Recharge your career through education

While this may be a challenging time to look for a job, there is no shortage of personal career aspirations. Whether you are in between jobs or gainfully employed, these uncertain times provide the opportunity to assess your options for the future.

Alicia Williams, chair of the early childhood education program at Brown Mackie College – Atlanta recommends assessing where you are today and asking yourself, where do you want to be in five years? “When it comes to staffing my department, I look for potential candidates who are passionate about what they do,” Williams says. Her own hiring experience leads to her next piece of advice. “Where is your passion? Proceed from there,” she says. “Figure out how to spend the days doing what you enjoy.”

Additional education could be your key to a more fulfilling career. Successfully completing a two-year program may help open the door to an entry-level position in a new profession in many different fields, such as health care, veterinary technology, accounting or graphic design, to name just a few.

The case for higher education is strengthened by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS). It reported lower unemployment among workers over age 25 that held a college degree than among those of the same age who did not. According to this May 2011 update, high school graduates faced a 10.3 percent unemployment rate while unemployment among those with an associate degree was 7 percent, and those with a bachelor’s degree saw unemployment dip to a lower 5.4 percent.

The same BLS survey indicates the higher the degree, the higher the average weekly salary earned. For instance, those who held associate degrees earned a median of $767 per week, compared to median weekly earnings of $1,038 for those who held a bachelor’s degree.

In addition to education credentials, Williams looks for job candidates who are knowledgeable in the field, and cognizant of current trends. How do you track trends in an industry you want to join? “Launch a network in your desired field and get information about possibilities for the future,” she says. Look up associations affiliated with the field and attend meetings. This puts you shoulder to shoulder with working professionals who can answer your questions about the industry, their job responsibilities and company culture. They can also prove invaluable to expanding your network of contacts.

Getting involved in volunteer work can help you achieve your employment objectives. “Volunteering is the best free experience you can get anywhere,” Williams says. “Hands-on experience is a must-have to enter any profession.” She recommends researching volunteer opportunities within the field of study. “Look at community events on the local, city and state levels. You won’t know what’s out there unless you seek the information,” she says.

Volunteer work can often lead to a possible job. “A word-of-mouth recommendation can go a long way, especially with the number of resumes coming in,” she says. “People will take tips on candidates from someone they know in the field. It’s much easier to stand out in person than on a paper resume. Just be sure to make a good impression.”

In addition to assessing your passions and aspirations, it’s important to consider your computer skills. “We live in a world of changing times. Every profession focuses on technology. If you don’t have confidence in your computer skills, take a class to become technologically savvy,” Williams advises. “Technology is here now and will continue to advance. Employers are looking for proficiency.”

Do you prefer career autonomy or would you rather have a boss? This is another important point to consider when defining your career goals. Some career choices enable both options. For instance, careers in massage therapy or early childhood education offer the opportunity to work for a company or open your own business.

Education provides a foundation for every career direction. “I truly believe that after being a teacher for many years and now working in higher education, teachers make all other professions possible,” says Williams.

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