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28 Instant Career Boosters That Can Help You Stand Out

Essential tips for sharpening your skills and more

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The landscape for workers has changed dramatically — and likely permanently. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of people suddenly found their careers permanently changed and jobs upended. Unemployment, furloughs and new protocols to reduce the spread of the virus required many industries to pivot to working remotely, forcing millions to adjust how they approached their work.

But out of all this abrupt change, there have been positives. Technological innovation has made remote work more accessible; different requirements in hiring allow for workers to live in one area and work in another; and many workers found that with no commute and with more time to themselves, working remotely brought happiness. So whether you’re looking for a new job or ways to improve the one you have, keep these tips in mind.

 

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SHARPEN YOUR SKILLS

It’s always a good idea to be proactive in how you approach the job search, but today it’s even more integral to add new skills to your résumé. Technological innovation continues to completely reshape entire industries and vocations — staying updated on current trends will keep you relevant.   

Start with the right mindset

You’re never too old to learn new skills or acquire a degree, and your core skill set can always be built up. Today, there are many ways to bolster what you’ve learned over your career. “When it comes to technology in particular, consider yourself a lifelong learner,” notes Vicki Salemi, career expert at Monster.

Identify one skill per week you’d like to improve

“Maybe there’s a new program in your current field or a new career path you’re pursuing. Identify the key skills necessary to succeed and pursue it,” Salemi says. Not sure what your career skills are? Use the free skills profiler on Career InfoNet to get a quick assessment. And CareerBuilder can help you improve useful skill sets like negotiation, customer service and problem-solving.

Enroll in an online class or tutorial

Many employers provide webinars, tutorials or even tuition reimbursement for continuing education. “See if your company will pay for it,” Salemi adds. “Even if they won’t, or if you’re unemployed, it’s really important to keep on top of sharpening your tech skills.” Externally, use a search engine to find online platforms that provide paid and free online learning classes. LinkedIn offers a free trial month of their LinkedIn Learning courses to help you brush up on your work skills. Coursera.org and edX.org are also popular online learning platforms that offer either free or low-cost online classes. Additionally, contact the industry or trade associations in your field for more information about certification and training programs that can improve your job prospects. Many colleges, such as Cornell, Drexel and Notre Dame, now offer online certificate programs. Community colleges, some of which offer programs geared to people age 50-plus, are also a terrific and relatively affordable option, says Nancy Collamer, a career and retirement coach who runs MyLifestyleCareer.com. Google also recently debuted its free course listings in digital marketing, career development, and data and tech. Remember though, to be patient with yourself — learning new things takes time and patience, and it can be challenging to learn from a video versus being in a class setting.

Turn to YouTube for extra help

If you’re stuck on a new software program or just want to go over some basics, use  YouTube, which is a terrific resource for webinars, how-to videos and conversations, says Dorie Clark, adjunct professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the author of Entrepreneurial You. Seek out videos produced by reputable sources you already trust and videos with a high number of views. “Lots of views doesn’t mean it’s accurate,” she says, but if you’re looking up videos on, say, learning a computer programming language or how to become a more effective manager, “material that’s irrelevant or inaccurate usually doesn’t travel very far and will typically have fewer views than ones that are effective.”

Command a strong video presence

It’s not just focusing on the screen in front of you but also making sure you understand — and succeed in — how to maneuver adeptly at using videoconferencing. If you need to do a virtual meeting and don’t have a dedicated spot already for working remotely, find a quiet part of your home with a tidy background, with any windows in the room in front of you or to the side. Use a laptop stand or a stack of thick, large books to rest your laptop on so that when you turn on the video, half of your body is shown, or at least your head and shoulders. Use a ring light or other lighting to illuminate your face from the front. And dress as though you would for an in-person meeting. Use proper etiquette, such as arriving on time, muting yourself when you’re not speaking, not eating and preparing materials on time.

Do online practice interviews with a family member or friend and ask for feedback. “The difference in a Zoom interview is that it’s more concentrated on body language,” says Barbara Safani, an executive coach and owner of Career Solvers in New York City. “You can’t hide anything. You’re under a microscope.”

Get a second opinion

Now that you’ve added new skills, polish your résumé with help from AARP Foundation’s Back to Work 50+ program.

 

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STRENGTHEN WORK RELATIONSHIPS

Building positive relationships with colleagues is just as important as the work you do, and in some cases, more. Positive or negative relationships can affect your satisfaction with your job, and hinder your success. And don’t let proximity get in the way of improving connections.    

