Actually Acquiring the 10 Most Valuable Career Skills in Your Spare Time


Money Magazine recently printed an article in their June issue (page 45, June ’16) that lists the most valuable career skills that a person can have as ranked by the wage premium that such skills generate on average (here it is online).

In other words, they evaluated a ton of different skills that companies look for in their job postings and then evaluated how much higher those jobs paid on average than similar jobs that didn’t include those skills.

For example, a lab technician job that includes a requirement for the “data modeling” skill commands, on average, a 5% higher salary than a lab technician job that does not include that requirement.

To me, this kind of list is an incredibly valuable resource for people who are looking to improve their income and move ahead in their career path. It specifically identifies the exact skills that companies are willing to pay a premium for!

However, the article didn’t quite follow through in all of the ways that it might. The article offers some great general advice on how to acquire these skills, but it really doesn’t go into the specifics of what one might need to do to add these skills to their skill set (and their resume) in a meaningful way. It just provides a list and some very general ideas on furthering one’s education.

I wanted to go a little further than that, so I took the top 10 items on the list and did a little homework (and, in a few cases, quite a lot of homework) to figure out what a person could do in their spare time to add that skill to their resume and skillset in a meaningful way that would help them improve their earning potential and career opportunities.

Before we dig in, I want to mention one giant caveat. Not all of these skills line up well for every career. In fact, in most careers, only one or two of these skills will really make sense. It is definitely up to you to determine whether or not these skills really fit in well with the career you happen to find yourself in (or hope to find yourself in). You are far better off becoming really strong in one or two of these skills that are really well connected to and useful to your field than being mediocre in several skills.

Here’s what I found.

SAS (Statistical Analysis System) – 6.1% Premium

SAS is a suite of software developed by the SAS Institute for the purpose of data analytics. People use SAS in order to find patterns and trends and useful things in large data sets.

This is a specific flavor of skill related to data mining, which is an incredibly popular skill these days (as you’ll see on the rest of the list). In my experience (as I was once a fairly heavy user of the software), it falls into what I would describe as light computer programming specifically done to solve problems with data. It’s a skill that’s likely useful to anyone in business or in a technical field that ever does anything associated with sets of data of any significant size.

So, how do you acquire this skill?

The most obvious thing you can do is to get into the SAS Global Certification program. This is a series of classes and exams that will end up providing a certification if you know your stuff when it comes to SAS. However, the exam preparation materials that SAS themselves sell is quite expensive.

So, another good way to learn the basics of SAS and how to actually apply it to real world problems at a much, much lower price (i.e., potentially free) is to take the Learn Data Science Fundamentals specialization on Coursera, which consists of four courses and a capstone project. Doing that will earn a certificate of completion which, while not as big of a standout on a resume as the actual certification, will still teach you the skill and is resume worthy. You can also individually complete the four courses without the certification and without the capstone project for free.

The SAS software itself is very expensive, so this skill is probably easiest to acquire in the workplace if your workplace already has SAS (which many workplaces that use lots of data do). Check with your boss as to whether your workplace has a SAS license and make sure it’s okay to use it for personal learning before diving in (it probably will be and your boss will likely be impressed with your personal initiative).

Data Mining / Data Warehousing – 5.1% Premium

The number two item on the list is in many ways just a general version of the first item on the list – after all, SAS is a specific tool used for data mining. This skill also expands into dealing with the need to store and secure large quantities of data as well, not just in the analysis of that data.

So, again, how can someone acquire this skill in a resume-friendly fashion?

If you’re looking for an inexpensive approach, there are two specializations at Coursera that fit the bill here. First, Harness Business Data is a great series of four courses on the concepts and practice of data warehousing, including some great practical exercises and projects. I’d also point at the four course specialization mentioned earlier, Learn Data Science Fundamentals. Again, as I mentioned earlier, you can pay a fee to get an official certification for these specializations and the courses within (along with a capstone project for each) or you can just take the courses for free without a certificate of completion (though you can still demonstrate that you completed those courses).

If you’re looking for a more “industry standard” certification and are willing to pay for it, The Data Warehousing Institute has been a standard certification for a while for people wanting to get a respected certification in data warehousing. It’s fairly pricy, but you’ll learn a great deal in the process and you’ll have a certification that people will value.

Another option is to earn Stanford University’s Mining Massive Data Sets Graduate Certificate. While it’s very pricy, the courses are taught by top notch people and it’s got the Stanford University name on it, which absolutely can’t hurt.

Do you need the expensive SAS software mentioned above to do these things? While SAS is obviously worthwhile (as described above), you can complete most of (if not all of) the things above using the free programming language Python, which is already on most Macs and is easily installed on Windows computers. Python is a good fundamental skill to have and to list on a resume as well and there are many opportunities to learn it very cheaply or even for free; I really like the learning environment at CodeAcademy and it’s mostly free.

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