Even the most hardened technophobes are looking for ways to beef up their computer skills. But many don't know where to start. Laid-off workers hope to get better with technology to find new jobs. And people still in the work force want to keep their jobs by staying up-to-date with the latest trends. Where to begin? Here's a primer on how to become more computer-savvy, whether you're a novice or an experienced user. Associated Press
Discover exactly what skills you will need
Before you open a book or sign up for computer training classes, determine what skills you'll need. Will bosses expect you to be a wizard with spreadsheets, for example, or do you only need to know the basics of everyday tools such as Microsoft Word? Ask employers directly, if possible.
Robert Kelley, an adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business, suggests that applicants set up informational interviews with the companies they're interested in.
That way, they can learn the specific computer skills and experiences needed for the position, while also making a connection with the employer.
If you can't set up such an interview, take a look at online job postings in your desired field. Many list specific computer requirements, says David S. Murphy, membership director of the International Association of Information Technology Trainers.
Then assess your skills and decide what additional training you might need.
Assess the strength of your skills
If you're a computer novice, spend time on a computer at a library, says Jean Riescher Westcott, the co-author of Digitally Daunted: The Consumer's Guide to Taking Control of the Technology in Your Life. Most libraries offer free courses on a range of topics. If you've already mastered word processing and the Internet, for example, try taking classes on social networking and databases.
Community colleges and local governments also offer courses for free or at a nominal cost, in most cases.
Make friends with the 12-year-olds
If you still feel squeamish around PCs and would prefer one-on-one coaching, reach out to younger family members, high school students and — yes — even the geeky 12-year-old tech whiz down the road.
"There's plenty of kids who are in high school or college who would be willing to give you a tutorial," says Carnegie Mellon's Kelley.
Get over your fears
Indeed, computer trainers say fear can be one of the biggest roadblocks to learning more about technology.
Many computer users, especially beginners, are hesitant to explore their machines for fear of damaging them.
But one of the best ways to learn about technology is to simply push buttons and play around.
Find what's most valuable to employers
Learn skills that are in demand. Businesses are becoming more numbers-driven, and they need employees who can analyze data, says Andrew McAfee, a research scientist at the Center for Digital Business at MIT's Sloan School of Management.
"When I talk to managers and executives, one of the main things I hear is that, 'We need people who can do analysis, who can think quantitatively,' " he says.
Companies also value employees who can learn computer skills that increase sales or help to cut costs, Kelley says.
The bottom line
If you want to master a new skill, don't be afraid to speak up, says Riescher Westcott, the Digitally Daunted co-author.
Computer nerds are friendly, she says, and generally willing to dole out advice.
"Geeks are enthusiastic," she says. "As long as you approach it like, 'Oh my god, how do you know all this stuff?' they love to share."