Invest in Yourself: Cost-Effective Ways to Advance Your Career 

by | Jun 18, 2024 | Finance

Whether you’re looking to climb the corporate ladder or simply shake up how you spend your working hours, being intentional about your career advancement has a lot of benefits. You could find more satisfaction in your work, develop a better work-life balance, and perhaps grow your income – which is always helpful on the path to your financial goals.  

Investing in yourself with career development can pay off big time if it lands you a promotion or new role. Luckily, you don’t need to spring for an expensive industry conference ticket to get where you want to go (metaphorically, that is)! 

Here, we’ll explore cost-effective tips for career advancement so you can prime yourself for new opportunities and in turn reach your goals. 

Growing While on the Job 

One of the most efficient ways to advance your career is to grow in the role where you are currently employed. Here are some ways to advance your career to make the most of your current role, without needing to take time outside of work to do so: 

Take on stretch assignments 

Depending on the type of work you do, you may be able to take on stretch assignments to help you build or flex new skills beyond your normal scope of work. 

Seek out the type of tasks that will allow you to grow or build new skills that you actually want to use. Be up-front with your manager that you’re looking for professional development opportunities and what you envision for your own career; that will help them identify projects where you can contribute and grow at the same time. Make the connection between the organization’s needs, the work you want to take on, and how it will impact the organization. Then, be sure to measure and report back on the results of any stretch assignments you take on, both at the conclusion of the project and during any performance reviews. 

To advance your career, you’ll likely want to build or deepen a specialty. Hone in what you enjoy most or what you have the most expertise in to position yourself for higher-level roles.  If you’re looking to make a lateral move before advancing (such as advancing in a different specialty) that’s when it’s a good idea to use stretch assignments to broaden your skillset.

Depending on your organization, this type of stretch assignment may help you secure a promotion. If not, it will provide valuable resume material should you job hunt to land a better position.  

Stay up to date on industry news 

Another easy, free way to advance your career is to be sharp about what’s going on in your industry. Bookmark relevant websites to your industry and subscribe to relevant newsletters. Join industry groups on LinkedIn or other relevant social networking sites to get others’ insights. You may need to pay for a subscription if there’s a specific relevant news source, but you can still do this with free-to-read articles. Or, check out relevant audiobooks or podcasts to listen to during your commute. The key thing is to carve out a few minutes regularly to get informed about the latest developments.

Then, share the insights you find with your colleagues, manager, or clients from time to time when relevant. If you’re following a story or development over time, point out those insights or analysis. You’ll not only be informed, but you’ll also look informed, and be of service to others – and it’s a great reason to stay in touch with your network without asking anything of them.  

Build out your LinkedIn profile

Depending on your field, having a great LinkedIn profile may have a positive impact on you landing a new opportunity. It can help you showcase who you are and what you’re about beyond just your resume, and optimizing it costs nothing! Here are some tips to make the most of your LinkedIn: 

  • Fill out your profile with a headline, bio, education, work experience, skills, and relevant certifications. Make sure to describe the results you achieved in your past roles. 
  • Add links to projects or work examples, both on your profile and in a post from time to time 
  • Take a good quality photo – even a non-selfie smartphone photo in good lighting is a good start. Ask a friend to take a photo of you!  
  • Connect with people you know to build your network: family members, friends, colleagues, classmates. 
  • Make an occasional post about something in your area of expertise – such as sharing your take on a piece of industry news or an update about a project you’ve been working on. 
  • Add insightful comments to others’ posts – these will show up on your own profile and in others’ feeds as well. 

Being active looks good to recruiters whether you’re passively open to new opportunities or actively applying for new jobs. Plus, you may pique the attention of someone in your network with a role that wants to recruit you! 

Education

Getting additional education or training through a structured program can help you build new skills that you can use in your job, or put on a resume to help you stand out when applying for new jobs. Here are some cost-effective ways to develop your education to advance your career. 

Image of a class of young adults looking as a male professor instructs about equations on a whiteboard

Community college programs 

Whether you’re making a career pivot or deepening skills, local community colleges have lots of programs or one-off classes to help you build or refresh skills at an affordable price. If you’re enrolled at a higher education institution, you may also qualify for tax credits which can offset some of the cost of the education! See if you qualify for the American Opportunity Tax Credit or the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit. If your employer offers a tuition reimbursement program, look into that as a funding source as well! Many require that you be enrolled at an accredited high education institution to get reimbursed, so community colleges are a solid choice to get the most value out of the benefit. 

