Gaining the skills you need
Imagine this scenario: You're doing a great job in your current role, but you've recently become interested in a completely different line of work. This is something you feel passionate about, and it could advance your career to exciting new levels.

The only problem is that this new type of work requires qualifications or experience that you currently don't have. Sure, you've got some useful skills, and you're so inspired by the new role that you know you would quickly gain the necessary knowledge. But you fear you may not get the opportunity.

So you ask yourself: Do you really have the time or desire to quit your current job to pursue that advanced degree you need? Can you afford to spend the money or vacation time on executive-level coaching courses? While gaining formal qualifications is the best way of advancing your career, for many people, it's not always realistic or practical to obtain those qualifications.

So, what are some alternative ways of learning the skills you need, without spending too much time and money?

The good news is that there are several ways to overcome your lack of qualifications. In this article, we offer strategies for gaining the skills necessary to help you secure the job of your dreams.

This may come as a surprise, but volunteering isn't just about doing charity work: it's also a great way to acquire new skills that would be hard to learn elsewhere.

Let's say you've heard a rumor that a management position at your company will open up in the next few months. You've always wanted to work in management, and you'd like to apply for the job as soon as the vacancy is advertised. But you currently have no management experience. What can you do?

Well, you can show initiative, and keep an eye out for opportunities that arise in your organization - they may be advertised on a bulletin board or company intranet - even if they are not directly related to your current job. What about joining an employee relations committee? Or how about a planning committee that's organizing a major company event? Why not volunteer to run it? Taking on new duties will involve more work (and, as a volunteer, you won't get paid for it). But it's also an opportunity to be involved with managing a group of people. When it's time to apply for that management position, you'll be able to show that you have experience successfully running a team.

As well as learning new skills, volunteering for extra jobs or projects can also help you prove to your boss that you can handle increased responsibilities. Although you may not see immediate results, don't dismiss the long-term value of the knowledge you'll gain, and the good impression you'll make.

If you can't identify opportunities within your company, then consider volunteering for community organizations. Many nonprofits - such as school boards and youth work programs - look for people to do accounting, marketing, fundraising, project management, writing, budgeting, and more. These skills are highly valued in the business world, and you can add them to your résumé when you apply for a promotion or new job.

Start at a Lower Level
This may not seem to make sense at first. Why would you apply for a position further down the ladder from the one you want?

Here's the reason: If you have no qualifications or experience for a specific role, then applying for a related position, with fewer responsibilities and fewer requirements, can at least lead you one step closer to the job you really want.

Imagine that you'd like to start a career as a journalist. You're a good writer, but you have no experience writing feature stories or working in a newspaper environment. Well, chances are pretty high that you won't get a writing position without a portfolio.

But if you take a job as a receptionist at a media organization, you'll soon gain detailed knowledge of how a newspaper works. You can write a few articles in your spare time, and ask your new journalist colleagues for feedback. You can even offer to help out with some of the smaller articles. The important thing is to see your name in print, and to build up your portfolio. You'll then be in an ideal position if there's a job opening for a writer. Eventually, you could make the transition to full-time journalist.

Applying 'downward' may not seem appealing in the short term. However, in the long term, if you really want to make a career change, it may be worth exploring this option if it helps you reach your ultimate goal.

And, depending on the new company or position, you might be able to learn the skills you need for your ideal job during your regular work day. The company might offer training seminars, or reimburse you for outside classes. Failing to consider a lower-level position might mean you would miss out on these opportunities.

However, do bear in mind that certain occupations require specific qualifications and experience. For example, if you want to become a medical doctor, then just helping out on a hospital ward will not be enough to secure the job of your dreams. Several years of rigorous medical training is essential here - something you would have to consider on a practical level before making such a commitment.

Take Advantage of Distance Learning
Distance learning (Internet-based classes) allows you to gain additional qualifications while working full time. This is because it's often more efficient than going to classes on campus.

With distance learning, you attend class at the time and place of your choice - on your lunch hour, in the evenings, or on weekends. You don't have to waste time driving to and from campus. And, because you work on your own (instead of at the pace of an entire class), you can often complete a qualification in less time - and at a much lower cost - than a traditional school.

Perhaps the biggest benefit to distance learning is that, because it's so common now (compared to even a few years ago), you can become certified or earn a degree in almost any area.

Skills like project management, personnel development, marketing, business management, accounting and finance, and leadership are just a few subjects you could study in a distance-learning program.

Take Executive-level Workshops
Executive-level courses can help you gain qualifications in a specific area. These are usually intense training sessions that last anywhere from one day to a week or more.

Executive workshops often use several different approaches to teach upper-level managers important new skills that will help them advance their careers. For example, a traditional campus class is usually taught by one professor. Executive-level workshops, however, often use lectures from several different experts - plus group exercises and one-to-one coaching.

Imagine that you decide to take an executive workshop on relationship building, so you'll have a better chance at a career in upper management. Instead of a traditional management class, which may have only one lecture on building relationships, workshops might offer several different lectures, each exploring a different area of relationship building. You could attend lectures on topics such as Barriers to Relationship Building, Asking Questions and Telling Stories, The Cost of Building and Maintaining Relationships, and so on.

Executive-level workshops can be expensive, but they're terrific ways to learn some specific skills to add to your résumé.

If you attend a longer workshop (lasting a week, for example), you may have to use your vacation time. This is an admirable demonstration of your commitment to excel in your career, but make sure you still have enough remaining days off to take a real vacation during the year. It's never a good idea to wear yourself out in the race to get ahead.

It's worth checking with your company when you register for a workshop. It might be willing to reimburse part of the expense, especially if you can prove that the skills you'll learn will be useful for future projects or tasks.

Key Points
Although it can be disappointing to realize that you lack the qualifications for the job you want, you don't necessarily have to give up your dream. Where possible, work towards obtaining the formal qualifications you need to get ahead. If that's not practical, then take proactive steps to investigate other ways of learning the skills you need. You may not only impress your company with your ambition and enthusiasm, but prove to them that you really do care about the job.

Consider accepting a lower-level position to gain experience in a new field, or invest the time in distance-learning classes. This will strengthen your qualifications, and give you a chance to examine whether you really want the new job enough to work hard for it. This can often be as enlightening as the knowledge you acquire along the way.