Should I Go Back to School?

When making a career switch, a common thought is “Should I go back to school?”  For some career switches, the path is clear cut. If you want to be a Nurse or a Lawyer, formal education will be required.

However, if you’re looking to change functions within business, you need to seriously consider the ROI (return on investment) of investing a big chunk of time and money in an education that may or may not open the doors you expect it to.

As master rationalizers, we can easily make a case for it. First, it’s a simple and structured way to take immediate action. Humans gravitate toward structure. We assume that someone credible who knows more about the field created a sure proof path to success.  As a career switcher, it’ll be tempting to hop on this bandwagon, but if your primary reason for going back to school is to avoid the difficulty of a job search, know that this will not solve that problem.

Right now, you may be rationalizing, “Yes, but an advanced degree will:

  • make me more knowledgeable in my new field.”
  • help me network with people who share my interests.”
  • make me more marketable with potential employers.”

Perhaps. But a tough job search will still be waiting for you after you submit your final exam.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m a big advocate of education and most people don’t regret the experience of returning to school.  However, before diving in, consider these questions:

  • Are you doing this because it’s required for your field or as a way to make your job search easier?
    • At the end of your degree, there’s still a job search waiting for you. You must have a strong resume, well-branded Linked In presence, effective interviewing skills and a connected network.
  • Does the program offer internships or other “real world” projects where you can build direct hands-on experience and solid contacts in the field?
    • When looking for a job, actual experience will always trump classroom time.  Even new college grads are expected to share examples from internships or other extra-curricular activities that engaged their transferable skills.
  • Do you expect your university Career Services to find you a job?
    • Be careful about this assumption. Aside from being woefully understaffed, the role of Career Services is to provide resources that help you to build the skills (e.g., resume, interview, etc.) to find a job. If you expect them to do the heavy lifting, you’ll be disappointed.
  • Will the debt you incur set you up to be in a desperate financial situation once you finish school?
    • Making a career switch can take some time. If you need to give up your current job to return to school, have a sound financial plan in place.
  • Can you gain knowledge and skills another way, such as volunteering, self-created internships, or shadowing an expert?
    • While this strategy is less structured, it can be a much better (and possibly faster) bang for your buck.  Invest in a career coach who can help you build a plan, re-brand your skills and engage a networking strategy to get your foot in the door of your new field.
  • Is it possible an advanced degree will make you over-qualified for the role you’re seeking?
    • This is not unheard of. Do your due diligence so you’re not surprised later.

As a Recruiter, the tipping point for me in hiring was never the specific educational degree (in fact, studies show that as few as 27% of college grads have jobs in their majors!). Rather it was: 1) the candidate’s ability to apply transferable skills to my company’s challenges, 2) the “fit” with our culture and team, and 3) motivation for (and commitment to) making the switch.

So, if you’re interested in a challenge, learning something new, or crossing a personal goal off your list, by all means order your transcripts and get those letters of recommendations.  But if you’re looking for a structured path to success, invest in creating one that’s uniquely designed for you.

Happy hunting!

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