If you’ll be getting a tax refund this year, you can’t go wrong spending it on career development.
Though before I get started, I must point out that getting a tax refund simply means you’ve had too much money withheld from each paycheck throughout the year. And, instead of being able to do useful things with your own money all year long, you’re just belatedly getting back what is already yours. It’s not free money.
All that said, if you do wind up with a refund after filing your taxes, one of the best ways you could spend it would be on career development.
Learn a skill
Maybe there’s a new tool or technology taking your field by storm. Maybe there’s an old standby you never got around to learning as well as you should have. Or maybe you’re interested in changing careers, and want to expand your skill set to reflect that.
Whatever the case may be, there are numerous sites wanting to help you reach your goals. Two of the best tutorial sites around are Lynda.com and Skillshare.com. (Jobscan is not affiliated with either site in any way. They’re just great tools.) These online learning sites are an easy and convenient way to boost your career development.
Lynda.com offers a free 10-day trial, followed by monthly membership fees ranging from $25 to $37.50 per month, depending on the plan and billing option you choose. Subject matter experts teach the online courses, which you can complete at your own pace. There are nearly 3,500 courses available, covering topics ranging from the general (Giving Your Elevator Pitch) to the specific (Building Curtain Walls with Revit).
Skillshare.com offers a free membership, which never expires, or premium options at $8 or $10 per month. For each premium annual membership purchased, one premium annual membership is donated to a student. Some courses require an additional fee on top of the monthly membership. Anyone can teach a Skillshare class, and you can read detailed reviews from previous students before you commit. The course offerings are diverse in terms of both topic and difficulty—whether it’s Hand-Lettering Basics or AngularJS Fundamentals and Practice, Skillshare has something for everyone.
Attend an event
Whether a one-day workshop or a weekend conference, there are options for every budget and schedule. Online networking can be effective, but it isn’t a substitute for meeting and talking with people in person. You may choose an event that’s strictly about networking, or you might be more interested in the more organic, laid-back networking that happens at an event focused on skill building. Strengthening your network and strengthening your skill set are both important parts of career development.
Don’t hesitate to try things at the edges of your comfort zone. If you’re a technical writer, a poetry workshop will exercise different writing muscles and force you to think about words in new ways. If you’re in sales, an improv class will sharpen your active listening skills and make you more confident thinking on your feet.
Earn a new credential
Many universities feature worthwhile certificate programs that you can complete in one school year. The courses for these are often held on some combination of weekends, evenings, and online to accommodate the schedules of those concurrently earning the certificate and holding down a job. Less intensive than applying to and completing graduate school, a certificate will show that you care about furthering yourself and your education and staying up-to-date in your field.
If you do consider this route, research your options thoroughly, and be wary of for-profit universities. Two of the most sought-after technical skills are project management and database management; certificate programs in both of these areas abound. No matter what your interests and industry may be, there is almost certainly a certificate that makes sense for you.
Between the learning and networking opportunities, and the credential to add to your resume, a new certificate could be the perfect career development splurge. The average federal tax refund in 2014 was $3,116, according to the IRS. That’s right around the price tag of many certificate programs.
If you’re getting a tax refund of any size, consider devoting some or all of it to your career development (and look into adjusting your withholding).