(Family Features) - Whether you want to advance your career or make the change to a new career, it's up to you to make it happen.
"Sometimes hundreds of professionals are sending resumes for one open position, so you cannot leave things up to chance," said University of Phoenix School of Business Dean Dr. Bill Berry. "You need to put a solid plan in place that will help you set the right career goals and obtain the skills you need to give you a competitive advantage."
Determine Your Career Goals
Think about what you really want to do with your career - and be specific. Ask yourself some questions:
What are the things that interest you most?
What motivates you?
Top Career Skills
According to research by Apollo Group, parent company of University of Phoenix, successful workers in the 21st century need certain skills. Here's what employers are looking for - and how you can get them through education:
Leadership - Being a great employee is different than being a great leader. Look for coursework that emphasizes leadership skills and enables you to lead teams.
Critical thinking - Take coursework that offers an opportunity to engage in self-directed, project-based and applied learning.
Communication - Learn in an environment that requires participation in many modes of communication.
Collaboration - Choose courses that are collaborative and also measure success by team results.
Productivity and accountability - Develop an organization and communication system that accounts for short-term and long-term projects.
Adaptability - Take advantage of flexible course schedules and learning platforms in order to work, raise a family, volunteer and learn.
Innovation - Seek out learning environments that build technology and media fluency.
Accessing, analyzing and synthesizing information - Seek out a market-driven curriculum focused on real workplace issues to help you think about how to interconnect.
Entrepreneurialism - Improve your problem-solving abilities with class projects and case studies that tackle issues and require analysis and strategic planning.
Global citizenship - Learn in a diverse classroom to build cross-cultural understanding.
In what kind of work environment do you thrive?
What kinds of jobs fit these criteria?
If you're not sure, it can be helpful to take a personal assessment. "Doing so can help you uncover your passions and preferences," Berry said. "It can help you identify strengths and can help you make an informed decision about your career."
Identify Skills Gaps
There are more than 3 million job openings in this country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, yet many companies are finding it difficult to fill those positions. A common reason given for this is that employers can't find qualified people with the appropriate skills.
A survey by University of Phoenix found that many people are recognizing the need to add skills in order to improve their careers:
89 percent of working Americans believe there is still room for them to grow in their careers, and can point to at least one skill they will need to learn.
58 percent who are not currently enrolled in school full-time believe that going back to school would be crucial if they were considering a new career path.
36 percent say they need additional education in order to get to the next level of their careers.
"Taking an objective look at the skills you currently have and comparing them to the skills required for the type of job you desire, gives you a clear picture of what it will take to make the job changes you want," Berry said.
Start by writing down the skills, knowledge and qualifications you currently have.
Next, research the types of jobs you want, and write down the qualifications needed.
Compare the two lists, and take notes on the skills you're currently missing.
"Once you do that, you can make decisions on how you're going to bridge that skills gap," Berry said. "At the university, we are seeing working adults pursuing education in order to address their own skills gaps - and it's helping position them for career growth."
Bridge the Gaps
If you have a skills gap in one area, such as knowledge of current computer software, you can take a single course or seminar to catch up. But for many, getting or finishing a college degree is the key to making a positive career change.
University of Phoenix's survey found that having a degree has given those surveyed tangible benefits:
63 percent of those with bachelor's degrees or higher believe that their education led to more responsibility.
60 percent of those with bachelor's degrees or higher believe that their education positively affected their ability to get promoted.
Those with bachelor's degrees also say they perceive that their education led to other benefits, including receiving raises (58 percent), keeping a job (58 percent) and being given more management opportunities (57 percent).
"For those returning to the classroom after many years, they'll find that learning tools and platforms have changed significantly," Berry said. "With online learning and other innovations, the classroom is evolving to mirror the workplace and the skills that employers want."
Online coursework is one way that many adults are achieving their goals while holding down a job and/or raising a family. Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed say they currently are taking such a course, or plan to in the near future. When investigating education opportunities, look into your online options to help you maximize your time and pursue the degree plan that best fits your needs.
"The bottom line is that you have to take charge of your career," Berry said. "With a good plan and clear goals in place, you can make yourself more marketable and put yourself on the path to a more fulfilling and rewarding career."
Learn more about available education programs and career services at www.phoenix.edu.