9 Career Skills that you can use to your advantage as a Mature Student

It can be a bit of a culture shock reentering the school system after leaving full-time student life for a while. I would know. Whether it was in-class or online, there were so many different factors that came into play. Not forgetting the people factor! I met people of different ages, each having different reasons for doing the same programme – with entirely different dynamics to deal with (e.g. stay at home mother, full time entrepreneur or in-demand executive, retiree, etc.) It can definitely get to be a bit much…

If you’re not careful, just thinking about what may be challenging and different for you can be intimidating…

But, here’s the thing – you are much better off than you think. Work-life and/or the school of life teaches you some pretty transportable skills that help you to take control of your journey. If you use each skill tactfully – like pieces on a chessboard, you’ll be able to checkmate every class session, assignment and project. You’ll do this by aligning your learnt and innate skills, with style and finesse!

To read more about 6 skills every student should learn – or be able to do, click here.

Here are the skills I believe are the game changers for you; and here are the ways I think you can use them.

#1 Project Management

Hard Skill best used for everything

This is probably one of the BEST skills you can use for anything in life really. Whether or not you believe it, we all do it informally for varying circumstances. For those of you who do not know what project management is, here’s an illustration to help you understand it:

Source: SmartSheet

Now, here’s a quick example of how you can apply project management to an assignment:
Concept & Initiation: Get the assignment, define the scope of what’s required to complete it (e.g. research, deadlines for review, etc.).
Definition & Planning: Develop your roadmap to complete the assignment and make sure your goals are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely) and CLEAR (Collaborative, Limited, Emotional, Appreciable and Refinable); the latter applies even more to group work assignments. The assignment/project rubric given by the supervisor helps with this.
Launch or Execution: Set the guidelines for your team (if applicable), assign resources (study time, time for research, meetings, etc.), track and measure along the way. Revisit and refine if necessary because you will most likely encounter some hiccups because… Murphy’s Law and all that jazz.
Performance & Control: Ask yourself, are you on schedule? Did you obtain enough information to present something of quality? Is there something that you may need to change or find out to help you get a better grade? Will you achieve the deliverables of the rubric?
Project Close: Edit, proofread (repeat as many times as you think you have time to), cite, reference and format – then SUBMIT!

TIP: Keep track of everything you did for your first assignment and build as you go along. This is how you will improve on what works (especially for you) and what you need to work on or stop doing.

Let me take a moment here to give you a hack for fictional budgeting using this skill:

  • Budget by time – Quantify the time you allot to the result you want to achieve.
  • Budget by spend – Measure the amount of work you have to do against how much money you continuously have to spend for each cost. Is it that you eat snacks during your online sessions? Perhaps you travel to classes after work? Maybe you drive to school on weekends. Everything has a cost.
  • Budget by small wins – Plan rewards that you can only get when you meet the standard you’ve set.

Add to the list as you see fit. Create the most feasible workflow. Oh, and don’t be afraid to use project management software either; if you have it.

#2 Problem Solving

Soft Skill

Simply put, always think “Challenge Accepted!” There’s no problem you can’t solve; or at least get help solving. Get the clues and cues from all the resources you have access to; including observation. Interview the right people (ask for help), read books, watch videos, search for similar assignments. You’re a Sherlock. If you need support, get yourself a Watson.

#3 Hard Communication Skills

Hard Skills

These Hard Skills include being fluent in a foreign language, copywriting and digital communication.

They can set you apart as an exemplary student when applied in the right amount, to the right aspects of each assignment. You’re that student who can craft the best email response, and produce an engaging paper for grading. You’re the student that can change perceptions with a picture presentation and be approached to publish a journal based on your thesis.

As an added bonus, if you are part of a cohort, your classmates, teammates or group-mates will also see the value in your contributions and will learn from you. Make that presentation pop! Craft creative copy for that coursework assignment. Ace that social media project. You have what it takes to upgrade that grade.

#4 Leadership

Soft Skill – best used for group work.

Here’s where you can chime in with your emotional intelligence and people-reading skills. Figure out the personalities within the class and group. I urge you to even go beyond your immediate settings and include your lecturers, student support services, group forums, etc.

Try to identify every individual’s strengths and talents that would be most helpful for you to be able to communicate, collaborate and coordinate. Motivate, manage, take charge or give over the reigns sometimes. Lead your team to victory (the desired grade). Offer constructive criticism and guiding advice. Don’t forget to celebrate the wins and learn from the losses too.

