Laid Off? New Skills Get You Back On Track

Whether you lost your job due to downsizing or your career took an unexpected turn, you may find yourself in need of an updated skill set. Heading back to school for new training is a great way to make you more marketable in the competitive job-hunting arena. What should you expect, and how can you make this transition back to school work for you?

Adult student

Learning new skills and moving your career in a different direction can be both exciting and stressful. In today's highly competitive job market, adding new knowledge to your experience and skill set may be just what you need to set yourself apart from other applicants.

Weigh your options

Heading back to school as an adult? Choosing a field of study you are well suited for will save you time and money in the long run. An online career assessment can help you narrow down your best choices. John Holland's SDS (self-directed search) was developed by the late John Holland, Ph.D. — a leading figure in career counseling and job aptitude assessment. His method of analyzing aptitude incorporates your own interests and skills, and has been in use since 1970 through several revisions. For a nominal fee ($4.95), you receive an in-depth report that recommends occupations that fit well with your skills and interests.

Dr. Michael Provitera, who himself returned to school as an adult, is a professor and author of the book Mastering Self-Motivation. He recommends that adults heading back to school should select a program of study based on future job placement potential. Be realistic about employment opportunities in your new career, and make sure to weigh your options with this in mind.

Choose your school

Once you have narrowed down your course of study, you need to choose a university. While there may be a university or community college within driving distance of your home, those aren't your only options. If your family life demands a great deal of flexibility, check into the wide variety of online universities. Many larger universities also have satellite facilities in smaller towns, making them more easily accessible. Provitera says to make sure your chosen university has a strong placement office to assist you in finding a job once you have finished your studies. This is especially important for adults reentering the workforce.

Suzanne, mother of two, found herself without a job due to downsizing. "I decided to go in a different direction and study accounting, which will have better career choices down the road." She chose an online university so she could study and learn from home while caring for her family. "For me, it was really the easiest way to [earn] a degree. And even then, it was challenging to find a time and place to study."

Plan ahead

Once you have a career path in mind, map out a plan... before you buy that first book or attend a lecture. Some required classes might be offered during only spring semester, for example, which would be important to know when scheduling courses. Time spent wisely mapping out your courses now will help you avoid taking expensive classes you don't need — and ensure you finish your degree as soon as possible. The counselors in your school's admissions department can be a valuable resource.

Make it work at home

Putting your plan into motion means reevaluating all aspects of your life. Your partner or spouse and children will all need to support your goal by helping where needed; and giving you quiet time to study. It may help to write down some expectations and go over them before school starts. The support and understanding of your family will help you achieve your goal — and everyone will benefit in the long run.

Make your mark at school

Tina C. Powell went back to school after 20 years in the workforce, and is a 2013 graduate of New York University's School of Continuing and Professional Studies. "See your age as a positive, not a negative," she says. "Students definitely benefit from having an experienced professional as part of the group — it creates an interesting dynamic." Powell enjoyed sharing advice and her perspectives on career development. She also advocates that adult students get involved with their school and classmates. "I volunteered for student government," she shares. "I was able to meet a lot of people and network with other programs. I even received an award!"

Powell also recommends that adults returning to college take advantage of social networking to stay in the loop and make connections, especially with the younger students. Many older students find that social media is a tool they must add to their box. "Use LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to get to know the people in your classes," she recommends. "Use that information to have a conversation offline. It will help springboard the dialogue and show you are interested," she adds.

With a bit of planning ahead and hard work, your new career might be just around the corner.

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