If you want to be competitive in today’s market, you have to go above and beyond that expensive four-year degree.

Learn awesome skills like how to build a social media strategy or how to be more savvy in your job search over at BrazenU! Check out all of our online bootcamps.

The bachelor’s degree used to equate to a job. Now, it’s the new baseline.

That means if you want to be competitive in today’s market, you have to go above and beyond that expensive four-year degree.

How can you make yourself more marketable? By learning — and not the kind of learning you did in college. We’re talking about gaining practical and pragmatic skills that employers want, skills that make you the person they can’t resist adding to their team.

Like all first jobs, these skills may not be required for or lead directly to your dream job (there really is no such thing anyway). But they’ll certainly give you a leg up on your job hunt, and you can learn them for free or cheap in comparison to that $50,000+ college education.

Here are four skills employers want to see on your resume that you can learn for free or at low-cost:

1. Social media strategy

If you’re under the age of 30, chances are you have a Facebook and Twitter profile, and hopefully a LinkedIn page. If you don’t, get one. These are communication channels for yourself and your future employer.

Most people over the age of 45 don’t really know yet how to use Facebook and Twitter for business. Use this to your advantage. Show employers that you know how to use social media to sell their product or push their message. Show them that you can build a long-term strategy with high ROI.

BrazenU offers courses that will teach you just that. For less than a third of what you spent for that environmental science class you were required to take in college, you can learn how to create and implement a social media strategy for any business.

2. Web analytics

I’m talking about traffic here. Web traffic is synonymous with customers, buyers, awareness and impact. For a business, it’s like someone walking in the front door. For government, it’s like someone attending your community event or reading your flyer. It’s feet and it’s eyeballs and it’s audience, in whatever form that means for you. And every company wants more of it. Teach yourself how to understand that traffic, your audience and their behaviors once they get in your front door.

Google Analytics offers free videos on its YouTube channel — start there. Think Vitamin, a cool start-up in the alternative online education space, also has some free — and some moderately priced — videos on analytics, web traffic, and more. Practice on your own website or blog (since you should have one) or on a friend’s.

3. Email marketing

As an entry-level grunt, e-mail marketing will likely have something to do with your job. The majority of companies rely on some form of e-mail marketing: sending a newsletter to sell a product, or issuing a press release to sell an idea.

You should know the basics of what this is, so you don’t have to start from the ground level when you get the job. MailChimp, a well-known and highly-rated e-mail marketing provider, offers an entire free resource section to help people learn e-mail marketing best practices, including how to create a good HTML email newsletter, designing around spam filters, how to select an email marketing agency, avoiding common rookie mistakes, and more.

4. Basic HTML

Knowing basic HTML is kind of like knowing how to type in 1983. It’s not 100 percent required for every job, but you’re in better shape if you know how to do it, and it will probably be required in 10 years (read: it’s moving/moved out of geek realm).

Even basic stuff like how to make words bold, italicized, how to start a new paragraph, etc., is enough to make you more valuable to an employer (or to work for yourself). More likely than not, you’re going to be exposed to some form of HTML at some point in your early career.

Borrow a basic HTML book (Head First HTML with CSS & XHTML is one of the best) for free from the library. Or, for $25 a month, you can teach yourself HTML and basic web design via the booming start-up Treehouse.

If you’re unemployed, learning these skills is more important than ever. You’ll be much better off if in your next job interview if you can tell an employer you’ve been teaching yourself skills that will make you a better employee — even if you’ve been doing that while waiting tables.

So bite your bottom lip, and get to learning. And learn something this time around that will actually help get you a job.

Ashley Hoffman is the Director of Marketing and Communications at Brazen Careerist and a co-host of BrazenU’s online bootcamps.


  1. Jrandom42

    Here’s the problem: You can say you’ve learned all this stuff, but how can you prove you’ve learned them well? Most managers want to see real world experience applying what you’ve learned. How do you get verifiable experience in that?

    Finally, you can brand yourself as an “expert” in any or all of these areas, but are you truly an expert, or just simply a legend in your own mind?

    • Ashley Hoffman

      On your first point, I think there are a lot of ways you can apply what you learn to get the experience w/o having a full-time job. 1) Do it for a paid or, as painful as it is, an unpaid internship and wait tables at night; 2) Find a non-profit or other small business that may not have the budget or staff resources to do this but would be willing to take the free help — you get experience and a portfolio to present in a job interview, they get value from your work; or 3) Do it for yourself. Use your own brand as a case study to present to employers. Get a blog or website built from your HTML knowledge, monitor and grow your own traffic, develop your own social media campaign, etc.