Write more effective emails

Communicating well over email has always been a good skill, but the need has only grown since replacing many in-person discussions. Brush up on the basics: Pen eye-catching subject lines, include a greeting and keep the body of the message concise. Include action steps — details on what you need and when you need it. Lastly, be sure to proofread for grammar and spelling mistakes. And help to make sure your tone is on point: Don’t capitalize all the words in a sentence, use boldface type or make text red — this can come across as angry over email.

Be a connector

The pandemic has challenged how we network. But while the scope has evolved, the necessity to expand your professional contacts has not. The benefit is that people are no longer relegated only to networking at in-person events. Think of introductions as a way to show your networking prowess. “Think about two colleagues who would benefit from knowing each other, and be specific about why,” says Duke University’s Clark. Get both of their permissions for a so-called double opt-in and then send an e-introduction, she says.

Be a better listener

“Overall, being a better listener helps you become a more engaged worker, more productive, and in the long run can help you develop stronger leadership skills,” notes Salemi from Monster. If you’re not listening, she warns, you may miss clear instructions for a project. Or “maybe a deadline was too extreme, and it was determined to extend the deadline by a week or two. But you weren’t paying attention and missed that key piece of information,” she says. To show you’re all ears, when you’re speaking with anyone at work, stash your phone out of sight and minimize distractions.

Write thoughtful LinkedIn recommendations

Adding a recommendation on LinkedIn for colleagues is a wonderful way to share endorsements, and they might return the favor. Describe how you know each other and how long you’ve worked together. And focus on one or two ways this person went above and beyond in your time working together. Include a line about why you think others should work with him or her.

Find ways to connect

When working remotely, it’s easy to feel as though we’re working alone on an island. Without the spontaneous conversations that happen organically at work, interacting with colleagues can fall to a minimum. Open communication is key here — check in with colleagues you haven’t heard from in a while, host a virtual happy hour and ask about accomplishments outside of the workplace. You might not realize who could really use a “visit” from you.    

 

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BOOST YOUR REPUTATION

While your work speaks for itself, there are many other ways to show you’d be an asset at any company. But navigating the ins and outs (and potential faux pas!) can be challenging. Here are great ways to spotlight yourself.   

 

Giving your time

Volunteering with an organization has three benefits, according to Dee C. Marshall, certified life coach and leadership trainer. First, it’s a fantastic way to sharpen the skills you already have. Secondly, it gives you an opportunity to work on new skills you want more experience with. And thirdly, you can highlight these newly polished skills on your résumé. She encourages people to speak with the organization’s leadership and work out which volunteer roles would be a good fit for your expertise. Perhaps you can even offer your support in an advisory capacity. “It may not be advertised,” she says, “but you should ask.” While the pandemic has affected most volunteering, there might be ways you can still apply your skills. AARP has a volunteering page that details thousands of opportunities.

Boost your online presence

Having a professional presence on social media can lead you to employment openings and connect you with recruiters, says jobs expert Kerry Hannon. Twitter, for instance, has job feeds for specific companies, industries and locations. Type “#jobsearch” in the search field on the top right and then add applicable keywords, such as the industry you’re in or one you’re interested in learning more about.

Share professionally on social media

Say a few words about why a story or video resonated with you and give some key takeaways. This will help establish your authority as a knowledge matter expert, Salemi says. Clark suggests posting at least once a week on LinkedIn. Not sure how to start? Visit LinkedIn's Help page.

Speak at industry gatherings

While most panels and conferences have moved to virtual meetings, you can still boost your visibility and marketability by offering to speak at one, Salemi says. It also shows that your speaking skills and industry knowledge are in demand. “Internally, it positions you as a subject matter expert and representative of the company,” she adds. “Externally, it helps you, too, as you become more visible to professionals in other organizations who can potentially hire you.” You can network among the other panelists and add your appearance as a speaker to your talking points in job interviews, which will help you stand out from other job seekers.

Use part-time to pivot to full-time

Through the AARP Foundation Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), unemployed workers 55 and older can learn how to fill part-time community service jobs, which often lead to permanent employment. For more information, visit aarpfoundation.org/SCSEP.

Create a mastermind group

Select a small group of peers you admire to regularly get together and share frustrations and successes. Become resources for each other. Use Zoom or Google Hangouts to arrange quarterly meetups. “Not only will you be able to put your best foot forward in terms of working with colleagues in this manner, you may get insight into their company culture from various conversations,” Salemi says. “In turn, you may find out about openings in their department.”

Document your career triumphs

Write your professional wins down. It can be a challenge to recall how you’ve overcome obstacles in your past. If you find your confidence shaky at any point, look over your victories. Even better — include these specific wins in future job applications.

