By Margaret Steen
In uncertain economic times, you may hesitate to spend money to advance your career. But some investments -- of money and time -- can really pay off.
One of the main ways to invest in your career is through education.
"Don't think of it as going back to school, which sounds like you didn't get it right in the first place and doesn't feel good," said Libby Pannwitt, principal of the Work Life Design Group in San Carlos, California. Instead, think of it as a way to broaden your knowledge.
Here are three ways to invest in your career through education, plus three other career investments to consider:
Get a Degree
Complete your bachelor's degree or get a master's degree, MBA or even a PhD.
"We're looking at global competition," said Patti Wilson, CEO of CareerCompany.com in Silicon Valley. An advanced degree can help you get promoted or move between industries.
Some people say workers in the middle or later stages of their careers won't have time to recoup the cost of an advanced degree. It's a calculation that may push you toward a program that you can complete while working. But there are other factors to consider, Wilson said. An advanced degree can facilitate the move to consulting for an experienced worker, for example.
Technical fields, project management and human resources are just some fields in which certifications can help advance a career. Certifications are generally less time-consuming and expensive than degree programs.
Learn Cross-Cultural Communication Skills
If you're working outside your native country and not speaking your native language, consider taking classes in accent reduction and American business etiquette.
How do you know if you need these classes? If you're lucky, your boss will tell you. But you may simply notice that you're not getting promoted to positions that require good communication skills.
If you're a native English speaker raised in the US, learning about the business culture of other countries can help further your career, Wilson said.
Build Your Brand Online
This requires more time than money, although some services may cost you.
Own your own domain name and create a Web page to showcase your work, Wilson said. Keep updated profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networking sites. Monitor your online presence so potential employers won't find anything derogatory about you.
"Being branded online may be on the cutting edge now, but it's going to be a given in five years," Wilson said.
Find Coaches and Mentors
It's important to have people to help you make critical decisions in your career.
For some people, a paid career counselor or coach is the best approach. Others have one or more mentors who offer informal advice. Which approach is best may depend on how much in-depth help you need.
"Some you pay, and some are free," Wilson said.
Raise Your Professional Profile
Professional associations require both time and money, but they are a good way to meet people in your industry who work for other companies.
"By serving on a committee or a board, you will gain valuable, marketable leadership experience to parlay at your next job interview," Pannwitt said.