      On your later point, being an expert is subjective and depends on the topic. It’s not about the label, it’s about the justification for it. If you do the things I noted above, you could work toward that.

    • Fred

      Find a non-profit in your area that is looking to get into social media, but doesn’t have the time or money, and volunteer! You will get the experience and the non-profit will get much needed help!

  2. Valerie Lambert

    There is a great deal more to learn about social media these days. The Bilou Calendar lists many free and low cost events related to social media (and fundraising) at http://Bilou.info/Calendar and a free subscription is available, so events land in your email one week ahead. (It’s advisable to check the calendar periodically, as some events are listed less than 7 days prior on occasion.)

    Valerie Lambert, Director
    Bilou Enterprises

  3. Anonymous

    Great tips!!

  4. green4

    Honestly, your statement, “Most people over the age of 45 don’t really know yet how to use Facebook and Twitter for business.” is offensive, and I’m not even in that age category. Plenty of people under 45 don’t know how to use social media to grow their business either. Any job candidate who interviews with that condescending attitude will never be invited back.

    • Ashley Hoffman

      It probably was an over-generalization, you’re right and I apologize if I offended you or anyone else for that matter. However, I would still argue that most social media strategists are most likely to be under the age of 45 than over the age of 45. The majority of social media jobs are for entry to mid level (and hence under 45). I think a lot of companies look to gen Y candidates for social media know-how, and they should use that to their advantage.

    • Alioop

      Agreed, green4. In spite of the apologies that are provided here, I think there is a systemic issue and perception by “Gen X” that people in their 40’s are incapable of being just as tech savvy as they are, and while we are all trying to make a living in a tough economy, there is no need to categorize any age group, and then insult them on the Internet. Plain and simply, poor marketing approach. Obviously, “we” are not her target audience, but what she does not realize is that this article is being posted in Groups on Linkedin (where I read this) that are filled with people older than 30 or 40, or even 50. I guess the fact that I teach people how to use Linkedin, many of whom are much younger than me, is an aberation from her assumptions. I would never use the company she represents here for these reasons. It is not about the age, it is about the poor marketing technique that she still clearly does not understand. I hope her superiors are learning from this mistake, too.

  5. Fiona MacDonald

    Great post Ashley. That is what I love about the internet – you can learn things quickly and cheaply yourself. I taught myself HTML years ago so I could build a website – it was all through on-line tutorials I found on the web. It is amazing the knowledge people are willing to share if you just find the time to find it all!

  6. Designerdogs

    Ashley, there are many of us over 45 that use Facebook for business.. and know HTML.. just for starters!

    • Ashley Hoffman

      I know! See my comment below — it was an over-generalization and my point was just that, generally speaking, social media savvy is something that gen Y can bring to the table and they should take advantage of their know-how. Thanks for reading.

      • Alioop

        I hope you have a good “take away” lesson from the reactions you are getting from “over 45”, as you have stepped in a bigger marketing issue than anything addressed in this article – offending potential clientele by segregating them and “assuming” (where are your facts?) anyone over 45 cannot even use something as simple as Facebook. One of the benefits of being a little older than you, Ashely, is diplomacy and being politically correct. Though you may be “technically” correct in your overall assumption, the fact that you used something as basic as Facebook in saying “most people over 45 don’t even know how to use Facebook” is totally inaccurate and uncalled for in making your point. I have been in marketing for 25 years and I think maybe you need to take a course on effectively communicating without alienating. Before you go permanently posting on the Internet your philosophy, did it occur to you that you, too, will someday be over 40? And this article will be waiting for you as a point of reflection as to your inexperience in marketing 101.

        • Ashley Hoffman

          Thanks for reading! Appreciate your comment. I already addressed my opinion in the other 2 comments that noted a view similar to yours. It was an overgeneralization for sure and I apologize if I offended you or anyone else. But, that said, I still would argue that most social media strategists are most likely to be under the age of 45 than over the age of 45. It’s the same way that when I’m over 40, the budding marketers will probably have more automatic know-how with the technology that they came to age with vs the one I came to age with. I’ll acknowledge that and work to catch up, while they work to catch up on the knowledge I’ll have from experience. It’s not saying that any age group is any better or worse than the other, just that we all have our strengths (which we should use to our advantage) and we all have our areas of improvement. Again, it’s a generalization and there are always exceptions. And I definitely overgeneralized in the article. Feel free to contact me directly at ashley@brazencareerist.com anytime!

