Invest in Yourself: How to Take Your Skills to the Next Level

If you’re looking to further your career, try investing in yourself. Classes, planning, and even networking can help you upskill, and better your future.
Standing on a mountain

Are you feeling stuck in a career rut? Unsure of how to improve your work life? Want to increase your income? No matter where you are right now, you can move forward in your professional life by making some investments in something you’re already familiar with: yourself. When you improve your skills, strategies, and associations, you can reap the rewards of a more satisfying career, and often a bigger paycheck, too. Check out these smart strategies to help you spend a little now to get paid a lot later.

Talk to a career coach

If you’re ready to invest in yourself, talking to a life or career coach is a great place to start. A coach is a professional consultant and advocate who will help you achieve your goals at work and in life. Whether you have personal goals like improved relationships and building confidence, or professional goals such as starting your own business or moving into a leadership position at the office, a life coach will help you explore options and make wise choices based on where you want to be in the future.

Do your homework: Because professional coaches aren’t regulated, virtually anyone who has read a self-help book or been to a seminar can market themselves as a coach. Look for a coach who is accredited by the International Coach Federation, an organization that provides independent certification for the professional coaching industry, and don’t be afraid to ask for referrals. Your coach will hold you accountable, so in turn, they should be someone you trust to guide you in the right direction.

Your coach may talk with you in person, by phone, or online on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly basis. You can expect to pay somewhere between $200 and $1,000 per month for three or four phone sessions lasting 30 to 60 minutes each. While the costs may seem limiting, think about what you would be willing to pay in order to feel truly happy and fulfilled in your career. The return on investment may include a job promotion, a jump-start to a new position, or just a general improvement in the quality of your professional life. If you’re feeling stuck, looking for a career change, or just need a little extra motivation to get ahead, meeting with a career coach can certainly be a worthwhile investment.

Meet with a financial planner

Unless you’re a financial guru yourself, it’s worth spending the time and money to get advice from a professional financial planner. This expert will examine your money situation and help you develop a game plan. While the plan may include investment advice, such as recommendations about stocks, bonds, and mutual funds, a financial planner will also help you manage things like savings, debt, and taxes. If you’re overpaying on taxes or don’t understand what your 401(k) is really costing you, a financial planner can be an invaluable resource.

If your assets are modest, your best bet is to see a financial planner who charges by the hour, rather than committing to an adviser who charges ongoing fees. You can meet with the financial planner to learn smart money strategies that apply directly to your goals and life situation, pay the one-time fee, and then move on to the more challenging part: implementation.

A financial planner is just that: a planner. Once you have a plan, it’s up to you to put it in place. Keep yourself motivated with the knowledge that making wise investments and other financial decisions will put more money in your own pocket over time.

Continue your education

Although education doesn’t necessarily translate directly into your paycheck, many jobs will pay more for advanced degrees, and specific training will open the door to more lucrative careers —including the job of your dreams. Whether you already have a master’s degree or just a high school diploma, investing in your education will pay off in the long run and better prepare you to excel in the workplace.

To start or continue working toward a bachelor’s degree, look into online courses, community colleges, and state schools. Many online and community colleges offer significantly discounted core courses that can then be transferred to the four-year university of your choice. Another bonus to evening or online courses is that you can continue to earn income from a full- or part-time job while going to school. Public universities usually offer tuition discounts to residents, so compare the costs of public colleges in your state with those of private universities.

If you’ve ever applied to college before, you’ve probably filled out a FAFSA—the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Plan to fill out this form again if you’re pursuing a degree. You may be eligible for federal grants, such as the Pell Grant program, which offers over $5,000 a year toward undergrad tuition for those who are unemployed. And if you need to take out a loan to get the right degree, government-issued student loans typically have the lowest interest rates and offer flexible repayment options.

If you already have a full-time job, check into your company’s continuing education policies. Many companies will reimburse you for credits earned toward a degree in your field. Other businesses offer employer-paid training or discounts on relevant courses and conferences. If you belong to a professional organization, find out if the organization offers educational discounts or tuition assistance. Finally, some institutes of higher learning offer credit for real-life or work experience, which can be a huge money saver if you have more experience than formal education in your industry.

And depending on the career field you choose, you may not need an actual degree. A basic certification course can help you get started in professions like cosmetology or personal training. While these courses will not require as much time or money as those for college credit, investing in them now will make you money as you get started in your new career. Find out what certifications employers are looking for, then tailor your educational choices to the job or position you want to land when your education is complete.

Attend networking events

Now that you’ve starting pursuing the goals you outlined with your life coach, managed your money with the help of your financial adviser, and continued learning in your field of choice, it’s time to connect with others at a networking event. To find one, research what events and organizations attract the leaders you want to meet. By attending the right events, you can connect with key influencers and meet corporate executives who may provide job leads or even become your business mentors.

In addition, networking events help you to stay current on trends, issues, and solutions in your industry, making you more valuable in the workplace. You’ll benefit from new ideas and get motivated by speakers. And you’ll have the opportunity to start relationships that lead to referrals and valuable business contacts.

After attending a networking event, don’t just throw away the stack of business cards you collected: Make connections with those people. It’s smart to do this right away, while the event is fresh in your mind and that of your new contact. Show them your value by offering information, and follow up on discussions in a friendly, confident manner.

At the least, investing in a networking event may introduce you to a new idea or a new friend in your line of work. At best, you may meet your future business partner or find out about the perfect job for your skill set. And by getting out into the real business world, you’ll open the door to new opportunities to prove that it was well worth it to invest in yourself.

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