by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
If the last few years have proven anything, they have shown the importance for job-seekers to have the appropriate education, training, and skills to get ahead in the job market -- either through promotions or a job with a new employer.
In the past, employers focused significantly on professional development and grooming of employees for advancement, but the times have changed. Massive layoffs and cutbacks and the shrinking or elimination of professional development programs have left workers to fend for themselves.
This article is about showing you why it is important to invest in your professional development -- in your career -- and how you could go about doing it. As with financial investing, risks and rewards accompany the effort, but for the most part -- unlike financial investing -- you will see much higher gains by investing in yourself, by investing in becoming better in your field.
You can invest in yourself for personal or professional reasons -- though you never know when those goals/outcomes may overlap. You may want to learn to be fluent in Italian for personal reasons, but that proficiency may also lead to new career opportunities. Professionally, you should look at skills that will help you achieve the next step (or two) in your career.
Why invest in your career?
- Learning a new skill gives you a personal boost and self-confidence. Regardless of whether the skill is for personal or professional reasons, the mastery of a new subject provides a nice psychological lift.
- Learning a skill that's in demand will increase your value. Achieving competency in a skill that is in demand -- and for which there are shortages -- will increase your value to your current and future employers.
- Learning a new skill will keep you at the cutting edge of your field. Complacency and doing things the way they've always been done leads to obsolescence and elimination -- or as the Brits call it, redundancy.
- Learning a new skill puts you in control of your future. You are the director of your career development, and choosing a new skill can enhance your current job or help you move forward to a new career.
- Learning a new skill helps you with branding yourself and your career. Your career brand is all about a promise of what you can deliver -- and a new skill can put a nice shine to your brand... or even serve to help launch your brand.
- Learning a new skill should be a viewed as an investment in yourself. You are the CEO of You, Inc., and as such, you should learn new skills that will enhance your psyche and vision of yourself.
How to invest in your career?
- Gain additional training. If your employer no longer offers additional training, look to professional organizations, community colleges, and tutors.
- Earn additional certifications, degrees. Find the program you seek at the local college or university, nearby community college, or through an online program. Certifications are generally less time-consuming and less expensive than degree programs, but research will help you decide which educational opportunities are best for you -- for your career. Learn more in our College and Graduate School Planning Resources section.
- Conduct career planning. The simplest -- and cheapest -- investment is to simply spend time evaluating your career -- from where you've been to where you want to go. For help with this task, check out one or more of our Career Planning and Guidance Articles for Job-Seekers.
- Hire a life or career coach. If you are a bit lost in how to get to the next step in your career -- or even what your career should be -- find a coach who can help you move forward in your career. For more information, read our article, Should You Work with a Coach to Enhance Your Career? Get the FAQs.
- Build your brand. Developing a LinkedIn profile and/or creating a professional Website or blog helps showcase your accomplishments, skills, and abilities -- and push your career forward. Learn more about building your career brand in our Personal Branding & Career Self-Marketing Tools for Job-Seekers and Career Activists section.
- Find a mentor. A mentor is someone at a higher position in your career field who can offer advice and guidance in directing your career growth and direction -- even sometimes directly intervening to help you earn a promotion or new job. For more information, read our article, The Value of a Mentor: Students and Job-Seekers... Find Yourself a Mentor.
- Build personal relationships. Most of us take our network of career contacts for granted, reactivating contact only when job-hunting. Instead, focus on regularly maintaining -- and building -- your network... within your company, profession, and community. Strong relationships will provide many benefits for you personally and professionally. For help with the task of networking, check out one or more of our many Key Career Networking Resources for Job-Seekers.
Final Thoughts on Investing in Your Career
The more you invest in yourself -- and invest in your career -- the greater the dividends, both now and in the future. Build your career capital by investing in your future -- and increase your value to your current... and future employers.
Finally, it's never too early in your career -- nor too late -- to start investing in yourself and your future.
Don't wait. Start investing in your future TODAY.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.