#5 Marketing

Hard Skill

If you are a creative thinker who writes very well, have aesthetic sensibility and are good at data visualisation, you can easily become the MVP of the class or group (both online and in person). You’re the one that can spare the introvert from messing up their part of the presentation, because they freeze up in front of people – with a short video instead. You’re the one who can effectively manage the design and message to be communicated in each project. See every task through the eyes of a marketer and your Aha! moment will come.

#6 Sales/Customer Service

Mix of Hard and Soft Skills

How do you handle customers/clients? This skill is all about keeping your cool and having a level head, with active listening and strategic customer engagement. It involves thinking about customer satisfaction, dealing with and resolving issues. With regards to the product, your belief in it must be at brand ambassador level. Your ultimate goal is to inspire others to do the same. This will encourage goodwill and positive word of mouth, because of the quality customer service and after-sales service. In some cases you’ll even have to up-sell, right?

Well think about how each of those activities can be transferred to real-life scenarios in an educational setting. Did the bulb switch on yet? This skill is the trump card that can switch up the game – in your favour. Trust me.

#7 Flexibility/Adaptability

Benjamin Franklin quote: Change is the only constant in life. Ones ...

Soft skill that’s HARDCORE

Remember the Murphy’s Law I mentioned earlier? Well, it loves to make an appearance at the most inopportune times – especially right before you’re about to cross that finish line. If you’re flexible or adaptable, you’ll have that Plan B/C/D/alphabet in place.
This is a reality check. You will encounter a few stumbling blocks along your academic journey. You therefore need to get acquainted with the high possibility of sudden changes in situations. The good news is, everything is temporary and you have deadlines. Meaning, just keep this famous quote in the back of your mind, “This too shall pass.”

This is a reality check. You will encounter a few stumbling blocks along your academic journey.

#8 Task-Specific Skills

Hard Skills

These skills include technical proficiencies that incorporate the use of coding languages, mathematics, software tools, accounting, etc.

These come in handy for the courses that require data collection and presentation of findings using data collection methods. It’s also mostly applicable to research papers e.g. a dissertation and case studies or reports in certain disciplines e.g. financial management. If you possess one or more of these competencies, you won’t experience the emotional distress that comes along with having to learn them in order to complete an assignment.

#9 Conflict Management/Resolution

HARDCORE Soft Skill

I am yet to meet someone who will say, with deep conviction, that they LOVE group work. If that person is you, you are a unicorn.
I have never been in a class or group where there wasn’t some sort of miscommunication, lack of communication, misunderstanding or clash of personalities between members. Sometimes, the conflict is internal because you swing between wondering why you’re even doing the course or programme and giving up. (In case you’ve had no one tell you yet – please don’t give up! Okay? Okay!)

I am yet to meet someone who will say, with deep conviction, that they LOVE group work.

This skill is particularly important to achieving inner peace, consistently, throughout your academic progress.

Employ the ability to decipher and extract a message from the noise of conflict, AND propose a feasible solution that benefits everyone involved in any task.
Know when to use the five types of conflict resolution: avoidance, defeat, compromise, accommodation, and collaboration. Listen. Observe. Involve and consult. Strategize. Implement. Monitor and manage.

Final thoughts: Not everyone has all of the skills I listed, but at least you would have one or more of them. That gives you two things: a head start and an advantage. Although you will still have to incorporate other abilities such as public speaking, time management, productivity, strong work ethic and other hard and soft skills, you can rest assured that you’re in a good place stepping into that classroom, or enrolling in that online course.

You’ve got this!

Click here to book a free 15-minute Discovery Session now! Don’t miss this opportunity to get the help you need.

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[Online] Certificate, Diploma or Degree?

This week I had a discussion with a friend – she’s is a mature professional who wanted to upskill. While chatting, she said, “Some people may be intimidated if they have to do a whole course at once. I know it was indicated that single courses can be had. For me personally I’d prefer to start small. Certificate first…especially in courses like psychology.” As I listened to her expressed concern, I realised that, especially as she is new to online learning, searching for the most suitable programme is a challenge because she is trying to decide which to do – a Certificate, a Diploma or a Degree?

She is not alone.

In March 2020, The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), reported that “an unprecedented number of children, youth and adults are not attending schools or universities because of COVID-19,” with governments in 100 countries having announced or implemented closures. In 85 countries, schools nationwide have been closed, affecting more than 776.7 million children.

Over 776 MILLION! Wow!

This number accounts for those already attending school, however, as COVID-19 triggered an increase in unemployment (and the restructuring of businesses), there has been a surge in the need for many individuals in the working class to either upskill or retool. I think that it’s safe to assume that the amount of “students” that are not “in a school” is way more than 776 million. Get what I’m, saying?

