The prospect of getting a job in education is daunting — competition is fierce, it can be a long process, and there are a tremendous number of options. What, then, can you do as a job-seeker to become a more attractive candidate and improve your chances?

Professional development opportunities were harder to come by 20 years ago, but we’re not in the John Major era anymore. The internet is teeming with outstanding, accessible, and often free ways to improve your education CV.

Take a Free Online Course

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have evolved over the last few years to offer well-structured content on virtually any topic you can Google. The edX platform was created in 2012 as a joint effort between Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and now the non-profit boasts over 700 courses and over 7 million students. From Data Analysis & Statistics to Philosophy, edX has high-quality courses with some of the finest instructors in the world. Some courses can even be strung together in a “MicroMaster’s” degree that comes with a certificate.

Coursera has brought together a host of global universities in its offerings — Princeton, Yale, University of London and University of Edinburgh are just a sampling. Popular courses include Machine Learning (Stanford) and Grammar & Punctuation (University of California – Irvine). Coursera’s classes are free, but require a small fee to access a certificate of completion. Courses are currently available in 12 different languages.

Udemy is a similar platform that has a much stronger focus on job-related skills. Want to learn a new programming language or the basics of photography? Udemy’s got it — along with 40,000 other courses. Showing proof that you’re committed to continuing education is bound to impress hiring managers or recruiters.

Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX, sums up how easy it is to take a MOOC:

“MOOCs provide learners with what they want: Access to courses and content that interest them. There is no admissions process, so registering for a MOOC is as easy as clicking on a webpage.”

Earn a Badge

Badges are fairly new — they’re a certification of knowledge in a particular area that you can display on social media profiles on sites such as LinkedIn. They’re not terribly different from the little trophies you can earn in games on your phone. Badges are a more professional way of showing ‘Achievement Unlocked!’

One of the most difficult parts of hiring is verifying what an applicant actually knows. The truth is that university credentials aren’t always a perfect indicator of what a potential hire brings with them. Sure, you got a first — but how do they really know you can make your way around the software you’ll be using in their office?

Badges are short, simple ways to prove your skills. From Mozilla’s Open Badges to Lynda.com’s integration with LinkedIn, a badge not only demonstrates your knowledge, but it also shows that you’re up to date with technology.

For schools and businesses, training is expensive — very expensive. Little upgrades like badges suggest to an employer that you’re a self-starter who is capable of tackling a new topic on his or her own, and that’s a highly-prized quality in a new hire.

Do Something Different

You want to be a Year 3 teacher. It might be a nice time to take a Physics class.

Obviously you won’t be delving deeply into Hooke’s Law with the young ones, but you’ll make a strong statement to prospective employers that you’re interested in going well outside the traditional mold. Taking a course that’s completely different from the area in which you’d like to teach or work might seem strange, but it tells an employer that you’re well-rounded and intellectually curious. It’s important that they know you’re able to go outside your comfort zone.

But it also suggests that you’ll be able to make connections in your work that other people won’t be able to make, which turns you into a unique candidate. How many other Year 3 teachers can make an age-appropriate lesson on a tough, advanced concept in astronomy, physics or chemistry?

It works the other way, too. If you’re used to working with older students, find an activity that’s at a much lower level. It demonstrates your versatility and shows that you have a solid grasp on the building blocks that lead to better learning later on.

This sort of adaptability is sought-after outside the education realm, and especially in management. Many great managers are excellent when they’re the boss, but they’re not quite as good when they’re working within a team. Hiring managers want both. Engaging in an activity, professional or social, in which they’re at the lowest rung of the ladder actually makes them a more attractive candidate to be a leader (and vice versa). It’s important that you can demonstrate that you can lead or a team or work comfortably within one.

Engage on Social Media

It’s easier than ever to find professionals in your field and communicate with them about… anything, really. From Facebook groups to Twitter chats, you can meet authorities in your area and even talk about landing a job.

If you’re respectful, earnest, and professional, it can be an excellent resource to meet teachers and administrators who are happy to help. Advice tends to flow freely — with most of it being incredibly useful — when you simply ask for it.

Search online for blogs related to your discipline. Some of the best material available is coming from amateur bloggers who open up about their experiences and offer wisdom you otherwise couldn’t access.

Follow the News and Stay Informed

Keep your fingers on the pulse of what’s happening in education, from parent concerns to policy changes. Familiarity with current issues helps in virtually all your job-related conversations — and that includes job interviews.

Schools of all types and sizes have to respond to issues regarding curriculum, teaching, and budgets. It’s important to know what challenges schools are facing this season or what new opportunities they might have, and demonstrating your ability to talk effortlessly about what the Minister of State Schools is proposing (and what the National Association of Head Teachers thinks about it) shows that you’re aware and knowledgeable. It only takes 15 minutes a day to keep up with the most pressing issues facing UK education, and it will contribute to better conversations that can advance your career.

The common thread running through these options is that they’re all either free or very close to it. From online courses to social media, it’s easy to find something that will add a bit of shine to your CV to help you find and secure the job you want and do it in a timely fashion.

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