(plus a couple you haven’t thought of)

Since I counsel professionals on career transitions, it’s helpful that I’ve been through a couple of major career reinventions myself. These shifts include moving from a consulting career to career services in higher education, followed by working as a solo practice career coach.

With each change in my working environment came a mindset adjustment and a demand for new skills. But where was I to gain these skills? Since I already had two Master’s degrees, I did not want to go back to school full-time again. Nor did I have the cash flow to do so.

You don’t need to necessarily earn another degree to gain new skills; you just need some motivation and ingenuity.  I am a big proponent of learning new skills as a way to fast track your career change. While the best way to learn new skills is on the job, many times you simply don’t have the time when work deadlines loom.

Here are seven of the most effective ways you can gain new skills outside of work in 2018:

1. Find a Mentor. When I started working at Boston University’s career center, I asked a colleague to school me on the ins and outs of career advising. With five years’ experience, the young woman was very knowledgeable and patient with the thousands of questions I asked. Her mentoring truly helped me succeed in career services.

2. Take Courses. It’s a no-brainer, right? To learn, you take a class. In 2018, there are more options for structured learning than ever. Websites like EdX and Coursera offer you access to courses at scores of universities — some where you can even earn a certificate.  These “clearing houses” offer a variety of course subject areas. “Back in the day,” there were no online classes, so I took every course at BU for which my employer paid.

3. Read about it.  Back when I worked in college career services, there was limited internet, so I subscribed to a variety of what we now call “hard copy” magazines, and I read everything I could get my hands on. Today, we have more than enough information available on any career imaginable. Go out there and find it.

4. Join a Professional Association. A valuable starting point for networking, professional associations also offer educational and certification opportunities. Join the top professional association in your field to take advantage of both.

5. Internships. These unpaid work opportunities aren’t just for college students. If you can swing it financially, an internship provides a way to get experience in your new field — and to put it on your resume.

6. Volunteer for a Cause.  By volunteering, you could gain the exact same skills you would with an internship, but you get to help an organization fulfill its mission. This will be valuable for your resume if you’re looking to enter the non-profit sector. Volunteering on a board or committee also provides you with a “bird’s eye” view of an organization, which is especially helpful in pursuing executive jobs.

7. Find Your Tribe.  So you’ve secured a mentor, but what if that person gets busy? What if you need to learn things that aren’t in your mentor’s area of expertise? It’s advantageous to cultivate “a tribe,” or a group of professional colleagues who have varied experiences and who you feel comfortable going to with any questions.

 And here are the two ideas you probably haven’t thought of:

  1. Meetups. When you access the career section on meetup.com, you can network with groups focused on topics ranging from investing to e-commerce to general career advice. It’s a great way for you to attend events where you can both learn something and meet people who could potentially help your career.
  2. Learn – but with a lower price tag. Community colleges and adult education centers offer career and business courses, with a much lower price tag than four-year universities do. If you’re not seeking a specific degree or certificate, these options offer an economical, in-person learning experience.

Use just a few of these tips, and you’ll soon be well on your way to acquiring a whole new skillset in 2018.