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Advice / Career Paths / Training & Development

7 Free Ways to Continue Your Education if You Have a Job (and No Free Time)

man learning

You know that learning plays an important role in advancement. But, for most people, going back to school isn’t the right option, or even a realistic option. It takes a sizable investment of time—and money—so if you’re not quite sure it’s for you, it’s probably a good idea to hold off for now.

But, that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook, you’ll want to find other ways to gain new skills and knowledge. After all, you won’t move forward if you’re not constantly learning and growing. Who hires the guy who’s skills have stayed the same since he graduated?

The trick is to look for all the opportunities to learn that are already there (and often free!) in your everyday life. Here are seven ways to find new information that’ll open doors and help you advance in your career.

1. Meet With Leaders at Your Company

Most people enjoy talking about what they do. In fact, one-third of what we say is used to relay information about ourselves. So, even if you’ve never spoken with a member of the leadership team, odds are she’ll be open to discussing her work with you. (Plus, she’ll notice someone taking initiative to learn more about the company.)

For example, while I was an undergrad interning at a major broadcasting company, I sent a cold email to the VP of Programming for a major network, and was on his calendar to meet for the very next week. With his advice, I was able to secure an executive board seat at my campus television station, and eventually take over as Station General Manager.

How did I do it? I asked for a reasonable amount of time to respect his schedule. I did 30, but to be honest, 15 is probably better. (But obviously, I didn’t schedule anything right afterwards so I wouldn’t have to stop the conversation if it went better than expected.) I prepared thoughtful questions and I left with an action item for further collaboration

2. Solve a Problem Outside of Your Job Description

If you do the exact same thing every day, it’s possible to get stuck in a rut, and your skills will stagnate. But you can find new opportunities at your company by asking to work on projects or teams outside of your day-to-day responsibilities.

Often times, the best solutions come from thinking about problems in a different light. Meaning, your outsider perspective may help you think of next steps no one else has considered. You’ll be helping the organization as a whole and learning about other parts of the company. Along with expanding your skills and knowledge base, you’ll be making yourself more valuable. True story: Working on a different team is the most popular way to get a new job at my company, it’s gotten me two of my previous positions!

3. Attend Local Events

You are not alone in wanting to learn new things—and connect with others looking to expand their skills, too. Most cities have regular meetups for industry professionals. So, look for open classes, lectures, networking events, and panels (especially if you live near a university).

Some good places to look for upcoming workshops and sessions include Eventbrite, any local news sites you follow, and Twitter. Follow local industry leaders and contacts, as they’ll often post if they’ll be attending (or speaking at) at upcoming function.

Not all of these events will be free, but you can always start with the free ones to connect with others—whom you can then ask if they’ve ever been to that conference you’ve been eyeing and if it’s worth it. And if you’re going to learn a skill related to your job, don’t forget to ask your boss if it may be covered as professional development.

4. Read Books

I know, your first thought is probably that buying that trendy book isn’t free. Well, according to the American Library Association, there are still 119,487 libraries around the country, and they have business books you can check out for free.

So, the next time you see a roundup of recommendations that looks awesome, do yourself a favor and see if they’re available at your local library.

5. Take an Online Course

All the learning with none of the debt. Even if you don’t have time or money for a full time program, you can find the time for an online class, especially if you find yourself coming home each night with nothing to do. (Did you know there are over 4,000 open online courses available covering everything from marketing to Mandarin?)

There are several sites where you can take classes or pick up new skills including: Coursera, MIT Open Courseware, Udemy, Codecademy, and HubSpot Inbound Certification. Of course, with each of these, you’ll want to read the fine print. Some courses are free to take, but charge a fee for to submit assignments or receive a certificate of completion.

6. Subscribe to Industry Blogs and Newsletters

Email’s a great way to stay up to date on what’s going on in your industry. Of course, it’s easy to overdo it, subscribe to too many, and end up deleting them all because you’re overwhelmed by the sheer number of articles you could click on.

I suggest capping it at three to five newsletters a week (but obviously you’re personal tolerance may be higher or lower). Worried about missing something? Follow the other organizations on social media for your daily fix.

7. Take on a Small Short-Term Project Outside of Work

An easy side project can help you develop a skill you don’t usually practice, or discover an entirely new interest. For example, creating the online presences for my alumni chapter helped me gain the knowledge in content management systems and social media that prepared me for my first job in digital content.

Do you have an alumni chapter, a nonprofit you care about, or family friend who could use help? If you can’t find an organization to assist—practice creating something for yourself!

You don’t have to have a ton of time or money to add to your skill set. Just choose a starting point—something you’d like to learn or someone you’d like to meet—and go from there.