So you’ve earned your degree and landed your first job or are currently job searching. Now what? I hate to break it to you but the job market is tough and jobs are often times not forever. Placing all your eggs in one basket, so to speak, is no longer a viable route to take when trying to stay competitive amongst your rivals. Growth in a company is a possibility and you should always stay sharp and learn in order to leverage yourself as an employee. You don’t want to get left behind and that means keeping your skill set valuable at all times. Here is how:

In the past, I signed up to work with an organization called Missouri River Clean Up where we devoted half a day to picking up trash in the Missouri river and on land. This opportunity gave me a chance to not only make the environment a cleaner place for everyone but it showed me what kind of a leader I was to the group I was in charge of managing. I did not have to do it, I simply chose to do it out of my own desire to do good. It paid off in the long run because I was able to include the management and volunteer skills in my resume and I got to be familiar with the area. Contact your local government, college groups, churches and other nonprofit organizations that align with your beliefs. Volunteer opportunities are listed online at various websites. This will allow you the exposure of different experiences and roles that you may not have thought of before. Learn new ways to solve problems and demonstrate your leadership skills.

Earn A Certification
Last year I completed a short Information Security Awareness training course which was provided to all employees, and I learned how to protect myself from being at-risk with cyber security. Certifications can range from a short video session to a 3-day training session. No matter how big or small the subject matter, you are still benefitting from the learning experience. Professional development is a way to stay up-to-date on research, advances in procedures, and ideas within your industry. This is a way for you to show your supervisor that you are taking your role in the company seriously and want to learn new skills and enhance your talents. Incorporating certifications into your professional development helps you see the bigger picture when it comes to your short-term and long-term goals. You can find certifications offered at your place of employment, online research, and Fred Pryor.

Continuing Education
A year ago I decided to go back to school and pursue an MBA. I had been out of school from graduating with my undergraduate degree for two years and knew that to leverage myself as an employee I would need to continue my education. This may not be for everyone, especially with different career paths people take. It requires you to devote a lot of time and responsibility to each course, however, this has been a rewarding experience for me. Employers sometimes offer tuition reimbursement or other methods of tuition remission for those who choose this path. If you are lucky enough to have this type of incentive and are up for the challenge, then I recommend you do so when you are ready to commit. Not only does this open up your eyes to a new perspective in academia but you are able to show your supervisor that you are willing to learn new things and are open to new opportunities. The concepts you will learn will help you advance in your field and find other methods to excel in your job. The possibilities are endless as you can go to community college, 4-year colleges and universities, or vocational or trade schools.

Join A Professional Group
You have probably been a member of an organization or two at some point in your high school or college life. These type of groups help you develop hands-on leadership and management skills. It does not stop after you graduate. Anyone who wants to advance in their field can benefit from joining a professional group. The networking opportunities are endless and allow you to gain a diverse set of experiences and build a network with other professionals within your industry to connect with. Memberships may require fees but there are some that do not. I am lucky enough to be part of an organization at my work which has allowed me to utilize my leadership and management abilities with different projects that are geared towards motivating employees in the workplace. It has also allowed me the opportunity to meet employees who I may not otherwise have met with how many departments there are in higher education. You build these professional relationships with other members who become your friends. Do your research and make sure that the professional association you choose align well with your particular career and industry. Some associations are local while others are nationwide so no matter where you are or if you choose to relocate elsewhere you will still have that organization for professional development and support.

Take control of your own career goals and aspirations. If you feel that you need to leverage yourself against others within your industry, it is time to consider all of the options provided. Plan early and start doing your research. Make time to market yourself and focus on moving up and forward with your future. The skills you learn today will always be better and more desirable tomorrow.