Michael Huberman, 24, had taken a public-speaking class in college. But he knew it was time for a refresher course when he found himself skipping career-boosting chances to speak in public for his job as a policy adviser at the U.S. Labor Department.
“These were opportunities that could help me progress and move up in my career, and I was hesitant to take them because I didn’t feel comfortable speaking in public,” he says.
“Four years after I’d left college and gotten into the workplace, I had sort of lost those skills,” Huberman says. So he enrolled in a series of public-speaking classes led by D.C.-based Christine Clapp (202-210-4916, Spokenwithauthority.com).
Continuing education is almost mandatory these days, thanks to a still-recovering economy, ever-changing technology and a competitive D.C.-area job market filled with overachievers and multiple-degree holders. Whether they’re job hunting or aiming for advancement at their current place of employment, those who take proactive steps to fill gaps in their skill sets or acquire new areas of expertise usually find that it pays off.
“People are having to keep themselves updated,” says Esther S. Perantoni, a director in the Workforce Development Division at Northern Virginia Community College, who says taking an extra class can set you apart from the competition. “If you’re competing for a job and have that one extra credential, that may make a difference.”
Where should you begin?
These five areas of continuing education will benefit folks in almost any field, whether you’re just starting out or have years of experience:
Whether you’re planning a wedding or creating a new smartphone app, odds are you could classify what you’re working on as a “project.” That’s why project-management skills — and those who possess them — are in demand in all types of workplaces.
“If you can show that you know how to manage a project by making steps, deadlines and schedules, people will give you more responsibility and you will climb the career ladder,” says Deborah Keary, vice president of human resources at the Society for Human Resource Management.
The Certificate in Project Management program at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies trains students to manage a project successfully and provides scenarios where they can put what they learn into action. Students learn how to lead project teams, measure progress and control such things as work flow and budgets.
“A lot of professionals become what we call ad hoc project managers,” says Edwin Schmierer, associate dean at Georgetown’s Center for Continuing and Professional Education. “There are certain skills and a framework they could use to be more effective and efficient.”
Many people dread public speaking. And it’s not just talking in front of a large audience that can inspire fear.
“Whether you have to make a presentation for your clients or in a weekly meeting, public speaking comes in everywhere in the workplace,” says Melissa S. Fireman, CEO of Washington Career Services (240-421-2108).
It could mean the difference between that big promotion and career stagnation. “No matter what field you’re in or where you are in your career, you will always do better if you can articulate yourself clearly,” Clapp says.
In Clapp’s public-speaking classes ($500 for a series, 202-549-4172, Hillcenterdc.org), she teaches students how to prepare and deliver great speeches, covering topics including proper posture and jettisoning such junk words as “um.”
Since taking Clapp’s classes last winter, Huberman has started accepting those invitations to speak at work conferences and events.
He also uses his new skills at Comcast SportsNet, where he works on the weekends in digital media and where he hopes to go on-air one day.
He plans to ensure that his speaking skills don’t get rusty this time around.
“Even if you’re in an internal meeting with just five or six colleagues, that’s an opportunity for you to practice speaking in front of an audience,” he says.
Polished, professional emails, blog posts or website copy can go a long way toward making a good first impression. So if you find yourself puzzled by punctuation or prepositional phrases, a business-writing class might be a good idea.
Northern Virginia Community College offers courses in business writing that cover subjects such as syntax and spelling. Students learn how to write clear and focused emails, memos and reports that get their messages across effectively.
“To be able to put together a cogent paragraph is a wonderful thing,” Keary says. “People think less of you when your grammar is bad; it makes you seem like an uneducated idiot.”
You tweet, post on Facebook and maintain a profile on LinkedIn. But are you making the most of social media to promote yourself?
“People come to me all the time and talk about how they’re not sure how to use LinkedIn to their advantage,” says career consultant Andrea Edelman, who has offices in Gaithersburg and D.C. (301-996-0227, Edelmancareers.com). Understanding the right way to use the site, she says, can help people promote themselves and their work and get connected to potential employers.
Annapolis-based career strategist Paula Brand (443-254-8173, Paulabrand.com) offers one-on-one LinkedIn training as well as half-day workshops ($97) that teach students how to create attention-getting profiles. Participants learn how to show expertise in their field, research companies and career-development opportunities, and network using the site.
“LinkedIn is one of the most important websites out there right now for job searching and career management,” she says. But you have to put a little effort into it. “If you just put your name and where you went to school and nothing else, it’s almost not worth doing it,” Brand says.
Maybe you’ve recently become a supervisor. Or you have dreams of being a major power player some day down the road. Whatever your career aspirations are, you’ll likely find yourself at some point needing to take charge of a situation. It’s never too early to start developing leadership skills.
“It starts with leading yourself,” says Fireman of Washington Career Services. “If you understand yourself and are able to lead yourself in various situations, it’s going to be easier to then have someone under you and mentor, manage and lead them.”
George Mason University’s Office of Continuing Professional Education offers several certificate programs focused on leadership. Classes such as Facilitating Team Decisions and Powerful Persuasion provide students with the tools needed to rally the workplace troops around them.
That kind of training helps prepare people who are actively seeking out leadership positions as well as those who suddenly find themselves heading up a major project or initiative.
“You never know when you’re going to become an accidental leader,” says Catherine Hoover, director of the OCPE at George Mason’s Prince William campus.
If you’re ready for that moment, you could turn a little leadership training into a big pay raise or even a promotion. The investment that you make in yourself now could wind up being money well spent.