Also, just like my friend, more people are considering enrolling in programmes to learn a new skill or enhance their professional resumes. I see the number increasing even more now.

If you are new to online learning read this: 5 Tips for New Online Learners

That got me thinking about how many people are experiencing the same dilemma. This must be quite the anxiety-inducing pickle to be in. So in order to help persons, like my friend, make an informed decision I decided to present some information that I believe would be helpful.

Certificate, Diploma or Degree? Let’s define them first with some explanations for each.

What is a Certificate?

Insert name and course *smile emoji*

The Cambridge Dictionary defines a certificate as:

  1. “an official document that states that the information on it is true, e.g. a birth/marriage/death certificate or a doctor’s/medical certificate”, or
  2. “the qualification that you receive when you are successful in an exam”, e.g. a Certificate in Plumbing.

We’ll move ahead with definition #2, of course. Certificates are attained through short courses or programmes which have varying timeframes:

  • A few hours e.g. a Certificate of Participation in a music workshop.
  • A day – you know, like that one time your boss sent the department to learn High Impact Business Writing and you didn’t want to go and then you were glad you went, but you probably still don’t use it because the office has templates *slaps forehead*.
  • A few weeks (usually about 6-8 weeks) e.g. a certificate in Social Media Management.
  • A few months e.g. a Certificate in Cosmetology.

A certificate is cost-efficient and focuses on a specific area or skill. This way you can gain that particular skill without years of schooling. It’s also great if you’re looking to make a career shift. However, its main limitation is that you may not be able to make any move outside of the chosen discipline; unless you do additional certificates.

What is a Diploma?

Your entry to another career.

The Macmillan Dictionary clearly explains a diploma as:

  1. “a course of study at a college or university in  vocational subject (one that prepares you for a particular job) e.g. a Diploma in Psychology.”
  2. “a course of study at a college or university in an academic subject that people sometimes do after getting a degree.” 

Diplomas (or career diplomas) are more comprehensive than certificates and take a bit longer to get, but can be obtained in a year or two. Diplomas are field-specific and are mostly offered in technical and vocational areas like massage therapy and Information Technology.

Diplomas cost less than degrees and have minimal, if any, prerequisites. They concentrate on the skills necessary for the field. The limitation of a Diploma is that it’s just that, a Diploma. You may end up feeling like you’re in limbo and not quite at the finish line with your new certification; it’s above a certificate and just below a degree – get what I mean?

What is a Degree?

You’ll be proud, and relieved, when you’re done.

The definition given by Britannica is as follows:

Degree, also called academic degree, in education, any of several titles conferred by colleges and universities to indicate the completion of a course of study or the extent of academic achievement.”

Study.com pulls out all the stops to give us the full overview of this type of “certification”:

You can read more about what each entails by clicking here.

The first thing to note about a Degree is that degrees are often a requirement by employers. They take more than two years to complete and are more all rounded with the courses that are enveloped within the programme. Since degrees include elective courses e.g. a language or an art of some form like public speaking (I think public speaking is an art), you end up gaining more intellectual range which gives you a solid foundation to choose different career paths. I’ll give you a personal example.

I did my Bachelor of Arts Degree in Mass Communication. It took me 6 years to do as a part-time student. I know what you’re thinking, “That’s crazy!” right? Yeah, well, it is usually a 4-year full-time programme. Anywhos -it was the best 6 years of my life. I loved every course. I did history, social media management, speech writing and public speaking, website development, photography, journalism, economics and accounting, Spanish. The list was extensive; as you could imagine. At the end, I specialised in Public Relations. I was able to apply for many types of jobs because of this degree. I never regretted it.

So, how do you choose?

Certificate, Diploma or Degree?

I’ll give you five overarching considerations to help you decide. Please note that, each of these prompters speak directly to the scope of your budget and the urgency you’ve placed on upgrading your credentials. Also know that there will be some overlapping features.

#1 Is it complementing a qualification you already have?

Recommended – Certificate.

A certificate would give you the specialisation you require within a targeted discipline. It’s very good to do if you need to fill a gap, expand your skill-set portfolio or modernise an existing skill to adjust in a timely manner with changing markets. Doing a certificate would signal “adaptability”!

#2 Will it give you access to another, or higher, position within your career?

Recommended Diploma or Degree.

Diplomas are like Associate’s Degrees (which I did not elaborate on, I know). They are more significant than certificates but not as weighty as degrees. Because they cost more and take a longer time to earn, there is a higher level of seriousness that is projected with this qualification. Doing a Diploma is usually the first step in beginning a career change, but it is also a great way to position yourself a specialist in a particular area. It signals “decisiveness”!

