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Fast-Track Your Career by Learning the Right Skills

By: American Heritage07.30.20

Maybe you want your job to be more fulfilling. Maybe you want to make more money. Either way, taking steps to advance in your career – or start a new career – can be one of the best ways to improve your quality of life and financial security.

But moving forward professionally requires having the right skills. Valuable professional skills can range from technical skills that require specialized training to less tangible (but equally important) assets like leadership and empathy. If you’re looking to acquire more of the skills you need to succeed, here’s where to begin. 


Types of Skills

Before we talk about acquiring job skills, it’s a good idea to understand the different skill types that employers look for.


Hard Skills

These are creative or technical skills grained through formal or informal education. These may include a specific trade like plumbing or carpentry, information technology skills, languages, or office-related skills.


Soft Skills

These are less tangible professional skills that shape your ability to work with others and develop as a leader at work. While workers are less likely to put soft skills on their resume, these are every bit as important as technical skills. Soft skills include communication, creativity, public speaking, problem-solving, organization, conflict resolution, and adaptability.


Hybrid Skills

This is where hard and soft skills are combined. Many, if not most, jobs require a mix of soft skills and technical expertise. One example is customer service, which may require strong communication skills along with knowledge of an industry-specific software platform.


While many hard and soft skills are transferable between careers – such as familiarity with common computer programs or being an organized person – some industries may require very job-specific skills, degrees, or on-the-job training.



To understand how you need to learn and grow as a professional, you should reflect on what your professional ambitions are, or narrow them down to something more specific. Then, figure out what you need to reach these career goals.



Have a dream job? Look at comparable job descriptions on LinkedIn, Indeed, or other job posting sites. Try to determine what skills are required and preferred. Also look for people in your network who you admire or who have a position you aspire to. Then, research their profiles to see what kind of skills they promote as valuable to employers.



Talk to your current boss, co-workers, or even former employers. Explain what you’re looking to accomplish and ask them for an honest assessment of your skills. Give them the option of having an in-person conversation, writing up an assessment, or answering a series of questions that you provide. The easier you make it for them, the more willing they’ll be to help you.


Professional Networks

Getting advice from professionals in your field can also help. Look for connections through professional organizations, industry groups, your union, or on LinkedIn. Building relationships with professionals you respect can lead to valuable mentorship or connections to career opportunities. But remember that when it comes to networking, there should be no expectation of a job offer – you’re there simply to learn. Use the feedback from your professional contacts to figure out what skills you need to acquire.


Create a Game Plan

Once you’ve made a list of skills you want to develop, create a game plan. Prioritize the skills you need to acquire first and look for skills you can learn concurrently. If you’re not sure how to acquire the necessary skills, talk to your colleagues and professional networks. They may be able to guide you toward the right options, which can include the following:



While no one becomes an expert overnight, committing the time to read up on a skill or subject you care about is a great first step. 


Online Courses

There are online courses for everything. (now a part of LinkedIn) and are online training platforms that offer thousands of different courses in hundreds of professional areas, including both hard and soft skills. If you need more specialized training, there are advanced online courses available through universities and other institutions. Research courses first to make sure they’re worth the investment.


Community or Local College

Community colleges and some universities will offer affordable non-degree classes on specific topics that are available at convenient times. Many are taught by industry professionals, allowing you to build your network.


Company Training

Many companies offer training for their employees, or if they don’t have on-site training, they may reimburse you for outside training you receive. After all, building up their employees’ skills is good for them.



As you start developing your skills, look for ways to put them to work. Volunteer for projects at work or ask your boss for more responsibility related to your newly gained skills. Or volunteer with a nonprofit organization as a way to use new skills while giving back to the community.


Helping You Get Ahead

If you’re looking to move forward in your career, investing in your education could be the way to do it. American Heritage is here to support our members’ personal and professional success with access to a great selection of competitive student loan options. Learn more here.



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