After surveying 13,200 U.S. adults in the first two weeks of August, Pew Research Center found that, of those who said they lost a job due to COVID-19, about half are still unemployed. This economic disruption has led to widespread financial insecurity: The survey also found that one in four adults reported having trouble paying their bills since the beginning of the pandemic, and about one in six reported that they have borrowed money from friends or family or have received food from a food bank.

In today’s dismal job market, credentials can give job candidates a competitive edge and help them gain valuable employment when they need it most. Follow the three steps outlined in this article to take your career to the next level through the power of certification.

1. Take the Leap

Sometimes, “you have to spend money to make money,” says Rachael Weaver, CPTM, director of community and volunteer engagement at Capital Caring Health. Although pursuing a credential — especially after being laid off or furloughed — may seem like an unnecessary cost at the time, Weaver says it’s well worth the investment. “You have to have a willingness to say, ‘I’m worth it.’ You have to invest in yourself.’”

Weaver, who recently earned the Certified Professional in Training Management (CPTM) credential, says that when she realized there was a certification program designed specifically for the training manager role, she was “all on board.” After all, part of being a lifelong learner is being humble enough to recognize that “you don’t know what you don’t know,” she says.

There are numerous industries that value credentials, including learning and development (L&D), human resources (HR), information technology (IT), health care and project management, among others. There’s also no shortage of credentials on the market: Credential Engine estimates that there’s more than 738,000 unique credentials in the U.S. alone.

To determine which certification program is right for you, start by looking at where you are in your career and which skills you need to advance, suggests Tad Dunn, CPTM, a disability leave services (DLS) trainer at Amazon. Weaver echoes this sentiment, adding, “You’ll want to check that the program is as comprehensive as you need it to be and that it’s focused where you need it to be focused.” It’s also important to research the certifying body to ensure it’s reputable, she says. One way to do so is by looking at which companies hire people with the credential you are considering.

Certification can help highlight and then fill any skills gaps you may have, leaving you better prepared to leverage L&D for business outcomes — which, in today’s economy, is an invaluable competitive advantage.

2. Stay Connected

One of the most valuable — but often overlooked — benefits of certification is the professional network it provides. Going through a certification program connects you with industry professionals who share many of the same career goals, and challenges, as you.

Once you earn your credential, try to make connections and network with others in your field, suggests Jackie Corbett, MSHA, CPTM, learning series manager for clinical operations at Partners in Health. After being laid off due COVID-19, Corbett says, she looked to the connections she made through the CPTM program for support. Whether it’s asking a peer to review your resume, introduce you to his or her contacts in the field, or simply talk through common interview questions, most people are happy to lend a helping hand to their peers — especially during times of distress.

Many certification programs offer continuing education opportunities such as roundtables, industry talks, coaching and more. For example, learners who earn a credential from the Project Management Institute (PMI) can become a member of a local PMI chapter and have access to PMI’s job board, along with various other networking and continuing education initiatives. Participating in these opportunities will keep you connected with your peers and ensure your skills are “up to date and fresh,” says Julianne Lindo, CPTM, instructional design manager at CenturyLink.

Corbett, who participated in various continuing education opportunities as she looked for her next role, said it was “really great” to connect with other learning leaders. Although whom you know is not always more important than what you know, it doesn’t hurt to have a strong network of L&D professionals in your corner.

3. Market Yourself

While training managers certainly need what Lindo refers to as “training acumen” (i.e., knowledge of the skills and competencies of the training manager role), they also need business acumen to demonstrate their value throughout the interview process. Speaking the language of the business during (and after) the interview process will help validate your expertise in strategically aligning training to business goals — which is the most important process capability of great training organizations.

To leverage your credentials in the interview process, Weaver suggests making connections between your credential and the job at hand. For example, internal consulting and the ability to drive strategic alignment are skills that “matter in any department or organization,” she says. Employers want to know how you can apply what you’ve learned on the job. By connecting your credential to the job’s key roles and responsibilities, you’re proving that you can apply it to the job and “make the company better as a result.”

To achieve the most out of your credential, you have to market yourself. Remember that putting your credential in your email signature, on your resume and on your social media profiles is not “showing off,” Dunn says. “You’re advertising yourself and what you’re skilled at.” Weaver agrees, noting that credentials “prove you are a true professional.” They prove that you are committed to both your profession and your own professional development.

Navigating the job market can be stressful enough without a global pandemic and resulting layoffs. It’s important to stay positive as you search for your next career opportunity. Dunn, who worked at his previous employer for 16 years, says it took him six months to find a job after he was laid off. But now, he works at one of the biggest companies in the world in a position with “so much opportunity,” he says. Taking the initial leap to pursue a credential, staying connected with your peers and the industry, and marketing yourself to employers will position you for success in the job market. Even in today’s uncertain job market, “there’s a spot out there for everyone,” Dunn says. “It just takes time. Don’t give up.”