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Climbing the training career ladder


LADDERSo, you want to make training a career? Bob Selden has some essential, practical advice for those just starting on the training career ladder.

I recently had an enquiry from a young trainer asking how she could improve her career prospects. My answer? "Become an expert". Not an expert trainer (that is taken as a given career development requirement), nor an expert in a technical or professional area, but an expert in a particular HR, L&D or OD field.

Photo of BOB SELDEN"Select an area of professional interest for long term career development. Your aim should be to become recognised as an expert in your chosen topic."

Many trainers enter the training profession by dint of their technical expertise in a particular aspect of the business. Often the most common training need within organisations is for the development of technical expertise and knowledge. And so it's only natural that many people are selected or recruited as trainers because they bring the required technical expertise to the role.

For many who take this route, we get hooked (as I did, having originally been a career banker) with the training bug. And so we want to make it a full time career. How to take that step? Here's where 'become an expert' comes to the fore.

As a new trainer, of course you'll be wanting to develop some of those important training skills such as facilitation, coaching, counselling etc. At the same time, I would suggest selecting an area of professional interest for long term career development. Your aim should be to become recognised as an expert in your chosen topic.

What to select?

Three examples that immediately come to mind are change management, project management and negotiation. Irrespective of the changing nature and needs of organisations, these three skill areas will continue to be needed by people and organisations long into the future. What's more, they are transferable across organisations should you wish to change, or take a career step into consultancy.

There's a further added benefit in becoming an expert in areas such as these. Should you decide to opt out of training as a career (or perhaps the organisational opportunities in training become limited), skills such as these three are essential for managers at all levels, so you will be well armed.

How to take the next steps for the longer term?

Now, having selected an area of interest, how do you develop into a professional expert?

Here are some suggestions that I have personally used (one of the first areas I selected in which to develop many years ago was customer service. I became recognised as a customer service expert – in fact people still send me customer service stories quite regularly:

  • Read everything you can on the subject. Seek out the best books. If reading is not a strong point, at least find the best articles and summarise them. What are the common themes in these books/articles? These common themes should be limited to a maximum of five. They should become your road map for development. Base your research around these common themes.
  • Find out who the experts are in your chosen field. Make yourself known to them. Send them an email asking for their advice on your career development in their area of expertise. You will be amazed at how often people will respond to you (even the famous experts and recognised authors will find time to help out an aspiring newcomer).
  • Join professional organisations in your chosen field. For example, in my field of customer service, there was a professional association that I joined. Attend their events. Participate on their committees. Better still, start a committee or discussion group (on your chosen subject) within your own technical/professional association.
  • Write articles on your chosen subject and submit them to popular websites and magazines. You might think: "At the moment I know very little about the topic. How could I write an article?" Write it from the perspective of the novice looking for ideas – ask for input. Take one (or all) of your five themes and write a piece or just pose some questions. What a great way to get yourself known in your chosen area!
  • Join blog discussions (there are plenty on the web), or better still start your own blog, or even your own website! This can be particularly useful for people who don't like writing that much. Short blog entries save time and energy.
  • As well as developing a wide network of contacts in your chosen area, develop a small network of people who share the same interest as you. Contact them regularly. Send them items of interest, or news about conferences, training events etc. Ask for their advice on how to develop your career. And remember to find people in your own organisation who share your interest.
  • Seek out opportunities to gain some experience in your chosen field (this can sometimes be done on a voluntary basis). For example, a friend of mine took some holiday leave to act as an assistant to a trainer running a public management development programme (his area of career development is management development). This experience led to him being invited to participate in an in-house training programme on the same topic.
  • Take note of news items that refer to your topic. Record and file these. News items can be invaluable for writing articles and for providing examples in training programmes and courses.
  • Finally, there is always the option of attending and participating in training courses and conferences. In addition to the development of your knowledge, these can be great networking opportunities.

Training is one of the most rewarding jobs in any organisation. To be able to help others grow and develop is highly motivational. It's a great career. It's very easy to see how one can get hooked on training. Unfortunately, in some organisations there may be a ceiling on where one can go as a trainer, with perhaps L&D manager at the top of the pyramid. However, there are further areas for development both within related areas such as HR and elsewhere for people who have those special skills and knowledge that make them an 'expert'.

What will your area of expertise be?

Bob Selden has been a career trainer for more than 30 years – in fact it's his lifetime passion. Bob can be contacted via - he would be happy to help or advise with your career questions. If you'd like to see where his training career has led, check out the website for his book 'What To Do When You Become The Boss' at


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