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August 12, 2014
By Melissa McFall

With the forever-changing landscape in information technology, it’s always important to make sure you are sharpening your skills and learning new things. Whether you prefer to improve your business or interpersonal skills, or you desire to learn what’s new in your favorite technology (or a new technology), continuous education and learning is one of the best ways to demonstrate your commitment to your craft. What have you done to grow your skills this year? Here are some easy ways to invest in yourself. The options range from low cost to a bit pricier; however, I’m confident you can find one that fits your needs.

Read a book

Whether you’re looking to improve your listening skills or learn Agile development, a book may be a great start. Books are inexpensive (or free if you use your library), and they allow you to do some initial exploration on a topic prior to spending money on training. What if you find the guidance provided by the book is sufficient, or that you just aren't interested in the topic you read about? It’s a lot less risky to read first and then decide to do additional training later. There are tons of great authors out there who are willing to share their expertise. Why not take advantage of the help they are willing to provide?

Register for news feeds to stay up to date with your company’s industry

Understanding your industry—in addition to understanding technology—is a “MUST” for the modern-day IT professional. Whether you view IT as a support to the business or as its core, you are inevitably going to encounter business people. What puts you in a class of your own is if you truly understand how your company makes money, the challenges faced by your company and its competitors every day, threats to the business and trends within the industry. You can learn a ton by just signing up for industry publications. Get them sent to your email, and make it a point to read through at least one article a day. You’ll be surprised how much you start to retain and how smart you’ll sound in future meetings. In addition, you’ll notice that your solutions may be a little bit more relevant to your customers.

Attend training or acquire a professional certification

While there is a lot to be said for experience, having a professional certification demonstrates a true commitment to your craft. When I was a recruiter, I never saw this as more relevant than in project management and IT security. If project managers didn't have a PMP certification, many of our clients were not interested in considering them for opportunities. The same goes for the CISSP. People who invest time and money into becoming true experts in their field are provided with rewards through hiring and salary increases. These certifications are what set you apart from other professionals on the market.

Attend an industry or technology-specific conference

Industry and technology conferences are a great way to learn about what’s Hot! Hot! Hot! Especially in IT, things are always changing. By attending conferences, you get a first look at what is coming. In addition, these conferences are great networking events. Attend conference tracks with like-minded individuals. Take some time to introduce yourself to the people around you. If you hit it off, invite them for coffee so you can speak some more. Having great contacts in any industry is vital to your career.

Become a member of a professional organization

There are so many professional organizations to choose from. I always recommend you pick one that focuses on the skills you want to grow or the skills that reflect your expertise. Meetings for these groups are great networking and learning opportunities. One of my local SharePoint groups not only feeds you delicious pizza at every session, they also provide a guest speaker who discusses the newest functionality and trends in SharePoint. PMP provides an entire hour of networking followed by dinner and speakers. Find one that fits your needs and become a member … and reap the benefits!

Now that you have a variety of options available for building your skills, it’s up to you to make it happen. I can always spot a continuous learner. He or she is updated on the latest trends and is an industry expert. If you strive to be that professional, go out there and invest some time in yourself!

Interested in reading more IT career tips? Read Tips for managing stress at work

Melissa McFall has spent over nine years in the IT staffing and services industry, including six years as an IT recruiter. She is an expert in recruiter/client relations and service delivery.

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