Informal Learning Opportunities are Everywhere

Informal Learning Opportunities are Everywhere

by Sacha Cohen

Stay Sharp So You Can Move Ahead

If you think that years of industry experience, glowing references, and a stellar resume are enough to help you land your next job, think again. Whether you're employed and casually looking for other opportunities, or unemployed and anxiously trying to land a job, you must spend time each week learning and keeping your skills sharp.

Sounds easy, right? Well, you'd be surprised at how few people recognize the value of what I call informal learning. This includes reading trade publications and industry-specific magazines, active networking, participating in listservs and user groups, and attending seminars and events.

It's not enough to rely on employers for training. In the ferociously competitive IT field, you need to pay special attention to your own career development. Each week, you should spend at least a few hours reading about your industry, researching new trends and emerging technologies, and learning what it will take to manage your career more effectively.

Although this may sound like just another chore that you don't have time for, if you approach it the right way, it will become as much a part of your daily routine as brushing your teeth or going to the gym. 

Easy steps to follow

The following six simple steps are cheap, painless, and essential if you want to get ahead. Join Listservs and Discussion Groups

Ask colleagues what listervs they belong to. If possible, sign up for the digest version of the list, so you will receive posts in an aggregate form and can manage them more efficiently. Spend 30 minutes or so each day catching up with email, reading the lists and organising information that can help you in your job search.

Read Actively

In the IT industry, there are dozens of magazines and weeklies that offer insider information, technology trends and analysis, industry statistics, company news and briefs, announcements of changes in executive-level management, in-depth company profiles and more.

Pick one or two broad-interest publications (e.g., Wired, the Industry Standard, Business 2.0, Fast Company) and several targeted publications (e.g., Windows Developer's Journal, Java Developers Journal, Network Computing, PC World, MacWorld). You don't need to read each magazine cover to cover. Focus on what interests you and what will enhance your career. Then skim the rest.

Sign up for E-Newsletters

Cut back on endless surfing by getting relevant content delivered to your email in-box. E-newsletters from, CNET, ZDNet, AOL, Hotwired, Netscape's In-Box Direct and others include advice, tips and news. The best part? They're concise, timely, and free.

Recruit a Mentor

What better way to get support and advice than from a seasoned industry professional? You can find out about mentoring opportunities through associations, on listservs and while you're networking.

Work the Net

Hunt for news you can use on the job and in interviews. Spend time consciously looking for news pertaining to your career, the companies where you'd like to get hired and the technologies that will change how you do your job. That way, when you are being interviewed, you'll be able to talk intelligently about your skills and expertise, and also about the industry as a whole.

Socialize with a Purpose

Attend industry events, business-related happy hours, and job fairs. Volunteer at an association where you can network with others in your field, and take the time to have fun while you make connections.