Whether you’ve been out of school for a few months or many years, it’s normal to miss learning new things. While you’re probably introduced to a few new skills, strategies or processes on the job, it’s not quite the same as immersing yourself in a new topic.
When you don’t have the time or budget to head back to school, you may feel like you’re out of options. Luckily, there are a number of ways you can keep learning while at work.
Which is good, because continuing your education is important for advancing your career.
When you’re learning new things, you stay relevant in a fiercely competitive job market. You can strengthen your resume, giving yourself an edge to get a promotion or just learn a skill you’ve always wanted to have.
So, how can you continue to learn while working full-time? Here are a few ways to get started:
1. Find a Mentor
If you have a traditional job, you probably spend most of your waking hours in an office with other people. Whether you were assigned a mentor when you took the job or not, finding a senior-level employee to connect with can give you great insights, information and guidance.
A mentor is someone who has been in your shoes and experienced what you’re going through. Because they’ve developed past the stage you’re currently at, they can give you great advice on how to move forward. While this isn’t a traditional education and may not be something you can put on a resume, real-life advice can truly help advance your career.
Find someone within your office that you respect or you think can provide you with some helpful advice. Ask if they’d like to have lunch or even a cup of coffee, or simply ask them for guidance on a specific question. As you develop your relationship, you’ll get more and more tips.
2. Take an Online Certification
There are hundreds of online courses and certifications available online. No matter what you’re interested in, what skill you’d like to learn or what topic you’d like to master, you can find an online course to help you achieve that goal. There are even certifications that help you advance your soft skills or management skills, if that is something you hope to improve. For example, the ISO 9001 certification is designed to help leaders improve their processes, engagement of their workforce, and decision-making.
Some certifications allow you to receive a small “designation” you can put on your LinkedIn page, website or even your resume. Just check the certification page to ensure you’re able to promote the designation before using any images you didn’t create. These certifications can help you get noticed by new hiring managers or put you closer to getting a promotion over your coworkers.
However, even online courses that don’t offer a clear certification can also be beneficial. Check out websites like Skillshare, Udemy or Coursera to get started. With courses in everything from entrepreneurship to happiness, there’s something there for you.
3. Attend a Local Event or Workshop
Depending on the city in which you live, there are probably dozens of local events or workshops available to you. Whether it’s a networking event where you can meet new people or potential mentors, or a workshop that promises to teach you a new skill, getting involved in your community is a great way to get involved.
Sometimes companies within your city will sponsor events or workshops to help spread the word about their brand. Other times, these meetups are held by professional organizations or even public libraries. Frequently checking the events calendars of organizations in your area can allow you to plan which events you’d like to attend.
Don’t be afraid to try something new. If a workshop sparks your interest, go — even if it doesn’t directly apply to your career.
4. Read a Book
In college, you were probably assigned pages and pages of required reading. Whether or not you actually read them, it just wasn’t the same as getting to choose the books you were interested in. With so many entrepreneurs, business owners and career professionals creating best-sellers, reading can be a great way to learn something new.
If you’re already a reader, consider swapping your traditional novel for a book written by a professional you respect or admire. If you’re not sure where to start, ask friends, family members or coworkers if they have recommendations — or if they have a book you can borrow.
Reading doesn’t need to be expensive. With a traditional library card, you can borrow books and e-books for free.
5. Ask About Tuition Reimbursement
Not every company will offer to pay you back for college courses related to your career path, but some might. If you’re looking to take a class, get a certification or even get a degree that will help advance your career, your employer may be willing to help you with the cost.
Keep in mind that tuition reimbursement programs typically have requirements as to when you can leave the company or how well you need to perform within the classes. Even if maintaining a high GPA or staying with the company a few years after you graduate isn’t a big issue, you want to know about these requirements upfront.
If the cost of additional education is holding you back from returning to school, definitely talk with your employer about ways they may be willing to help.
6. Look for New Challenges
If you work at a company with many different departments, there is always something new you could be learning. If you’re hoping to move into a different area of business, your employer may be willing to temporarily put you on a new team or allow you to assist with or oversee a project that team is working on.
Helping other teams pick up the slack can help you learn new skills and discover what you’re interested in. Looking for new challenges within the office can also help benefit your entire company because you’re helping other teams complete their tasks and move forward. It’s a win-win situation for all.
Before you approach your boss about temporarily moving teams, consider how you would be able to get your own tasks done and what benefits you could bring to the other team. While your boss will probably want to help you succeed, they also need to consider the well-being of the company. Be prepared to provide logical explanations as to why this is a good move for everyone.
7. Join a Professional Community
Professional communities, like industry associations, are a great way to meet individuals with similar interests but different skills. While attending an event or workshop put on by one of these professional communities can introduce you to some of the community members, actually becoming a member yourself gives you access to a number of other materials.
Professional communities typically have meetings, private networking events and even online forums where you can learn new information about the industry you’re interested in. Making new connections, meeting like-minded people and hearing different perspectives on certain topics can also help you learn new things.
Keep in mind that some professional communities may have a membership fee. However, this cost may be something your employer is willing to pay for if you can explain the benefits to them.
8. Get Social on Social Media
We often think of social media as a way to connect with our friends and family, but it’s also a great education tool. From Twitter Chats to Facebook and LinkedIn Groups, social media provides an excellent outlet for individuals to get together and share their thoughts on a particular topic.
With Twitter Chats, a host asks a series of questions that each participant will answer. Participants are then encouraged to create a dialogue about different responses, giving them an opportunity to discuss potentially different perspectives or educate other individuals. Facebook and LinkedIn Groups allow members to ask their own questions and get answers from the community.
There are many different chats or groups available, depending on your industry or what you’d like to learn more about. Simply searching on the platform is usually enough to come across a few different social communities.
9. Attend a Conference
Conferences allow individuals from all over the country — or even the world — to come together to see business leaders, experts and professionals speak. While some conferences involve a series of speaking engagements, others also have workshops for attendees.
Tickets for certain conferences could run hundreds or even thousands of dollars. If you need to travel to attend the conference, this can become even pricier. However, many employers like to send company team members to large conferences to make their own connections and learn new things. Asking your employer if you can go may be enough to get them to cover the cost.
If your employer won’t send you to a conference or isn’t able to pay the price tag, look into conferences nearby. Some even accept volunteers, which would allow you to attend the conference for free.
Being in a traditional job doesn’t mean your education is over. There are many different ways to keep learning new things — you just need to know where to look.