Maritza’s Situation: My problem is I have this fancy Master’s degree and no experience in the field I thought I would go into. All the jobs I find want experience, and I can’t make less money than I do now by going back a few steps to an entry level told because I have a family to support. So now I’m switching gears slightly and thinking about getting a new certification- but having been “burned” by the Master’s I’m scared I’ll spend time and money on that certification and still be stuck with no path forward.
Maritza’s Question: Should I invest in more education and credentials?
Alison’s Answer: This is such an important question Maritza! Contemplating continuing education often goes hand in hand with thinking about a career change. And schools and credentialing programs are well aware of this dynamic. In fact, I hear and see a lot of advertising promoting education as the golden answer that will help you to transition into a new field.
To hear the ads tell it, a new degree will line you up for a rewarding job in a hot market. And with a shiny new job you’ll be able to leave behind all the annoyances of your current day to day. Sounds amazing! Adding to the appeal of continuing education is that we’re familiar with school. Many of us enjoy learning. And it’s comforting to feel like we’re making progress as we check off the steps of getting accepted into and then completing the degree program that’s laid out in front of us.
The combo of external promotion and our internal familiarity with school make it easy to come to the conclusion that more education is the solution to an unsatisfying career path.
But is more education really the answer? I’m personally wary of taking these educational promises at face value. There is definitely a time and a place for education, degrees, and credentials, particularly when a particular credential is a requirement to enter a new field or you have a strong game plan for what you want the degree to do for you and how you will squeeze every last drop of value out of the program. (See My Top Three Reasons for Graduate School post.) But many other times more education is not necessary. Even though it is a lot of work, diving into more school prematurely can represent a lack of direction or a stalling tactic to avoid other questions and issues.
Let’s look at Maritza’s situation. I followed up with a brief chat with Maritza and learned that in her case her Master’s degree and the certificate she was craving were in very similar, overlapping fields. I asked Maritza which area she most wanted to be working in, and she pointed to her enthusiasm for the new field.
Based on my understanding of the industry she was interested in, I explained to her that her Master’s credential would actually carry over as a credibility builder into the new field that she really wanted to be working in. The certificate was not essential to her transitioning into the new field.
Since Maritza’s Master’s degree was relevant to her end goal and the certificate was more of a ‘nice to have’, the answer in her case was, ‘no’, you don’t need to invest in more education.
As we spoke more it became apparent that the real issue Maritza was having was a discomfort with the job search process. She was attracted to credentialing options because she hoped that they would help to eliminate this discomfort. A part of her was probably thinking, “Maybe with this new credential job searching will be easier.”
But a more productive (though probably less fun) set of steps for her would be to do the work of networking, relationship building, and applying for the jobs she most wanted. There was no need to delay those steps until after she had achieved a new credential. After all, they’d be waiting for her at the end of her program anyway.
Watch out for the loop of constant education. Yes, there’s always more to learn. But don’t confuse the need for more knowledge with the need for more confidence, courage, or elbow grease. They are not interchangeable.
Have you ever gone for more education when you really needed something else? Share your story below!
Each month I’m tackling a career question from someone in our community. If you’re at a crossroads with your career and would like to pose a question, just sign up for the Step-By-Step Career Change E-Course! There’s a link to a quick survey in the early emails of the course where you can leave me a question. I might just write a blog post for you!