Learning new skills is one of the best ways to become more successful in your career. Whether you are looking for a new career opportunity or would like to move into a new role, upgrading your skills can increase your chances of reaching your career goals.
In most professions, upgrading your skills is highly valued and is seen as a requirement for many employers. Most jobs are dynamic, constantly changing, and adapting as the field grows. Therefore, employees must be adaptable and up-to-date with the trends and developments in their field.
Here are some practical ways to stay sharp.
Do your research first
Not sure where to start? First, take stock of the skills and experience you already have. Update your resume, brainstorm and use a skills inventory to help you identify your strengths and weaknesses. Next, find out what skills and qualifications would give you an edge in your field or help you land that dream job. Consider: what experience and expertise will make you an asset to your current or future employer?
Where can you find this information? Ask around
Talk to your colleagues and supervisors, nose around in online communities and review job postings to get an idea of current requirements. Look for professional organizations in your field, and use social networking sites like LinkedIn to connect with others. Ask people what skills and experiences helped them meet their career goals.
Take a class or workshop
From seminars and workshops to full courses and programs, there are many ways to embrace life-long learning. Once you know what skills you’d like to target, it’s time to start hunting for options. Where can you find relevant options? Try:
Local colleges and universities, including both regular courses and continuing education offerings.
- Professional or industry organizations.
- Employment services or job finding clubs.
When evaluating your options, it’s important to consider whether or not you need official credit or certification. Depending on your field of expertise, you may need proof you’ve completed a line of study in addition to demonstrating your skills through a goal or accomplishment (like having a certificate in web design to back up your portfolio of websites.)
Whether for credit or more informal, online learning is a convenient way to brush up on your skills according to your own pace, schedule and budget. There are many options available from free lectures, videos and podcasts to professional accreditation and university credit courses. Listen to lectures online and download free materials, or participate in student communities to practice skills like corresponding in a foreign language.
Where should you look? For informal learning, try sites like the Meritstore, edX, Coursera, MIT OpenCourseWare, Academic Earth and iTunes U. In addition, many companies offer webinars (web-based seminars, that is) as part of their sales and marketing strategies. Webinars are a great way to learn about new products and services as well as current trends — right from your desktop. If you’re job-hunting, they’re also a good way to get to know a potential employer.
In addition to giving back, unpaid work offers has many advantages — like developing transferable skills, tackling new projects and taking on more responsibility. For instance, develop your teaching skills by running a workshop at your church or supervise others by coaching a team. Develop your marketing and sales skills by assisting with fundraising campaigns, or work on your organization’s social media strategy. Not only will you acquire the skills, you’ll also have proof of your accomplishments and references to speak on your behalf.
Volunteering can also fill the gaps on a resume due to a job loss, leave of absence or retirement — not to mention another tool to add to your networking arsenal. After all, you never know where the next lead will come from.
Follow the experts
While you might not put reading blogs, news or social media on your resume, keeping up with industry trends is a good way to stay sharp. Look for experts in your industry (like technology or healthcare, for example) as well as in your profession (like graphic design or sales). Learn the lingo and keep tabs on the trends by signing up for RSS Feeds and newsletters.
Don’t be afraid to talk to strangers — online communities and social networking sites exist to connect people with similar interests and goals. Many people are happy to share their expertise and offer advice, and taking them out to lunch is often a worthwhile investment.
Once you have upgraded your skills, being able to articulate them to employers can make a difference in reaching the next stage of your career. Using the terminology in the field, providing examples of your work, and contributing ideas on how to enhance productivity can all be ways to start telling employers how you can make a difference in their organization with your upgraded skills.
Update your cover letter and résumé, and rewrite your elevator pitch to reflect your new skills. This will certainly help you manifest your upgraded skills into a better job.