career

How to stay on top in the career game

In today's market, more employees are boosting their education and training and implementing other career-enhancing strategies to stay relevant and to get ahead.

Clara Lippert Glenn, president and CEO of The Oxford Princeton Programme, a company with a U.S. office in New Jersey that provides energy training courses, says that in the last decade the number of professionals in the energy industry seeking advanced education and training has increased significantly. In 2007, 2,922 professionals took Web-based training courses at The Oxford Princeton Programme. In 2012, that number increased to 12,968.

Bob Makarowski, technology instructor at Baruch College in New York, agrees that more workers feel the need to update their skills as their career progresses.

"In my 20 years of teaching at Baruch College, I have seen a shift in the students attending evening and weekend professional courses who are willing to pay out-of-pocket costs. Unlike the 1990's when companies lavished employees with endless training perks, today's students are self-funded and driven by the realization that increased competence equals continued employment," he says.

Below are some ways that workers are staying relevant in their career by keeping up with their changing workplace.

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While seeking an advanced degree is one way for workers to boost their careers, certifications and discipline-specific training programs are more focused alternatives and often less costly, Makarowski says. For example, there are industry-standard certifications for desktop application development, stockbroker licensing, international trade, supply chain management, finance, real estate or bookkeeping, he says.

In his role, Richard Console Jr., managing partner of Console & Hollawell, a personal injury law firm in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, says he reads books about traditional marketing, Internet marketing, management and search engine optimization in addition to attending 12 to 15 hours in seminars of continuing legal education to expand his business skills.

"I attend seminars through the American Lawyer Academy, which I am a member of, where I meet with the heads of other law firms and their marketing departments to stay on the cutting edge," Console says. Since graduating law school, he's also expanded where he is licensed to practice law to enable him to bring in more clients.

Don't have time for continuing classroom education? Kevin Gazzara, senior partner of Magna Leadership Solutions LLC, in Phoenix, says when he found a mentor, it paid big dividends for him. The mentor, who he didn't identify, advised him to focus on expanding his skill set rather than on the next job opportunity. Eventually, it allowed him to move into a different career field with a work schedule that better fit his needs.

"A great mentor will help you stay focused on the long-term future. Otherwise, you are always caught up in the tactics, and you end up somewhere long term where you don't want to be," he says.

In addition to being mentored, becoming a mentor has its benefits. Gazzara says teaching what you've learned keeps you fresh and helps you realize how much you don't know as you try to educate others.

Who do you know?

Another way of putting your career on an upward trajectory is adding contacts in your field, says Caroline Ceniza-Levine, co-founder of SixFigureStart, a career coaching and consulting firm in New York. Such people might be helpful later in alerting you to job openings and recommending you, should you apply for a new job.

One way to increase your list of career contacts is to become a thought leader in your profession.

"Thought leaders publish, speak at conferences, and are active in professional associations and events. You want to be doing these things on a regular basis," Ceniza-Levine says.

Leslie Samuel, assistant professor of physical therapy and foundation science coordinator at AndrewsUniversity in Michigan, created a biology blog that is dedicated to making biology fun. Over time, he expanded his readership and started a website to teach biology that now gets 50,000 visitors per month.

To be sure, the website also has helped increase his exposure and reputation by helping him show what he's accomplished while distinguishing him from others.

"It's interesting to see that what you do online affects what you do offline, and there is a strong connection there. And, by doing something to stand out from the crowd, you are staying relevant," Samuel says.

Take time to network

Keeping up with your career can seem like a full-time job on top of your real full-time job. Dorie Clark, author of "Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future," says it's easy to stop attending outside networking events or making an effort to meet new people if you've been at a firm for a lengthy period of time. Eventually, most of the people you know are fellow workers at your company or in your industry.

Clark recommends building a network of trusted contacts who work at companies in a diverse range of fields who then could help you find your next career.

And traditional networking isn't the only way to advance your career. It is also helpful to develop your connections through social media networks, says Villanova University psychology professor Katina Sawyer. LinkedIn is a great tool for getting started, particularly for job seekers.

"You can always use your LinkedIn network to find a new job role. Being sure not to make assumptions about others and being open to different ways of doing things are the keys to collaborating and growing as an employee," Sawyer says.

Clark stresses the importance of social media for the 50-plus crowd. If you don't know what a hashtag is, it's time to find out.

"The online world has impacted almost every profession in some way, and if you're a worker over 50, there may be doubts about whether you're comfortable or familiar with these changes. Go out of your way to demonstrate your expertise with a robust LinkedIn profile, a blog or general familiarity with social tools," Clark says.

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