Your Career: Educate Yourself

You’re likely bombarded on a regular basis with ads for colleges, citing that now is the best time to go back to school and earn your degree. The poor economy has sent schools out in droves, encouraging laid-off or underemployed workers to learn a new profession or skill set to get ahead in their chosen fields. And it’s true: education can give you a boost, whether it’s in your current field or a new one. But before you start applying to colleges, think about all your options first.

College Degrees
It’s a somewhat unfortunate fact that these days many employers won’t even look at your resume unless you’ve got a degree, regardless of what that degree is in. If you don’t have one, even if you’re qualified for the position, you may be passed over. To have the most options, you may want to consider biting the bullet and getting that degree. Research the field you’re looking to break into and see if a degree is a requirement. Even if a bachelor’s or associate’s degree isn’t required, some fields will require certification programs as a prerequisite for employment.

Keep in mind, however, that even if you do need to get a degree it probably doesn’t need to be from an Ivy League school to be an asset. Local schools are excellent options, as are accredited online universities. Evaluate your time and your finances and determine the best course of action for you. And don’t worry if you can’t afford to get that degree. If it’s important to you, there are many financial aid programs available. Or there may be other ways to break into that field.

Internships
In my opinion, hands-on experience is even more valuable than classroom learning. Training with someone who does what you want to do not only teaches you more about your chosen field; it looks great on a resume, too. It also has the benefit of really showing you if that job is something you truly want to do.

The downside is that a lot of internships and hands-on experiences don’t pay. But the education you get from them can be far more valuable than a paycheck. Contact local employers and organizations to see if it’s possible to intern with them. If that’s not a possibility, look into volunteer opportunities in your area. Again, they’re not paid, but you’ll have a great line on your resume and valuable hands-on experience that employers look for.

Continuing Education
If you already have a degree, or don’t need one in your chosen field, you can still benefit from education. Taking a class or two at a local college or online can make you an asset in your current and future positions. You gain valuable knowledge, and you show your employer that you’re serious about improving yourself (definitely a selling point when you’re looking for that promotion or raise!). Check with your employer — they may even offer reimbursement for education.

In addition to college courses, many towns offer continuing education programs that can teach you skills in life or your career. You can also participate in seminars on leadership, time management, and more. The more you learn, the better off you’ll be. Even if the course or seminar isn’t directly related to what you’re currently doing or what you hope to do in the future, you can still gain valuable skills. And don’t discount the valuable networking possibilities, as well. Courses and seminars can also be a great way to meet people in different fields — people who can be a foot in the door for future opportunities.

The bottom line is that knowledge is always an asset, whether it’s moving you forward in your current career or preparing you for a new one. Taking the time to build your skills can set you up for future success.

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