With a nearly 10% unemployment rate fueling an increasingly competitive job market, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, you may be thinking about heading back to school, and you wouldn’t be alone. Some hope to gain an edge in re-entering the job market while others are looking for ways to secure or improve their position at their current employer.
A number of online programs, such as nursing, are closely aligned with a particular career path, while others, such as a liberal arts degree, can be applied to a wide variety of fields. However, regardless of what your field of study may be, you should be prepared to stress the real-world application of your online education, make the most of career planning resources offered by your school, and utilize the relationships you’ve forged during your education.
Presenting Yourself to Employers
Some online students may feel concerned about having to defend their degree with prospective employers, but this is typically not the case. A weak applicant is always a weak applicant no matter where they went to school. In order to gain an employer’s respect, you simply need to make sure that you present yourself as an educated professional in your cover letter, resume, and interview.
Many online schools have career planning departments that provide graduates with resume and cover letter critiques, as well as interview tips. American Intercontinental University even offers online career workshops for students as they near graduation. These can be valuable resources for students to ensure they are highlighting the appropriate points in their job applications.
According to Wanda Ascherl, director and hiring manager at Citywide Beacon Community Center Programs, a job candidate’s alma mater is not the only thing that is considered when it comes to trying to fill an open position.
“It’s been said that sometimes the reputation of the program has an added value, but I don’t look at that as much as I do the work experience and how they are applying their coursework to real life,” said Ascherl.
Applicants should also note that they do not have to necessarily specify that their degree was earned online. In addition, they can also emphasize the positives of the delivery platform, such as how it has contributed to their professional achievements or prepared them for success in the workplace. In fact, one of the advantages of attending an online program is that it allows you to continue working and growing professionally while receiving an education. This can be a strong point for applicants, as earning a degree online serves as evidence of their dedication and time management skills.
According to Daniel McCrobie, who has taught both online and on-ground courses at the University of Phoenix, earning a degree online can be indicative of employee potential.
“For the busy professional who travels and has other family commitments – online education really shows that they are committed to learning and that is a plus for employers,” he said.
Honing Self-Discipline and Motivation
Designed with working adults in mind, online education is often focused on real-world applications, which students can implement immediately if they choose to work while earning their degree. The flexibility of asynchronous courses, which do not have scheduled class times or lectures, make it possible for students to pursue higher education while also balancing their work and family commitments. However, you should be careful not to underestimate the level of self-discipline necessary to succeed in an online degree program.
The amount of self-discipline required is something that Jeff Kennedy, an alumnus of Liberty University’s online program, can attest to.
“I highly encourage students to practice being a self-starter now, so that the discipline of showing initiative will carry them through in any endeavor of life,” he said. “This is often the biggest hurdle for those considering online education.”
In the online classroom, you are responsible for being the leader of your own learning, which can be an empowering experience as you have more control and are able to tailor your education to your needs. In fact, a study by the U.S. Department of Education found that engagement and performance were slightly improved among online students when compared with their in-residence counterparts.
This is commonly attributed to the fact that students are able to work at their own pace instead of being constricted to class times, leading many online learners to spend more time going over their class materials than classroom students.
However, online learning is not the right choice for everyone. You must be prepared to stay focused, keep up with and balance the workload, and make the most of the tools available in the online learning environment. In addition, you should not be afraid to reach out to your instructors, even if you have fallen behind. If a student falls behind, it can be very difficult, but not impossible, for them to catch up. This can depend on instructor and institutional policies, but most importantly, the student’s motivation to continue in the program.
Herbert Sexton, a Strayer University alumnus, said online students have to push themselves a lot harder to do well than they would have to in the traditional classroom environment. “If you have a question, be sure to ask it. Also don’t be afraid to research things on your own if you run into an issue you’re unsure about,” he advised.
The kind of initiative, dedication, and independence it takes to succeed in an online learning environment will translate well in the working world where the most successful individuals are the ones who go above and beyond their job description, do not give up easily, and help to pave the way for others. Mastering these qualities will not only make you a good student, but an exceptional employee who has what it takes to work their way up the career ladder.
Making Up for Lost Face-to-Face Interaction
Staying self-motivated is essential to success. In fact, many of the qualities that make a good online student make a good employee. These qualities should be stressed in your applications and interviews with potential employers. However, online education is not without its drawbacks in terms of bringing the educational experience into the real world. According to Ascherl, lack of personal interaction with other students and professors can be a disadvantage.
“What I like about traditional programs is that they allow students to interact and learn from their peers, attend lectures, and collaborate with peers on group assignments,” said Ascherl. “There is a value to that! It’s not just about completing the course. It’s also about how a person functions in a work environment with colleagues.”
However, with the aid of online communication tools, you can find ways to work around this obstacle if you are willing to make a concerted effort to do so. Those who utilize the available resources of today’s technology, such as email, teleconferencing, instant messaging, and networking sites like LinkedIn, can successfully build connections and gain valuable business communication skills, even though they may have to work harder at it.
Students can easily become consumed with schoolwork and life’s other demands, but should never forget the importance of networking throughout their time in school. Reaching out and building relationships with peers and professors can be extremely rewarding when it comes time to search for a job. After all, they may know of job openings not posted publicly, be able to offer important feedback on applications and interviews, and provide you with valuable knowledge of an industry or region you might otherwise know little about. This can give you just the edge you need to find the appropriate jobs to apply to, as well as put yourself in a better position to be hired.
You should also take advantage of any career planning services or job posting lists provided by your school. Online job boards can be helpful, but can often be overwhelmed with spam postings and false leads. Instead, using resources that are available through your school may result in more solid leads that are better worth your time and effort.
Emphasizing Your Strengths and Making an Impression
Certainly the job market is tough for everyone right now, but as an online graduate, you should focus on clearly and eloquently expressing the real-world applications of your study when applying for jobs. After all, a strong applicant is a strong applicant, regardless of where they went to school or what type of program they completed. You must be able to put your educational experiences into practice. This is what employers are looking for in a strong candidate.
Ascherl agrees that the ability to apply one’s knowledge in real situations will take them far in the job market.
“My one piece of advice is to effectively demonstrate how their coursework has been applied to their real-life experiences, both personally and professionally,” said Ascherl. “Their work experience and ability to work with others, as well as their ability to effectively change and lead an organization, will speak volumes.”