#3 Is it an entryway into another field or entrepreneurship?

Recommended – Diploma

As the definition states, diplomas are attained for certain fields and are heavily focused on what is needed for that career, only. If you wish to move on from being an employee and become an entrepreneur, or perhaps you want to consider consultancy in an area you are passionate about, a diploma will open that door for you with a reasonable budget and a shorter time frame. It signals “advancement” or “liberty”!

#4 Does it make you more marketable?

Recommended – Certificate.

If you’re looking to become more marketable, you need to sprinkle a few tokens on your resume. Assess your environment, survey job postings, pay attention to the evolution of business operations. You’ll begin to see what’s missing. More so, you’ll notice which of the missing things you can actually do and you should get on. It signals that you are “forward-thinking”!

Read more about skills you should learn here: 6 skills every student should learn – or be able to do

#5 Is it a stepping stone for something greater?

Recommended – Degree (or selectively, Diploma).

Are you seeking to meet the market requirement for a stable job? Do you intend to climb the academic ladder within a chosen career path? While a diploma will steer you to where you wish to go, a degree will definitely authorise your arrival. If the degree is an undergraduate degree, it is also an essential qualification to obtain a higher-level degree such as a Master’s, Master of Philosophy (MPhil), Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), or a Doctorate. A degree, undoubtedly, takes much longer to earn and costs more; in every way. Both shift your potential for better compensation packages; positively. Of the two, a degree is clearly more formidable. It signals “professional”!

Final thoughts: I hope this information provided enough fodder to make contemplating your next step easier. Any decision to obtain a new qualification should be applauded. It should matter a lot because your name will be on that final, validating, paper and your resume will carry that new qualification. So, decide where you want to be and just begin!

The Graduate Guru will be your silent cheerleader *wink*. Now get to it!

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6 skills every student should learn – or be able to do

I am currently job hunting. Because of COVID-19, I am now counted as a part of the global unemployment statistics. It’s tough. However, I am grateful that I took the time to do some short courses to gain some differentiating skills to broaden my employability – virtually. This triggered my need to do this blog post.

My current situation made me realize that it doesn’t matter what career you wish to pursue or are in, you will encounter scenarios that require the application of one or more (or even all) of these skill sets. Companies need people with these skills. They outline them in the job specifications and job descriptions. This is worth some attention.

At least you should have an idea or understanding of these skills and how to use them. At most you should know to, or learn how to, apply these skills to your everyday tasks, or for your (or the organisation’s) benefit.

There are many courses that teach these skills; in part or by specializations. They are offered through a number of distance learning websites. Look out for a follow up blog about where you can access some of these courses. I got you, don’t worry, it’s in the works!

So, without further ado, let me list them now with a brief explanation about why they are necessary.

#1 Business [Idea] Development

What it involves: High Impact Business Writing, Idea Pitching, Proposal and Grant writing, Creating Business Strategies, Business Strategy Writing, Business Models.

If you possess the coveted ability to survey your environment, and assess where improvements could be made or where transformative intervention is required, you’re already a goldmine! Now, if you can create a plan of action and communicate your idea “effectively”, any company you become employed with will think they’ve hit a jackpot!

You see, proper business [idea] development can activate the revolution of organizations’ services, products and processes. Intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs need to know how to do it. Knowing how to develop your idea, into a plan with an actionable strategy, is a distinguishing factor that can help you persuade the right people – in the right networks or levels of management.

I learned how to do this while pursuing my Masters degree. Let me make a plug here for the Business Canvas Model (BMC). Learn how to develop a BMC… just trust me on this. (Those were two links by the way.)

#2 Strategic Networking

What it entails: Meeting People, Having Focused Conversations, Building Partnerships, Learning Skills, Enhancing Talents, Gaining Experience and Exposure in Your Field/Passion.

This one will help you significantly if you do not have any work experience. Still, it will help you even while at work. It’s an intangible skill that can bring tangible results and it’s not always explicitly listed in job postings.

Even while you’re in school, join a club, group, organization, NGO, or chamber. Go to business mixers, seminars, and workshops. Get yourself out there! There is a “circle” for everyone. Find yours, join it and watch how it expands your possibility to achieve your personal goals. Try, also, to exchange something of value in these spaces, with the people you meet. Remember you’re not “known” yet. Practice active listening, ask questions, offer assistance, opinions, or even a free service. In doing so, you will experience self-development, learn new skills, enhance your innate talents, gain experience, and so much more. The list is inexhaustive. You’d gain everything you need to get to where you want to be. *wink*

Wait introverts! Before you dismiss this suggestion, note this, the world is becoming more digital (especially after the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak). So, here’s what, there are group spaces that can offer you the same experience! I heard that sigh of relief (Ha!). Come on! Jump on to those Webinars. Join LinkedIn, Facebook groups, and Slack communities. These are all great places to explore!

