Reinvent your future: How to stand out in a tough job market

(ARA) – Whether you are looking for work or working at a job where you want to advance to the next level, staying relevant in the current job market can be a challenge. Here are some top tips from employment insiders about how to create your own brand and stand out above the competition.

1. Education

If you want to hear “you’re hired” or “you’re promoted” a great place to focus your efforts is on education. Keeping your skills current in your industry is crucial if you want to stand out above other candidates. Getting an advanced degree, taking college classes and other job training can be a big differentiator.

Luckily for the 21st century workforce, attending college isn’t just for those fresh out of high school. With online degrees, flexible scheduling, and more variety of courses than ever before, you can take the exact class to get the skills you need to make a difference in your career. Research colleges like University of Phoenix, which is known for its innovative approach to curriculum flexibility for students who need to balance education with family and job commitments.

2. Industry networking

Sometimes finding the right job is all about who you know. The best way to increase your networking is to join a professional organization in your industry. Some organizations are free and others may require a small membership fee, but the investment can have high returns. You’ll get the opportunity to attend meetings, stay current on what’s happening in your field, and also mingle with others who might have the career connection you’re seeking.

Social media is another great channel when expanding networking efforts. Consider joining LinkedIn and connect to colleagues as well as industry insiders. Facebook is another popular option, but make sure you keep content and conversations professional.

3. Volunteer

Whether you are currently working or unemployed, volunteering helps keep your skills fresh and shows you’re willing to go the extra mile. Plus you’ll demonstrate your ability to work as part of a team. Volunteering is a great addition to any resume and is also a perfect conversation topic during an interview. Start by researching nonprofits that have openings that interest you and schedule a meeting to learn more.

4. Read

This advice may sound simplistic, but staying up to date on the news in your industry is crucial. With most industries changing at a rapid pace, being out of the loop for a couple months can mean you’ve fallen behind. Read newspapers, subscribe to trade publications, and check out books from your library. This knowledge will help you in so many ways, from knowing what companies are thriving and therefore hiring, to having subject matter to pull from during a tough interview. Spend just 15 minutes a day reading industry news and you’ll give yourself an edge against the competition.

Even though the job market remains very competitive, that doesn’t mean opportunities aren’t available for those who are proactive. By doing things like attending an online college or networking at industry events, you’ll be able to create a strong name for yourself and reach all your career goals.