 

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INCREASE NETWORKING OPPORTUNITIES

The adage “It’s not what you know but who you know” can take you far in your career. In fact, it’s one of the best ways to land a new job. Here are more ways to up your networking prowess.

Identify potential connections

Marshall will often coach her clients to create a list of the top 10 people both within their industry and possibly outside their industry that they want to or need to build a relationship with. Then craft a plan detailing the value of the relationship, any expected outcomes, dates to check in during the calendar year and the type of contact they’ll have (for example, via card, email, gift, invitation to talk).

Ask for advice

When approaching a big name in your field, ask specific advice you’d like help with, such as “How do you retain customers?” or “How do you manage a remote team of workers?” The more specific your question is, the more useful (and memorable) the conversation will be. And the more helpful this person can be to your career development.

Follow up

Always follow up with any contacts you’ve made professionally, Salemi says. “There’s no point in a pile of business cards or contact information if nothing comes of it. Reach out. Refer to something you discussed and make plans.” Schedule reminders roughly three, four or six months in advance in your Outlook or Google calendar to reach out. “There’s a sweet spot and there’s no science to it, but you just don’t want two years to go by and you realized you haven’t spoken to that person in that amount of time,” she says. What matters is that you put in effort to nurture those relationships.

Advertise yourself

Considering having professional business cards printed outside of your employer, Salemi says. It should include your name, personal email address, phone number and job title or industry. This is important, she says, because if you hand someone your current business card and switch jobs in six months, your outdated contact information may bounce, leaving them unable to get in touch with you. Sharing a card with your personal email address will hopefully reduce that risk. It also helps market yourself as separate from your employer. “Your current job title may officially be ‘Human Capital Manager.’ But, on your business card, that doesn’t need approval from your employer. You may want to market yourself as ‘Human Capital Management Thought Leader,’ which can help boost your profile if you want to speak at conferences and panels, she says. Next, have an authentic elevator pitch at the ready that explains who you are and what you do.

Reach out to your network

From your profile on LinkedIn, for example, you can do a search to see who among your connections is working at a particular company. When you’re ready to apply for an opening, you can ask a contact for advice or an introduction to a hiring manager. Your contact may be able to deliver your résumé directly to that person via an employee referral program.

 

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EXPLORE A CAREER CHANGE

Whether you’re happy with your current role or hoping to land elsewhere, experts say to you should always be looking for potential roles. Here are five ways to keep your head in the game.

Research industry salaries

The Occupational Outlook Handbook from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is a helpful resource for identifying which fields have opportunities for growth. “For instance, technology and health care are very much in demand and not going away any time soon,” Salemi says. Also check Glassdoor.com, PayScale.com or Salary.com, as well as the Economic Research Institute, to find out if you’re getting paid fairly compared to those in similar jobs.

Consider alternative careers

If your industry doesn’t offer the growth you’re looking for, look at whether your skills could transfer to a different field. For instance, if you have substantial retail experience, emphasize your communication skills and customer service background. If you’ve previously worked in real estate, promote your experience with client relations and marketing. Or, if you’re from the nonprofit sector, play up your familiarity with budgeting and project management. “Reach out to several close friends,” Clark says. “Ask if they can introduce you to any of their friends who work in that field so you can learn more.” Run an internet search on corporations where you might want to work. Sign up as a follower of the company on social media accounts such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.

Include both mainstream and niche job boards in your search

Mainstream job boards such as Indeed.com and CareerBuilder.com can be hit or miss, so Hannon recommends including local job boards and industry niche boards in your job search too. You might make more headway there. Consider smaller, more targeted websites like Idealist.org, Workforce50.com, Work At Home Vintage Experts, Craigslist.org and SnagAJob.com, to name a few. Set up daily or weekly email alerts, but don’t leave all the searching to an algorithm. Periodically return directly to the site to make sure you haven’t missed a great opportunity.

Schedule informational interviews

These brief meetings are an opportunity for a person interested in a career to gather information from a person currently working in that career. Get familiar with Zoom, Skype, Google Meet and other videoconferencing programs and reach out to a few contacts you would like to learn from. Salemi recommends asking specific questions during the interview such as: If you could change one thing about your field for the better, what would it be?  What does it take to succeed? If you knew now what you knew back then when you started working for this company or industry, would you still pursue it? Why or why not?

Transferable skill sets are key

Talents and abilities that can be used across many different career paths will help bridge any gaps in your experience when it comes to switching industries. Examples of such include project management, conflict resolution and important soft skills like solid communication skills. “As a former corporate recruiter, I can attest that this type of résumé was most effective when candidates leapt from one career path to a completely different one,” Salemi says.


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