          • Lynnie

            I think these are great tips, Ashley. I don’t know why people are taking offense here, because this article is so obviously here to teach and inspire the 20 something. I couldn’t care less what the 45+ can or can not do. I clicked on this article to check out what the 20 something should be able to do. I am sorry, but Alioop’s comment is just mean. To people who are 45+, you guys are one whole generation older, my parents age, shouldn’t you act “big” when you find some small inaccuracies in some young people’s article?

  7. Autoankauf

    Very informative Article.
    Thanks for that useful information. 😉

  8. Paul Wolf

    Thank you so much for this information. As one of those over age 45, I have a lot to learn. I cannot believe how touchy people are. Generally speaking I believe that you are correct that people over age 45 are not as up to speed with social media.

    Mailchimp has an amazing product that I did not know about before your article and I plan to utilize it. I also enjoy Penelope’s viewpoint on things as I am a subscriber to her blog.

  9. Edward - Entry Level Dilemma

    Yes, every job requires knowledge of social media, email marketing, web analytics, and HTML. Because every job in the world is marketing or sales related.

    Actually, most jobs are not in those fields and having those skills will not help your job search prospects. And listing them when applying for a position that doesn’t need them will hurt your chances.

    And basic HTML? Pretty much anywhere you can enter HTML these days has a WYSIWYG editor that will handle the basics without an ounce of knowledge.

    • Ashley Hoffman

      Thanks for reading Edward, but my opinion does differ. Anytime you can show an employer that you’ve taken the initiative to learn tangible skills, that’s a good sign (and even a good story to tell in an interview). I would be hard pressed to think of a time when that would hurt your chances. And companies are already saying that recruiting for digital skills — particularly web analytics and social media — is one of their challenges. It’s a fast growing field and if you can teach yourself, you’re only going to be more competitive in the job market. That study is here: http://econsultancy.com/us/blog/8477-the-ticking-digital-talent-time-bomb?utm_medium=feeds&utm_source=blog.

      True that WSIWYG has made life much easier, but it’s still helpful to know some basic stuff. WSIWYG isn’t perfect and every now and again you have to go to the source to find the bug.

      • Edward - Entry Level Dilemma

        While “digital skills” may be a growing market, but that doesn’t mean that everyone needs those skills. Try replacing digital skills with another skillset and see if you still agree with the market. Nursing is a very in demand field and hospitals are calling recruiting for that their biggest challenge. If you get a nursing degree, you are only going to be more competitive in the job market.

        That is true…if you are interested in nursing. But a nursing degree isn’t going to help you if you are an insurance underwriter. Or a a geophysical lab technician. And that’s my point. Those skills are only useful if you are interested in a career that utilizes those skills.

  10. Villanova Outreach

    I believe job search is a marketing job so these skills are good for that as well as for a potential employer. I believe your underlying premise – communicate a tangible skill that meets an employers needs is critical. Maybe that job doesn’t need HTML but matching your skills, traits and distinctive attiributes to the goals of an employer is a winning approach for anyone.
    FYI–I am over 60 and know those social media skills you mention precisely because I don’t want a younger person to take my job!

  11. Anonymous

    One thing I would add to the list is communication, both verbal and written. As I’ve been on the job hunt for 9 months now, 99.8% of job descriptions I’ve come across has something along the lines of “great interpersonal skills” and “ability to work with diverse staff.” If you don’t feel confident that you have great communication skills, I would recommend taking a speech class or business writing class… Or even join a toastmasters’ club!

    • Angela

      Great interpersonal skills and ability to work with diverse staff don’t come with taking a speech class or a business writing class. I think it comes from actually working with people of diverse backgrounds. I think a better solution would be to join an organization known for being diverse or even volunteering with groups you would not normally associate with. I think traveling abroad is great as well. I have never had to look for over 2-3 months for a full-time position, and this is even after resigning from jobs that had hired me after a few months. I don’t know why they hire me with my track record, but I believe it’s what you said – interpersonal skills and a dash of personality! Good luck!

  12. Eva Roethler

    I am proud to say I know how to do all of these things 😀 Also, a good resource for learning HTML is http://www.w3schools.com/ – the W3 Consortium is who regulates HTML coding and this tutorial course is free (and you can count on it being the most up-to-date version of HTML) and very thorough!

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