Career Planning and Salary: Gain Job Skills

Lesson 4: Gain Job Skills


Gain job skills

job skills intro

What kind of skills do I need for my career? Should I go back to school? Are there other ways to learn new skills? It's important to grow and develop different skills as you pursue your chosen career, but it's not always clear where you should start.

In this lesson, you'll learn about several ways you can develop different job skills, like going back to school, volunteering, building a portfolio, and more. We'll also talk about making your current job skills more transferable.

Gaining job skills

No matter where you are in your current career, it's never too late to learn and develop new job skills. Whether you're just entering the workforce or are hoping to change careers, developing new abilities will help set you apart in the job market. Learning different skills can also make you more productive and successful at your current job.

Watch this video from CareerBuilder to learn about some of the different ways you can develop new job skills.

Additional education

While some careers require solid work experience and training in a particular field, many careers also require a certain level of education. If you're planning to switch to a new career, do some research to find out whether you'll have to go back to school before you can pursue that path.

Keep in mind that additional education doesn't always mean that you need to pursue a 2- or 4-year degree. Many community colleges offer shorter term programs that focus on certification for specific professions. For example, you may be able to get certified as a Nursing Assistant or Lab Assistant in one semester or less. Such programs, often called noncredit or continuing education courses, are traditionally not eligible for federal student aid, however. If you are considering such a program, ask the program coordinator about other loan or scholarship options.

When deciding to go back to school, think carefully about the school you choose to attend. It's important to attend a school that's accredited, since degrees or credits from non-accredited institutions are generally not accepted by employers or universities.

You will also want to consider tuition costs. While many for-profit and online colleges promise short degree programs and low-costs, they are often significantly more expensive than state and community colleges. Talking to alumni of the schools you're considering will help you decide which school will suit your needs.

To find out more about accreditation and potential college scams, take a look at the Federal Trade Commission's article on Diploma Mills. For more information on student loan and deceptive loan practices, check out their page on Student Loans.

To learn more about federal student loans and financial aid, check out the Student Loan Guide.


Over the past several years, there have been significant improvements in the quality and availability of various e-learning resources. While e-learning can never completely replace the traditional education model, more and more people are using these resources to acquire specific skills.

Self-paced tutorials and instructional videos are a great way to learn a new skill at your own pace. You can use these resources to start learning a new language, master a computer program, or become better at using social media. No matter what type of skills you need to learn, there's a good chance you can find an online tutorial to help you get started.

If you want to pursue a more in-depth understanding of a certain topic, many universities are now offering entire online courses and seminars for free, either on their own websites or through educational websites like Coursera or EdX. While you won't receive a degree, you can dramatically expand your knowledge without a tuition payment, and in some cases the teacher will issue a certificate to show that you've passed the course. Some educational websites have paid as well as free tracks to their courses. However, it is not yet clear whether employers view these tracks differently.

Some educational websites, such as Treehouse and Universal Class, require you to pay a membership fee for access to their courses. However, you may be able to access these websites for free if your local public library or workplace has purchased a membership.

Try using some of the different e-learning resources below to expand and develop your skill set:

  • Tutorials and videos: Check out some of our other self-paced tutorials on You can search for instructional videos on bigger sites like YouTube and Vimeo.
  • Online university courses: Coursera, EdX, and UC Berkley's Webcasts are some of the best free online courses offered by universities today.
  • Apps and e-books: You can find thousands of educational apps and e-books for your mobile devices at the App Store, iTunesU, and Google Play Store.

Volunteering and internships

If you'd like to develop new skills while also learning more about a specific career, consider pursuing volunteer and internship opportunities in the field. While you won't be paid for your time, you'll be gaining important work experience and valuable insights into the industry. You'll also be able to network with different professionals in the field, who could later serve as a reference or even notify you of a job opening.


Talk with friends or family members, or network with people who work in a career field that interests you. Sometimes just letting people know that you're willing to dedicate your time is enough to get started. Idealist's Volunteer Resource Center offers a great introduction to the basics of volunteering for career development. You can also use the International Volunteer Search to find volunteer opportunities near you, no matter where you live.

Working with a mentor

Sometimes all you need is a little extra guidance and support. Building a relationship with a mentor in your career field can help you learn more about the industry from someone with direct experience.

The right mentor will be able to offer realistic insights and valuable advice on how to meet your career goals and guide you on the path toward success in your field. Whether you're just starting your career or are taking on a new position, a mentor can also teach you how to navigate the politics of your workplace and build valuable relationships with your coworkers.


Network with people in your industry who might consider serving as a mentor. If you're currently in college, you can find a mentor near you on If you prefer to work on your own, you might get started with a basic job skills course like JobSTART101.

Gaining experience on your own


Even if you don't currently have a job, you can gain experience in your field by pursuing related projects on your own time. For example, a web developer might spend his free time building a personal website, while a recent MBA graduate might create business plans for several different companies.

Projects also give you the opportunity to show potential employers what kind of work you're capable of creating and why your strengths and talents would make you a valuable employee.

If you feel that your career isn't suited to project-based work, you might consider starting your own blog about your field. You'll be able to showcase your knowledge and establish yourself as an expert in the industry.

Over time, you'll even been able to build your own portfolio, which can highlight your projects and show potential employers what you're capable of creating. Check out our Blog Basics tutorial, or consider using an online portfolio site like carbonmade or VisualCV to get started.

Making your skills transferable

Image of person changing careers

While it's important to grow and develop your job skills, you should also stop to consider what strengths you currently possess. Whether you've just graduated from school or have been working at the same job for a long time, you have already developed certain skills that can apply to a variety of jobs. These transferable skills are focused around broader concepts like communication and organization rather than on specific or technical knowledge.

As the global economy continues to evolve and recover, it will become increasingly important to understand your transferable skills. For many people, the notion of working for the same company, or even the same industry, for their entire career is no longer possible. Knowing how your skills relate to other career fields will allow you to remain flexible and employable in a changing economy.

Diagnostic tools

Understanding your transferable skills can make finding a new career path that much easier. Try using some of the resources below to determine your own transferable skills.

  • MySkillsMyFuture suggests possible new career options based on your current job and displays a helpful summary of transferable skills you have gained by working in your field.
  • MyNextMove provides a quick visual summary of different transferable skills for any career. Just search for a career and then look under the Skills section.

Try this!

Navigate to one of the resources above and search for your current career.

  • What are some of the suggested transferable skills? Do you think they accurately reflect your skills?
  • How might these skills apply to a new career?