How to Make Your Job Skills Work for You

There is good news in the job market. The unemployment rate is on a gradual descent, hitting a five-year low of 7 percent in November.

While that’s still relatively high, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows more interesting numbers. The latest unemployment rate for workers age 25 and over who possess a bachelor’s degree or higher is less than half the national rate (3.3 percent, to be exact). If you work in the accounting, technology or creative fields, for example, the unemployment rates for several positions typically range from 2 to 5 percent.

So what does this mean? The current employment situation can be described as the “great skills divide.” Those with specialized job skills are in high demand and short supply, while the opposite rings true for the general workforce. And employers are willing to pay more for the skills that are in strongest demand.

Maximizing Your Job Skills

While some fields are hot (especially tech), not everyone works in them or can boast the hottest skills on their resume. Expanding your inventory of job skills, no matter what field of work you are in, can help make you more marketable.

Here are a few tips that don’t require a career change or an advanced degree:

Learn on the job. I’m a big proponent of acquiring new skills on the job, especially if there’s little time to take courses outside of work. Think about what job skills you’d like to enhance at the office and how you can go about it. Can you volunteer for a project to learn about another area, such as marketing or social media? You might propose a new business initiative and volunteer to be the project lead.

Ask to be paired with a mentor to help you polish your business skills, such as communication, leadership or negotiation. If you’ve been in your role for a long time or just feel stagnant, now is the perfect opportunity to gain new knowledge on the job.

Get training. Whether you are employed or looking for a job, learning opportunities are everywhere. Sign up for trade association newsletters or follow them on social media to learn about relevant workshops or free webinars. To get started, check out this handy list of professional organizations for nearly 60 fields.

Many of these organizations also offer certifications you may want to pursue. Even though a professional certification may take time to obtain, it’s worth noting on your resume and discussing in the job interview if you are working toward one.

Want to build job skills online? Training organizations such as offer online learning to help you achieve personal and professional goals.

Finally, check out the course catalog for your community college to see what classes are offered in your field of interest. Your company may provide reimbursement for professional development, so be sure to talk to your manager or human resources representative.

Volunteer. There are a plethora of opportunities with nonprofit or community organizations because they always need the extra support. Find a nonprofit that interests you and ask where they need help. Sites such as VolunteerMatch connect more than 96,000 participating organizations with volunteers.

Consider areas where you can leverage your existing business skills or seek out opportunities to learn something new. Employers often are interested in your experience outside the office, and volunteer work can help you expand your job skills and demonstrate your goodwill.

Staying ahead of current employment trends can help you better prepare for your next job opportunity. The job skills you enhance or gain today will make you more in-demand in the future.

What strategies do you employ for building new job skills? Let me know in the comments below.