When people hear the word “investment,” they automatically think about stocks and bonds. But there are other important investments you can make, including an investment in your career. In some cases, this will require more time and effort on your part than it will monetary outlay, but this type of investment, like an investment in stocks and bonds, can increase your bank account and lead to a life of financial security for you.
A good place to start is to assess your current situation. Maybe you are in a dead-end job—or a job you hate—and want to make a change. Maybe you would have an opportunity to move up to a higher paying position in your current firm—or find a job more readily with another firm – if only you had another skill set or two. Determine what type of position you want to pursue, investigate the requirements for that position, and ascertain the resources available that will enable you to meet those requirements. You may be surprised to learn that there are many educational programs that are offered for little or no money. For example, many community colleges have courses in such diverse topics as law enforcement, AutoCAD design and drafting, medical coding, medical transcription, food service management, foreign languages, human resources, and a variety of computer skills—from Microsoft Office, to QuickBooks Pro, to Web Design. Sometimes all it takes is a single course to provide you with what you might be lacking to start a new career or to advance in your existing one. Another great source is SCORE (www.score.org), which is a nonprofit association supported by funding from the Small Business Administration. They provide mentors and inexpensive or free business workshops as well as tips, templates, and tools. And there are numerous online courses in which you can enroll, too. All it takes is a quick search of the web in your area of interest.
If you already have the tools it takes for the position you’re targeting, but are having trouble landing that better job, get out there and network. Business cards are a must for networking, regardless of whether you are employed by a firm or have your own home-based business. If your employer doesn’t provide you with cards, buy them yourself. Invest in high quality ones and hand them out whenever someone asks for your phone number or email address, even if it’s at a social function or a sporting event. You don’t have to provide a sales pitch in these situations; simply hand the person your card as a convenient way to give them your contact information. They may have questions when they see what you do. But simply handing people your business card on these occasions isn’t enough. Here are some other things you should consider doing:
- Join LinkedIn. The largest professional network in the world, this website provides a virtual venue that enables you to connect with others to exchange ideas and information, including information on job openings.
- Join one of the established clubs in your community, such as the Rotary Club, a service organization with a world-wide presence. It’s a great way to meet other business people in your area.
- If possible, do volunteer work for the organization that you’d like to have as your future employer. A foot in the door is always a good place to start.
- Attend networking events whenever you can. You can find numerous ones in your area by doing a simple internet search. The Chambers of Commerce of many cities sponsor these affairs, as do other groups. Some are free of charge; others may involve a nominal fee, but it will be money well spent rather well invested.
Do pay attention to your appearance at these various functions—and don’t forget to hand out those business cards. You can find a number of other networking tips in books devoted to the topic. A couple that have earned good reviews include: Baber, Anne and Waymon, Lynne Make Your Contacts Count: Networking Know-how For Business and Career Success, 2nded., AMACOM, March 2007 and Misner, Ivan R., Hilliard, Brian, and Alexander, David Networking Like A Pro: Turning Contacts Into Connections, Entrepreneur Press, Jan. 2010.If the very word, “networking,” sends shivers down your spine, you may find this book by Devora Zack helpful: Zack, DevoraNetworking For People Who Hate Networking: A Field Guide For Introverts, the Overwhelmed, and the Underconnected, Berrett-Koehler, July 2010.
And don’t stop networking just because you are currently employed and happy with your job. You never know what opportunities might be out there for you—and your wallet.