When you want to switch careers or struggle get ahead in the one you already have, it can feel like the only way to advance professionally is to go back to school and start over. But paying for a new degree is expensive, and going back to school takes you out of the job market.

Luckily, there are other ways to improve your skills and stand out in the interview process that are much cheaper than a new MBA. Try one of these five types of professional development to make an impression on hiring managers.

Grant Writing Certification

Grant writing is an essential skill needed by non profit organizations, educational institutions, corporations, foundations, research centers, and government agencies both local and national, who all rely on grant funding to function.

But it’s a very specific skill set, requiring more than just writing ability to succeed. According to the World Organization of Non-Governmental Agencies, nearly 85% of grants submitted are left unfulfilled.

National organizations such as the American Grant Writers’ Association offer training and online courses to become a Certified Grant Writer. There are also free, online resources for studying grant writing:

If you are interested in applying to work at an organization that relies on grants to fund their operations, having grant-writing experience or certification on your resumé is a great way to stand out from the applicant pool.

Leadership or Management Training

If you’re interested in management positions within your industry, but haven’t yet held the official job title, you can still give your skills and resumé a boost by taking an intensive training course in business leadership. Yes, these types of programs still do cost money — but they are significantly cheaper than paying for a master’s degree!

A quick search online for “management training program” will provide hundreds of results, so make sure you sift through the options and pick one from a respected organization. Harvard’s Division of Continuing Education teaches a variety of courses in various aspects of leadership and management, as does the Dale Carnegie Training Institute. The American Management Association offers online courses and webinars designed for those whose current job responsibilities prevent them from attending a several-day seminar.

Many of these courses are the very ones that large corporations send their own managers and leaders to attend. By taking the initiative to study on your own, you make yourself a more attractive job candidate — as well as giving yourself a leg up when you actually start your new management job!

Volunteer Work

Volunteering is always recommended when you’re between jobs as a way of filling gaps in your resumé and practicing your skills. But strategic volunteering can also help boost your hiring appeal, creating a space for you to learn and practice skills that you aren’t getting in the workplace.

Want to show that you can handle team management or event planning? Look for volunteer work with an organization that will allow you to use and develop those skills. If you’re interested in switching industries or moving into a new career path, volunteer work also allows you to explore and gain experience before making the transition.

Most companies and organizations recognize the value of skills learned through community service just as they would for paid workplace experience. Volunteering gives you gain hands-on training that enhances your professional skills and new abilities to talk about at your next job interview.

SEO Certification

Every business these days needs a web presence and strong search engine optimization to help them be found online. At the end of 2014, LinkedIn named SEO marketing one of their 25 hottest professional skills — and the demand for SEO work has only grown since then.

In large corporations, this is usually taken care of by a SEO specialist in the marketing department. But smaller companies and nonprofit organizations don’t usually have the budget to hire dedicated workers for each task — which means you can push yourself ahead of the competition by studying a little online marketing strategy in the form of an SEO certification.

Paid courses offer more official-looking certifications, are taught by experts that you can ask questions and approach for help, and have more organized training modules. Some are offered as continuing education courses by colleges and universities. Well-rated choice include:

Free, online webinars and courses teach you the skills you need but don’t provide anything in the way of paperwork. Many of them, however, are run by recognized and respected companies, such as:

Language Study

As globalization increases the potential pool of customers that a company has access to and immigration increases the diversity within a single country, the need for multilingual communicators has grown. Speaking a second or third language instantly makes you a more valuable candidate in industries from healthcare to nonprofit work and from customer service to international banking.

There are a variety of places to go for official language programs, including:

  • colleges and universities
  • community colleges
  • local continuing education programs
  • private tutors

You can also find free resources for studying a new language, including apps and online programs such as:

Which language will serve you best depends on your industry and geographic region. For example, if you’re interested in government work, Mandarin or Arabic would be highly beneficial. If you live on the West Coast of the United States, Japanese might be more helpful. For nonprofit work overseas, Spanish or French might serve you best.

No matter where you are in your career or job search, professional development can help you get ahead. You don’t have to pay for a whole new degree — you just have to spend some time developing the skills that will help you stand out.


Katharine Paljug is the freelance writer behind Katharine Writes. When not researching career development and job hunting tips, she helps small businesses and start-ups develop their web presence with strategic copywriting and web marketing tools.