigned to them within the company.

Career Pathing

This is the process that an employee will use to lay out their individual career journey through an organization. This is something that could be discussed at the time of an annual appraisal.

Career Tests/Career Assessments

Companies use career tests and career assessments to help employees identify their own personal values, interests, skills and abilities. These tests have no right or wrong answers, but the results can help the employees as well as the employers determine things like best-fit for jobs, career path or training options to develop the employee.


A competency is a particular set of skills and ability to do a specific job properly.

Leadership Development

Some companies will identify employees, based on performance, career goals and company strategy for leadership development. Employees involved in leadership development programs will have special projects assigned that give the employee access to senior, executive leadership. These employees may be “fast-tracked” with additional training and coaching.


A mentor is a senior professional who advises and supports a more junior employee. Many companies have formal mentoring programs where new hires or those identified for leadership training are assigned a mentor. Even if your company has not identified a mentor for you, it’s a good idea for junior employees to find mentors. See also “Sponsor”.


The practice of developing contacts and exchanging of information and ideas with the intention of expanding a professional network or furthering one’s career.

On-the-job-training (OJT)

This is a very effective method of helping employees to build their skill level. In this case, employees are not in the classroom but learn by observation and through demonstration while actually performing the tasks involved in the job.

Performance Appraisal or Annual Appraisal

This is the process by which your work will be evaluated for continued employment, promotions etc. You can expect that this will be done at least annually. Sometimes they are completed at the end of a probationary period. You will get an opportunity for input into the appraisal. Read the instructions carefully and follow the established process if there is disagreement with what is included in the review. The appraisal document will typically have a method of rating (could be by numerical scales) the specific skills or competencies needed to do your job. It should also include goals to be accomplished in the next review cycle.

Performance Management

This is the process that is in place to ensure that employees are performing at the level necessary for the company to meet their goals. It’s an ongoing process that requires your supervisor to help you set goals, meet milestones and measure outcomes. If you are not meeting your goals it is possible that you could be placed on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP).

Personal Branding

This is the practice of people marketing themselves as a brand. In other words, just like a product on a store shelf, you will identify words to promote and market yourself. Your personal brand is what people will see of you and expect of you.

Probationary Period

This is an established period of time that an employee will be evaluated for competency in a specific job. This could be a new job for a new employee or for an existing employee who has been promoted into a new position. Employees who might be going through the progressive disciplinary process might also lose privileges and be placed back on probation. This probationary period can be extended from the standard initial period.

Professional Associations

These associations are organizations, usually non profits, that are made up of people who are in the same occupation. These associations strive to establish and maintain professional standards for those involved in their profession. These organizations may have local and regional chapters and members pay a fee for membership. Professional associations are a great professional resource where members can ask questions, find information and remain current of trends in the profession.

Professional Development

This is a reference to the skills and the knowledge gained over time for both personal growth and career advancement. Sometimes companies have specific professional development plans for certain types of employees. For example, companies that hire new college graduates for Manager Trainee programs, have a specific plan outlined that will expose the employee to many different functional areas within the organization. The intent being that after a specified period of time, both the company and the employee would have identified the best possible fit for a longer term engagement. Professional development is important. If your company doesn’t offer structured development plans, then you must create your own by setting goals for yourself annually.


This is the professional advancement of an employee’s rank within the workplace. Employees can be promoted by either applying to fill vacancies or by being appointed. Promotions, like with new employment, often comes with a probationary period.


Sponsors take the idea of mentorship one step further. Sponsors are not only supportive of the professional growth of those they support, but will actually take people along with them professionally. In other words, when sponsors make strides in their careers, they take along those they mentor.

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