Explore in-demand careers

If you’re open to changing fields, one of the best ways to advance is to choose a field with lots of growth. Some fields are growing so fast or experiencing shortages of workers, so employers are willing to pay to train people with sometimes no experience. Check out the fastest growing jobs according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Apprenticeships are another great option for those who are looking to build work experience and get paid to learn. Many in-demand fields such as healthcare vocational roles and skilled trades have apprenticeships and are eagerly recruiting new talent. This can reduce the barrier to education and career advancement! 

Consider certificates

If you’re looking to build specific skills, a certificate can be a good option if a degree program is not a realistic fit for you. Many two-year and four-year colleges and universities offer certificate programs as well, requiring sometimes as few as four courses on a specific topic. Google also has the Grow With Google program offering certificates in data analytics, project management, IT support, digital marketing, UX design, and cybersecurity that take about three to six months to obtain with independent study.

In addition, California, New York, Tennessee, Missouri, and the city of Chicago all offer free access to Coursera for those unemployed; if you live there and are between jobs, this can be a neat way to build some skills, get certifications, and open yourself up for a wider variety of roles.

Your public library may also have access to online learning programs; check there to see what resources you can use for free! 

Certifications

Not to be confused with certificates, certifications are more like professional accreditations. Many organizations and companies will certify that you meet specific requirements of knowledge on a subject or using specific tools or software. Some of these cost money (sometimes around the few hundred- dollar price point for the exam fee) but some are free.

This is not an exhaustive list – just a starting point of a few more commonly known certifications! There may be more within your specific industry:  

IBM Cloud 
Salesforce Trailhead 
Google Ads 
Hubspot  
Atlassian 
Cybersecurity certifications 

If this software is used in your field, it can be worth taking the time to get certified to show prospective employers you really know your stuff, especially employers who want to hire people who can hit the ground running with their existing technology stack. 

Build Skills Independently  

While we’ve covered more formal skill-building routes, you can always build skills outside of work. Many options are free or low-cost! Hone in on what makes sense for your role and industry. 

Image of a person drafting designs for a jacket with drawings, a ruler, and fabric swatches on a table.

Develop a second language 

Many of us have a little experience speaking a second language from classes in high school or college. It may be rusty, but you can brush up on it! Practice with Duolingo (free or premium version), conversation groups, classes at community colleges whether you’re refreshing or going for a new language. Even conversational secondary language skills can be helpful especially if you live in an area with a high population of people who speak English as a second language – especially if you plan to apply for a job that involves interacting with the public.

Learn software

Getting better with software can help you be more effective on the job and expand your possibilities. Additional software skills may help you take on those stretch assignments, for example! Whether it’s general skills like learning how to use spreadsheets better, project management tools, or industry specific software, software is the foundation of many jobs, and it can give you a leg up on internal promotions or landing new opportunities.

Volunteer 

If you’re looking to build skills or add resume fodder, volunteer experience with a reputable organization can be a great opportunity. Find an organization with a cause you care about that needs skills you’d like to grow. This could be a nonprofit, faith-based group, or something run by your town or city. Gain experience, meet new people, and give back at the same time!

Build a portfolio

Depending on the type of work you do, one important way to advance your career is by taking the time to build out a portfolio. This might include writing samples, art, graphic design, makeup artistry, interior design, software development projects, or more. Compile assignments you’ve already done, identify gaps, then draft samples of your work to show your whole skillset. Create your own website, account on a portfolio site, or a well-formatted PDF or slide deck you can submit with job applications that leverage those skills. This can help if you’re turning something self-taught into a core part of your job.

Conclusion

We’ve listed tons of tips to help you on your career growth journey – which one are you most energized to try? Whether you’re ready to explore opportunities in your current career, learn something new, or brush up skills in your time outside of work, there are endless ways to keep developing your professional skills for little or no money. Consistently finding new ways to learn can help you no matter what timeline you have for advancement, or help opportunities come to you! 

If you’re looking for a bank to help you on your financial journey, check out Milli. We’re all about helping people save more for the things that matter most. Savings automation, goal-oriented Jars, and a competitive Annual Percentage Yield work together to support your financial wellness. Download Milli on the App Store or Google Play today and start saving!

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