To Increase Your Income, Hone These Five Skills

Your Career Success Relies on Elevating Your Skills

Your income isn’t based on what you do or even the education you have. Your income is based on the skills you possess and how many other people can do the job you are able to do. To continually increase your income, you need to be continually developing your skills.

Whether you work for a company, a non-profit, or are an entrepreneur, your skillset is the primary driver of your income. If you aren't updating your skills and adding new skillsets, your value in the economy and in your profession will decrease.

No one wants to have a doctor who maintains the same medical knowledge they acquired twenty years ago in medical school. Every year you should look to add to your capabilities by taking at least one class which is valuable in your profession or industry.

As you explore educational opportunities, the following are the most common types of courses you can take to advance your career or grow your business. As well as resources for free or low-cost classes in these areas.

Soft Skills

Probably the biggest area for career advancement is courses in a small set of soft skills. These include interpersonal skills, teamwork skills, leadership skills, and conflict management skills, all of which can be learned through business, psychology, and behavioral science courses.

Unlike technical skills, soft skills are broadly applicable to any career or business, and are often overlooked. But they aren’t overlooked by employers. The U.S. Department of Labor studies the skills gap, which are skills which employers find highly desirable in an applicant but also see lacking in most applicants.

Professionals who close this skills gap within themselves will be at a significant advantage over others for promotions and in a job search. The U.S. Secretary of Labor identifies these “applied skills” outrank technical skills in occupational success in three separate major research studies of employers.

Two of the most important soft skills identified in research are Oral & Written Communication and Critical Thinking Skills.

Oral & Written Communication

In a 2012 Millennial Branding study of business leaders, 91% of business leaders stated candidates possessing communication skills are the hardest to find but most important to find. These results are consistent with multiple other industry, academic, and government studies over the past 20 years.

Regardless of your profession or your business, effectively communicating in both writing and orally becomes increasingly important as your career advances. The higher you ascend in any career, the more of your job involves report and memo writing, conducting meetings, professional presentations, and being able to communicate your professional .

Critical Thinking Skills

The same Millennial Branding study found 78% of business leaders identified critical thinking skills as highly desired but hardest to find in candidates. Companies don’t hire people to be dictionaries for industry terms, nor is your business success dependent upon your understanding of industry jargon.

Your success will depend significantly on your ability to gather relevant data, analyze evidence and separate immaterial facts, and then come to a proper conclusion about the next steps. Courses in critical thinking and analysis and strategic planning will help to develop this skill, even if they are not directly about your particular profession or industry.

Management & Leadership

Developing good management and leadership skills are key to demonstrating your ability to effectively lead a team. As you advance in your career or grow your business, your responsibility over others increases. As a result, your success will be directly tied to how you are able to support other’s success. Courses in management, human resources, leadership, and motivation can all make you more effective and more marketable as a leader.

Professional Development & Certification

Whatever your profession, developing more advanced skills in your profession can provide you with relevant skills which set you apart from the typical person with only a degree. Examples might include accountants looking for courses in auditing or changing tax law, architects taking courses on energy efficient technologies, or landscapers identifying classes in drought-tolerant plants. Looking for educational opportunities which can lead to new certifications can also provide you with an additional point of differentiation.

New Industry/Societal Trends

As new trends emerge in your industry or in society, an opportunity exists to differentiate yourself through new expertise. During the late 90s, professionals and business owners who learned web development skills placed themselves at a huge competitive advantage, many of them quickly advancing in their careers or growing their businesses. Similarly, in the mid twenty-teens, app development skills can provide professionals with a distinct advantage. As new technology and new trends develop, constantly look for courses to become the go-to expert for these new areas of opportunity.

Marketing, Sales, & Negotiation

Whether you own a business or are attempting to advance your career, marketing, sales, and negotiation skills will always help you to advance. Understanding how better to promote yourself and negotiate can help you gain promotions or new customers. And remember, everyone is a salesperson when selling themselves during interviews.

Where to Look For Courses

As you identify courses for advancement and growth, realize you likely have more choices than you think. Professional development courses offered through training organizations often find their way to your e-mail inbox. But with a bit of creativity, you can find even better (and often cheaper) alternatives.

Colleges and Universities

Your local community college will offer a wide variety of courses in almost every profession, as well as broader skill development and business management courses. Similarly, universities offer extension programs, usually at a higher price. Both offer the ability to take courses with experts without having to fully enroll in the school. You can simply take the courses you want.

Independent Experts

For new trends and technologies, independent experts are often the only option for education. A cottage industry has sprung up of experts selling training courses on cutting edge technologies, communication tools, and emerging trends. These experts often develop and sell classes in their expertise years before colleges and universities are able to offer curriculum.

Because they don’t need to demonstrate the value of their curriculum to administrators or undergo the rigorous review needed in academia, these experts can more quickly respond to market needs. There is also a lesser guarantee of quality in these courses as due to the lack of review. In all, however, finding a good independent expert can help push your career or business forward faster.

Industry & Professional Associations

For industry and profession specific trainings, the best place to look are the trade associations, professional associations, and industry groups relevant to your career or business. These will often offer newer and more relevant trainings than a college or university would, with a higher degree of comfort in the validity of the class and teacher. If you aren’t involved in your industry’s and profession’s associations you are likely missing out on educational opportunities which could directly increase your income.


MOOCs are massive open online courses, a relatively new development in education. Offering everything from courses on self-driving car technology, negotiating, entrepreneurship, and machine learning, there is likely multiple MOOCs which will be valuable to your career. offers thousands of free courses from major universities including Harvard, Cornell, Yale, Princeton, and other top universities.

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Joshua Escalante Troesh is a tenured professor of Business at El Camino College and the founder of Purposeful Finance. His career provides him with a unique insight on personal financial, having been a VP at a financial institution leading up to 2008, and involved with technology and internet stock research leading up to 2000. He can be reached for comment at