4 Ways to Learn In-Demand Skills That Will Have Employers Knocking Down Your Door

Jan 18, 2012 -
You’re loveable, capable, and goshdarnit, people like you. Except for maybe your boss, who secretly wishes you were just a little bit better. If you’re a young and hungry professional, don’t expect to stay relevant resting on your diploma. Even if you have a handful of years of on-the-job experience under your pretty Prada belt, it’s probably not enough. With jobs getting cut faster than the fat off Heidi Montag’s bum, members of the currently-employed elite need to upgrade their professional cred – and now. It’s too easy for an employer to say “no” – to a raise, promotion, or renewing your contract. So give ‘em every reason to green-light your professional success with a few career upgrades. Here’s how:

1. Do-it-yourself

Sometimes you’ve got take educational matters into your own hands and exercise all the “can-do” enthusiasm you can muster. Living in a world where anything you’d ever want to know is a click of a mouse away makes it easy to pick and choose new skills to learn. Someone who’s doing it: 22-year old Zoelle Egner recently transitioned from a position as a business analyst at a major retail company to a new role running marketing, communication and digital projects for an after-school provider. In her new role, Egner has had to brush up on graphic design, public relations and web development skills. She also began following key thought leaders, curators and commentators in her industry, and reads absolutely everything she could get her hands on – blog posts, books, white papers, you name it. “The internet is really my best friend for learning new skills,” she says. “It turns out, if you know where to look or how to search, it's very easy to find free tools to teach yourself just about anything related to web development and programming.” You don’t need a new job, of course, to teach yourself new skills. In fact, it’s best to do this before you transition, to help yourself land the job you want.

2. Get an internship

Let’s face it – nobody really wants to schlep coffee and work for free. But all signs and trends indicate that if you put in hands-on hours at an internship (in your field of interest, of course), it may improve your resume and increase your job-finding odds. And since many companies downsized during the recession, plenty of employers want interns to complete important tasks rather than refilling the decaf drawer. Someone who’s doing it: Sara Covich was working retail when she decided to apply for an internship at Bicycle Paper, a monthly newsmagazine in the Pacific Northwest. She knew she wanted to wander down the career path of writing and editing and needed some experience. Cycling is also the 31-year-old Seattleite’s favorite sport, so it was a great fit for many reasons. Covich worked as an editorial intern for three months, which didn’t immediately segue into her current position (she first paid her professional dues as a Safety Analyst), but gave her an advantage when the Consent Form Editor position opened up.

3. Create smart alliances

Go out of your way to find yourself a mentor or make friends with someone who’s just slightly more accomplished than you. Sometimes simply having a trusted sounding board and the right connections can help boost your career. Someone who’s doing it: Before the ink dried on Julie Webb’s college diploma, the 22-year old intern had snagged an in-house copywriter position at Marketing Maven Public Relations. Within six months, she moved to a full-time Assistant Account Executive position. “This is a great career move for me because I can work closely with my Account Executive, Aljolynn Sperber (a.k.a. “Jojo”), and learn from her as I grow and develop in the company,” says Webb. She believes that by having a mentor, she can learn more about the industry in a hand-on environment with people who care about her success.

4. Go back to school

Sometimes you can fake it ‘til you make it or work with what you’ve got. But in some professional instances, you may have to commit to additional coursework, or perhaps a new degree, to take your career to the next level. Someone who’s doing it: When Katie Allegretto first decided to get her B.S. in Education at Central Michigan University, she was smitten by the promise of summers and holidays off. (Hello, who wouldn’t be?) But five years into her career, the 29-year old Bellows Spring Elementary School teacher loves the diversity of her job. “It truly is rewarding when you see everything ‘click’ for a child and you know played an integral part in helping them gain knowledge,” says Allegretto. Now she’s expanding her education by pursuing a Master’s Degree in Reading, which will help her fine-tune her teaching skills to diagnose reading difficulties. How else are you learning skills that will make you a catch in the workplace? Charyn Pfeuffer is a food, travel and lifestyle writer and journalist based in Seattle. She can be found on Twitter at @charynpfeuffer.