Q: Career coaches always tell people to keep their skills current and update them if they're out of date, but I never see specifics of how to go about doing that. Do you know of any resources where I can look up what skills are most needed by companies, and where I can learn them, so that I don't just waste my money studying the wrong things? The penalty is too great if I get this wrong.

A: Let your goals and interests drive the direction of your skill development.

The inner game

Just as the best career isn't one size fits all, neither is the right training. However, it's easy to get overwhelmed by all of the options available.

To avoid that, spend some time reflecting on who you are and where you'd like your career to go.

Also explore this sense of high risk that you feel so that it doesn't hold you back. Take some deep breaths to help bring any anxiety down so that you can think this through more freely.

How urgent is your need to enhance your skills? Your needs are different if you're a recent college grad vs. someone who has been in the same job for several years.

If you're getting feedback from your boss, or noticing that you don't have the skills needed for promotion, also take note of that.

What is your personal orientation to learning? If you have a habit of learning new things, taking up new hobbies, for example, adopt this perspective for your career.

If this isn't part of your general makeup, adjust your expectation for updating skills from "one and done" to a lifetime learning approach.

The outer game

You don't necessarily have to start big — especially if lacking a big picture plan has prevented you from taking any action.

Have a couple of major areas in mind. Maybe you'd like to learn some management skills or a new software. You don't have to go get an MBA or a technical certificate.

Your first steps could be as simple as doing some reading, trying some tutorials, or going to a lunch-and-learn. Then if someone asked you what you had learned recently, you'd be able to give an interesting answer.

If you want to move up, then get clear on your preferred direction and make a more extensive plan.

Again, it might not require an expensive investment. For example, if you want to improve on public speaking, try Toastmasters for speaking and YouTube for PowerPoint lessons.

If you're concerned that your job is going to become obsolete, examine your fear to see if it's realistic, and then think about the timeline. Get input from your boss to help make a plan.

All this said, there are some things that are high value regardless of your industry. Project management skills, computer literacy, relationship management and communication skills will always be valuable.

In terms of where to find help, think broadly, including professional organizations and alumni resources.

The last word

Professional development is an ongoing effort that can be molded to fit each individual's needs.

What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at liz@deliverchange.com.