One thing I can guarantee you, is this: you will come into contact with potential business partners, coaches, mentors, investors, and even valuable alliances and friends.

I’m an ambivert, I’ve done and do both.

#3 Copywriting

What it requires: English Language Skills, Proofreading, Editing, Research Skills, Curiosity, A Wide Vocabulary, Clear Communication, Strategic Thinking, Creativity.

Sure you can write (or not, for the techies). But how well can you write? I experienced some creative blocks when I started to transition from academic writing to creative writing. Maybe you may have the same issue, maybe you won’t. But know this…

Almost all professions require some level of written communication. It does not matter what role in the organisation you’ll be charged with. Someday, you’ll have to write something. A report. An email. A speech. A document. An advertisement. A script. Something. Most times, though, it’s easy to just “write” without understanding how to effectively craft the intent, or purpose, of your words, for the audience that has to consume it. Learning copywriting will help you to capture the, often, missed opportunities to trigger the exact response or emotion you want your words to provoke.

Although its directly associated with advertising and marketing, you’d be surprised at how much copywriting will complement other forms of written communication; in your life. I dare you to challenge yourself to learn this skill.

#4 Lead Generation

What it comprises: Digital Literacy, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Content Creation, Public Relations (PR), Marketing, Email Marketing, Business to Business (B2B) Knowledge, Business to Customer (B2C) Knowledge, Sales, Software as a Service (SaaS), etc.

According to Hubspot, Lead Generation is “the process of attracting and converting strangers and prospects into someone who has indicated interest in your company’s product or service” and “it falls within the second stage of the inbound marketing methodology, after you’ve attracted an audience and are ready to convert those visitors into leads for your sales team.”

Knowing how to generate leads, for an organization, will differentiate you as a progressive human resource asset. Any employer would see you as a worthwhile investment for their organization. Customer’s desires and demands are constantly changing and evolving. If you can find a way to keep the conversation with potential and existing clients going, you’re on your way to standing out as a force to be reckoned with.

If subjects in this area aren’t offered during your academic journey, make sure to enroll or purchase a short course or a few, in this discipline. You’ll become a highly-valued employee. And BOOM goes the dynamite!

#5 Data Analysis/Analytics

Pre-requisites: Problem-Solving Skills, Mathematical Ability, Methodological and Logical Thinking, Knowledge of Programming Languages, Attention to Detail, Curiosity.

Data Analysis is the process of systematically applying statistical and/or logical techniques to describe and illustrate, condense and recap, and evaluate data… An essential component of ensuring data integrity is the accurate and appropriate analysis of research findings.
(Source: Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR))

This one here, boy oh boy, this one is the cherry on the cake. It’s used in almost every profession for the simplest of tasks like calculating employee absenteeism in a company, to major projects like Artificial Intelligence (AI) initiatives. With data, companies can address internal issues, predict trends and adjust organizational approaches and strategies, and the list goes on.

You’d want to be a part of that! Career defining moments happen when you are able to collate, manipulate and use data effectively.
Oh, if you don’t like mathematics, this skill could be challenging.

#6 The Ability to Speak a Foreign Language (or at least understand one)

What it requires: Open-mindedness, Curiosity, Determination, Willingness to Learn.

I’ve seen this phrase in some of the job postings I’ve come across: “knowledge of a foreign language is an asset”. Some tell you what language they’d like you to be fluent in; most times it’s Spanish and/or French. I would know, I’ve seen many.

Either way, as a student, you’d benefit from learning and knowing another language. The world is a global village, communities are merging, communication extends beyond continental borders. Do not limit yourself to the language you speak, and write, ever!

Watchmojo lists 10 languages that you should consider learning, in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTi1px7V0Rc&feature=youtu.be.

Final thoughts: This list is not final. There are so many other skills that you can learn to load into your personal arsenal for future use. I’ve found, however, that these skills, when certified through a course, diploma or degree, can complement any programme you’ve completed.

So enhance the utility of your resume! Make it stand out by dressing it up with one or more of these skills! They are awesome, functional, useful, valuable, and versatile “accessories”.

Be the full package!

Which do you need help with? Let’s have a chat about it, shall we?

Click here to book a free 15-minute Discovery Session now! Don’t miss this opportunity to get the help you need.

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