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Career Coach: Make Learning a Habit

The Career Coach tells readers that learning is not a habit someone wants break.

In September, some of us go to school or start thinking about going back to school. But learning is something we need to pursue throughout the year and throughout our lives. We must continue to educate ourselves, keep our skills up to date and acquire new skills or our careers will not make the grade. We can learn every day, if we put our minds to it.

Learn Every Day

The next job you consider, think about not just what you will earn, but also what you will learn. If you can expand your skills and have new responsibilities, that is more valuable than you can guess.

Learn from everyone you work with. If you have a boss who is terrific, take note of what he or she does to make the team stay motivated. If you have a supervisor who is less than perfect, remember those bad habits so you wont make the same mistakes when you are given the chance to supervise.

Learn to Network

Education can not only help expand your skill set, but also help expand your network. Acquiring more skills makes you more attractive to employers. While you are adding your skills, you are meeting new people, which could eventually lead to new opportunities you never know where a job lead or some help in other areas of your life may come from. A good friend of mine met his wife in an acting class he was taking it to improve his skills, but he wound up improving his life. Courses are a great way to expand your network. Everyone taking a class has a common interest. Get to know others in your class as well as the instructor. Everyone has a wealth of knowledge to share, including you.

Extra Credit

If your goal is to get a new job, look at job descriptions at the companies where you want to work. If you lack specific skills or knowledge listed in the job requirements, take courses that provide that knowledge. This will give you more confidence and an edge over other candidates who didnt go for the extra credit.

If you are in a rut, taking a class just for fun might be just what you need to get motivated again. A friend who works at Vinton Studios had always wanted to learn how to do stained glass and signed up for a class with her local parks and recreation department. Try something new and see what it does for your attitude and perspective.

Take classes outside your field of expertise. A programmer friend of mine at Disney loves to take the drawing courses they offer. He explains that it helps him to understand the needs of the artists better and, besides, its fun to do something different.

A character designer I know takes one class every semester, whether its life drawing, painting or storyboarding. Hes made education a habit.

Animators need to hone their skills in acting and movement. A class in improvisation may spark new ideas for writers and producers too. Everyone can benefit from taking classes in team building, budgeting and supervisory skills.

A class could change your point of view or present new opportunities you havent thought of. If you change your position, taking a class to hone some needed skills is a good idea.

Stop Making Excuses

I dont have the time.

If you are not working under a production deadline, you probably have some nights and weekends available. Some jobs pay for continuing education. Why? Because the result is better-educated employees. If you dont take the time to educate yourself, youll find yourself with lots of time on your hands when someone who is better qualified replaces you.

Community colleges, adult education programs and professional organizations offer a variety of short courses that may benefit you. Some of these courses take as little as one afternoon.

Conferences like last months SIGGRAPH give you the opportunity to take many courses in a short period of time. Some schools also have intensive programs of short duration. There are also courses you can take online.

It costs too much.

It costs more when you miss out on a job because you dont have updated skills. Investing in yourself is the best investment you can make. There are many inexpensive courses offered through community colleges or university extension programs as well as through community based adult education on a variety of topics. You dont have to spend a lot to learn a lot.

Im too old.

Think its too late to learn anything new? You get older every day. A year from now you will be a year older whether you take a class or not.

I hate taking classes.

An alternative to classes is reading. Books, magazines and the Internet all contain a wealth of information. If you cant afford to purchase books, your local library is a great resource. If your library doesnt carry a book you want, they can probably obtain it for you. Ask the reference librarian how a book request or interlibrary loan works. Many libraries also have free Internet access so you dont need a computer of your own to do research. (Just think of how much youre learning from this column!)

Final Thoughts

One course everyone can benefit from is personal financial management making a personal yearly budget allows you the freedom to choose what jobs you can take. Youll know right away if you can afford to accept that offer to travel to New Zealand or New York.

Remember to mention any special education on your résumé if it is relevant to your career pursuits. And put software expertise in a prominent place.

You have a myriad of opportunities to learn every day take advantage of them.

As Norton Juster writes in The Phantom Tollbooth, Whenever you learn something new, the whole world becomes that much richer. So keep learning and upgrade your life!

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson is a recruiter/hiring strategist and career coach. Her most recent recruiting clients include Paramounts feature film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and Toybox, a Canadian visual effects company. She speaks regularly on career issues at colleges and universities.