Starting your L&D career on the right foot is important. The habits you create early on tend to stay with you. Some habits strengthen your connections, personal growth, or expertise — i.e., your career — while others leave those things untouched.

You’ve probably experienced moments when something you wanted passed you by. It’s not a great feeling. We’ve all been there.

We need to care for our careers by forming the right habits, and that sometimes means stepping outside our routine or comfort zone. Not only is it tough to do this, it’s tough to know what habits to cultivate.

I’m pleased to say that these ten L&D professionals have some excellent advice for you. Each person is either in the early stages of their career or they recently were. And, in my humble opinion, they’re each exceptionally good at navigating the field of L&D.


Tara Aiken

Senior Manager, L&D Strategy & Operations
(Retail Industry)

I did two things when I first started in learning. First, I found every blog or newsletter I could and subscribed to it, and I signed up for every webinar. Then, I researched professional learning networks and organizations and either joined them or made connections on LinkedIn. This essentially became my informal education to learning. Today, my subscriptions and webinar registrations are much more tailored, but early in your career, go all in!

It’s also important to not settle, especially in today’s world of ever-changing technology. You need to keep a finger on the pulse. Networking can seem overwhelming when you’re just starting out, but it will get you far. It’s something you have to continue to nurture though and work at, so I recommend prioritizing networking events whenever possible (even when things are busy). I’m always walking away with a new connection or someone who’s been through the exact situation I’m in.


Elle Cruz

HR Consultant
Thomson Reuters

A technique that I have found helpful is keeping a career journal. Place 10-15 minutes on your calendar each week and reflect on a specific situation. Use the STAR framework to document the experience. This allows you to immediately reinforce what you learned during the week. Writing in the STAR format will also create an invaluable repository of scenarios that can be used to prepare for behavioral interview questions asked during your next job interview.


Janna Dorman

Learning and Development Specialist
Allina Health

I heard this advice a few years ago and it’s never steered me wrong: “Do what you can to make your leader’s job easier.” It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s helped me become an integral part of our team. Can you make your leader’s job easier by improving a process, volunteering to attend a meeting, or participate on a committee? Or, does it mean doing your work efficiently with little oversight needed? Making their job easier shows your dedication and competency. Following this advice helped me get promoted twice in three years. What can it do for you?


Dan Erickson

Training Specialist

Soak up everything you can like a sponge. There’s so much to learn in terms of L&D skills, the organization you’re serving, and even what it means to be a professional…and you’ve got to remember you’re just starting your career.

With that said, I recommend pacing yourself and checking in with your leader and/or teammates about your learning curve. As L&D pros, we typically love learning and want to figure things out quickly…and it’s simply not realistic to know everything right away!

A great way to determine what to focus on is by letting your “point of need” be your guide. (If you NEED to know something, it’s probably important!)

Then, network! Experienced people who know you are often the best equipped to help you deal with whatever you’re facing. They have important context about you as an individual, the situation you’re in, and can pull from the best of their knowledge & experience to guide you appropriately.


Erika Gunderson

Learning and Development Consultant III
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota

Don’t burn bridges. In other words, treat everyone with dignity and respect. In the work setting, there will be times where you will have challenging conversations and you may not always agree with your coworkers. Handle these situations with respect. Your current project will finish, but you never know when you may cross paths with this individual again in the future.


Kate Hoelscher

Learning & Development Consultant | Operations Learning & Knowledge Management
Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Minnesota

Service. A life of service is good not only for others, but for your career. Living a life of service helps build your network and your skill sets. You will learn technical and leadership skills through helping others. Others trust you to be honest, and you learn through their struggles. This does not mean saying ‘yes’ to every request. It means becoming a trusted advisor who knows how to support others in an effective way.


Danielle McClellan

Sr. Manager of Organizational Change Management
Northern Tool and Equipment

The people you meet today may be your future bosses, peers, employees and/or mentors. Connect with many different types of people and build meaningful relationships based on learning from one another and sharing the common goal of advancing the industry of Learning and Development. Burn as few bridges as possible and give back to others whenever you are able. For example, volunteer to serve on a board, respond to requests for informational interviews, even small acts of kindness can make an impact on others.


Jessica Nelson

Talent Development

Networking is an imperative part of growing your career as a learning leader. It is important to see the networking opportunities in everyday situations — not just the formal networking events. Whether at a sporting event, party with friends, or attending a company get-together with a significant other, use the time to network. Ask people what they do and share information about your role. Even if someone is in a different industry, you will be amazed at how often it can connect to the talent development world.

When I graduated from college, the economy tanked and it was the start of the recession. I landed the job that launched my career as a senior trainer for UnitedHealthcare all because I met an HR manager at a summer bonfire. My intention was not to get a job, but to enjoy a meal with friends. By stepping out of my familiar circle and introducing myself to someone new, I was able to launch my career in a time when peers were struggling to find work.


Jordan Nelson

Sales Training

Whenever I’m feeling “stuck” in a certain area, I try to take responsibility of the situation rather than feeling helpless. By asking my mentors for their perspective or even searching YouTube and Google for general business advice, I can usually evolve my thinking and find a new, creative way forward. None of us is alone, and asking for help is a sign of strength!


Jake Turner

Training and Communications Media Producer

The counter-intuitive approach to networking. When I first started networking, I wanted to meet everyone I could to get their assistance in getting to my next step or role. Over time I realized it really didn’t work like that. Instead of asking what you can get from your network, think about how you can give. If you give your time, attention, talent, and care to others, they will respond in kind. It is a beautiful thing. It takes time but it is fruitful.

Seek mentors. I had several interviews for a job I really wanted, and the hiring manager called me to say, “…good news/bad news.” Good news was she had a mentor for me. Bad news was I didn’t get the job. I was crushed. But that mentor and I have now been friends for over a decade. In the beginning, I relied heavily upon his coaching and leadership. He pulled me out of a tough time, he lifted me up. But we’ve also learned a lot from each other. We call each other “iron brothers” now because iron sharpens iron. (Jake expanded on his advice in a LinkedIn article.)


Comment below with any thoughts or reactions to this post. And, if you’re interested, let us know if you’d like to join our Young Learning Leaders Forum. It’s our face-to-face community for early-career L&D professionals here in the Twin Cities. And, who knows, you might just see one of the above contributors there networking and learning with their peers.

5 Comments on “Ten L&D experts share their advice for early-career professionals

    1. Brian Keller, Manager of Digital Engagement

      Thanks, Michael. My favorite thing about this piece is how useful it’ll be to readers. The contributors really knocked it out of the park with great advice.


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