By Jennifer Bowden, Training & Workshop Coordinator
Job seekers often consider going back to school, either to update their skills or train in a new field, especially if they’ve been working in an industry that had a significant downturn or has changed a lot in recent years. It can be tempting to look at one of those lists of jobs that are expected to be in demand and decide to make a radical shift for the sake of job security.
I’ve completely changed careers myself, and I’m the last person who will tell anyone they need to stay in a field that doesn’t work for them. But having met a lot of people who trained for new careers – only to continue to struggle in the (new) job search, discover they didn’t like the new job, be unable to live on an entry-level wage in the field – I think it’s well worth taking a step back and considering what you’re about to get yourself into. Even if your education or training is being paid for by someone else, it represents a huge commitment of time and energy on your part and you should go into the process with your eyes wide open. Here are some things to consider:
Are you making a change for the sake of making a change?
If you’re frustrated by your current job search, it can be tempting to think that starting over will be a solution. Take some time to consider the skills and abilities that you most enjoy using, either at your last job or in another setting. Will you be able to use them at your new job? Are you genuinely interested in learning something new, and how hard will be it to be the person at the bottom of the totem pole? No matter how well-paying or fast-growing a field may be, you don’t want to make a change only to find that you don’t really care for your new line of work.
What do you really know about the job?
It may be tempting to use that list of “Hot Jobs” or a review of job postings to make the decision about a field, especially if there are a lot of jobs available and the pay looks really good. Keep in mind that no matter how well-paid you are, you still have to actually do that work – and if you dislike it, that paycheck may not feel like compensation enough after all. If the idea that you should enjoy your work sounds frivolous, there’s plenty of research – and plenty of employers – who will confirm that fit is a huge component in getting and keeping a job.
If you’re considering a change, talk to people who currently work in the field, preferably in a variety of settings. Read newsletters or websites of professional organizations and attend a meeting or two if possible. Use your network to meet with new contacts in the field – LinkedIn is great for this. Learn as much as you can about the skills, experience, and qualifications that hiring managers really look for, instead of relying solely on job postings. See if internships are available, or if you can do some volunteer work to learn more first-hand.
Is education or training needed to get into the field?
Depending on how big a change this is for you, you might not need an entire certificate or degree program to make a change. Some schools offer short-term programs specifically intended to help job seekers transition from one field to another; don’t assume you have to take the long way around, especially if you have related experience or education.
Will education and UNrelated experience be enough to get you hired?
It’s frustrating to put in the time, effort, and expense of getting an education only to realize that you still don’t have the qualifications to get hired in your field. This is why doing your homework before you choose a program is so important. Admissions staff are professionals with a great deal of knowledge about the programs and offerings at a particular school – and part of their job is to help convince you that their program is the best one. It’s not the school’s responsibility to find or guarantee you a job upon graduation, and saying “when I signed up they told me there were plenty of jobs” is no excuse.
Have you chosen the right program?
Choosing a training or education program that fits your needs is important. Check that the program or institution has appropriate and current accreditation. Does the school have a good reputation in your new field or industry? Does the program teach what you want or need to learn in order to get the job you want? While the core classes may be the same in every program, schools may specialize in one or more areas; look at the places recent graduates have been hired and talk with employers in your field to get some insight on this.
Last – but NOT least – are you ready to go back to school? Education is a significant investment of time, money, and energy. Are you prepared to put in the effort to make it succeed? If you have a family, they will also be affected by your decision to go back to school; in addition to the time you spend in the classroom, you’ll need to spend time on homework and other projects. Are you willing to give up other activities and commitments to dedicate time to school? And finally, realistically consider whether you are academically ready for success. If you haven’t been in school for a while, it may be wise to take a refresher course or two so that you’re feeling more confident in your ability to tackle the coursework.
Education is often a key element to successfully changing careers, but it’s not a magic bullet. Take the time to consider your goals and choose a program that will help you along your path to career success.