College Degree

Do I Need to Go Back to College to Change Careers?

iStockphoto.com |  monkeybusinessimages

iStockphoto.com | monkeybusinessimages

You are well into your career. You’ve made all the right moves, you have a track record of success, salary increases, and promotions behind you, and yet you’re feeling bored and unfulfilled. What can you do to spread your wings and pivot into a new career path?

The most traditional historically has been to return to college to earn an advanced degree, or to study another discipline. In the economy of the past, this was a no-brainer, but is it the best approach today? Going back to college to earn a graduate degree or some other diploma can be an expensive, time intensive endeavor, and your return on your investment is far from guaranteed – even if your next diploma is from an elite and prestigious college or university. It’s important to weigh your options carefully. Here are some factors to consider:

Does the new field you are choosing require a specialized type of education?

Some jobs require specific advanced training and education. For example, you can’t just apply for a job as a nurse without a nursing degree, or as a lawyer without a law degree. But for those who have the time, resources, and aptitude to pursue such a specialized education, it’s entirely attainable to make such a change.

 

Do you want to jump start your career?

Presuming you like your line of work, if you want to jump start your current career, going back to college to elevate your position in your chosen field may be the best option. An advanced degree may open your world to new opportunities that would not otherwise be available, regardless of your talents and accomplishments. For example, many Fortune 500 companies have management training programs that are open only to newly-minted MBAs from top programs. Many careers have built in career progression ladders and at some employers your distance to the top may depend on your level of formal education, with the advanced degree serving as a gateway to promotion. And don’t underestimate the positive momentum an alumni network at a highly-ranked university can provide your career.

 

Do you need to reset your career?

If you’re not satisfied with your chosen profession, career advancement isn’t going to satisfy you. It’ll make you simultaneously wealthier and more miserable. Many individuals take a break from the workforce to find a new passion. For example, I’ve seen professionals of all disciplines (nursing, government, finance, you name it) go back to get an MBA and land new careers as brand marketers, management consultants, investment bankers, and other fields. That kind of “hard reset” can help you shift gears into a totally new career path with no penalty and, often a jump in pay. Which brings us to…

 

Can you afford to take the time and expense to go back to school?

If money is no obstacle and you can pay for higher education without taking out loans or making other major sacrifices, then your decision-making process will focus largely on the advantages another degree may bring to your career. But few people have such a luxury.

And yet, sometimes the risk and expense may be worth it. We are well acquainted with an individual who, in his early 40s, newly married, and with a baby on the way, was impacted by the Great Recession. He had a bachelor’s degree, and he suddenly found himself unemployed and competing unsuccessfully with applicants for jobs that didn’t require any sort of college diploma. After much deliberation, he and his wife agreed that he would return to college to get a masters degree while serving as the stay-at-home parent. He selected and was accepted to a local, elite university considered to be one of the best in the world for his discipline, but its marquee value would not come cheap. After three years of aggressive cost management, he earned his master’s degree and parlayed his new credentials into a full-time job with far more responsibility and compensation than he had ever had in his past. That said, he still has $40,000 in outstanding student loans to this day, and he needs at least one more promotion or a position with a higher salary to manage those financial obligations.

 

Are there good alternatives that won’t empty your wallet or consume years of your life?

Taking on continuing education that can positively impact your career doesn’t necessarily require returning to college. There may be well-regarded training or certification programs that will help you get where you want to go. You can become a computer programmer – fast – by signing up for programmer boot camps, Launch Code, or other programmers. Individuals with a passion for project management or business analysis can boost their qualifications with a certification from the

Project Management Institute (PMI). And functional subject matter experts in ERP systems such as JD Edwards, or customer relationship management (CRM) systems like Salesforce, can earn advanced certifications that can help transition into customer support or systems management roles. Certifications are often much more expedient and considerably less expensive than returning to college.

 

Are there development opportunities within your existing company?

Lastly, there may be new opportunities right in front of you. Many companies believe that investing in their employees improves their long-term success, and may offer internal training, continuing education, and outside certifications that will help reposition you for various roles within the organization – often in areas or disciplines you hadn’t considered. And work with your manager to see if there are opportunities to evolve your current job to include new responsibilities or participation strategic projects. These, quite often, open new doors while providing enrichment without the pain of having to change employers.

Philip Roufail contributed to this article.


Scott Singer is the President and Founder of Insider Career Strategies Resume Writing & Career Coaching, a firm dedicated to guiding job seekers and companies through the job search and hiring process. Insider Career Strategies provides resume writing, LinkedIn profile development, career coaching services, and outplacement services, including a free resume review. You can email Scott Singer at scott.singer@insidercs.com, or via the website, www.insidercareerstrategies.com.

I'm Graduating From College With A Low GPA. How Can I Get A Good Job?

iStockPhoto.com |  inarik

iStockPhoto.com | inarik

 

You're about to graduate from college and join the workforce – congratulations!

Unfortunately, your overall grade point average is less than stellar. And this could hurt you in your job hunt as employers compare you to other recent graduates who performed substantially better academically.

How do you mitigate a low GPA, and still look great on a resume or in an interview? Here are 6 strategies you can use to beat the low grade blues.

  1. Analyze the numbers behind the GPA to identify positive patterns. I personally started college quite poorly, garnering low grades my first and second years. I got my act together my Junior and Senior years, earning a substantially higher grade point average during that period;  I was able to calculate a cumulative GPA for that period of time reflecting both solid academic performance and substantial improvement. I included both GPAs on my resume, side-by-side. You can also slice-and-dice your GPA by major, minor, business classes, and so forth to identify potential strengths.
     
  2. If you took difficult classes, spell these out on your resume. A curriculum heavy in hard sciences (i.e., organic chemistry or molecular biology) can be especially brutal on a GPA. Recruiters and interviewers are usually aware of this, and may be willing to cut you a bit of slack (or empathy). Create a section directly under your degree detailing "Notable Coursework" to detail these difficult classes.
     
  3. Get some professional experience. An internship or a part time/summer job providing real-world work can effectively mitigate a bad GPA. By getting real world experience, you validate that you are in fact employable, and you hopefully learned some valuable technical or business skills in the process to highlight on your resume and in interviews. Hiring managers like to see transferable work experience, as it reduces the learning curve and risk. Plus, you gather professional references who can speak to potential employers about your value and work ethic.
     
  4. Volunteer with a nonprofit organization. Not only does this provide many of the same benefits of professional experience as listed above, volunteerism also demonstrates an inclination toward making the world a better place. And yes, you can add volunteer work to a resume.
     
  5. Identify and address external factors which played a role in bringing your GPA down. Perhaps, while taking a full class load, you had to manage the family business. Or maybe you were a single parent. Or you had to serve as primary caretaker for your mother who was fighting terminal cancer. Or you had to earn and pay your own tuition. Life happens. You can provide important context on factors such as these to an employer in your cover letter or in an interview.
     
  6. If you were simply a lousy student, admit it. When an employer asks about your GPA, don't equivocate, don't avoid the topic, and don't get defensive. Own it. Explain that you were not a great student, you didn't put in the effort needed to get the good grades, and were fortunate to learn better study skills a bit too late in your college career. Then you can move on to the next topic, and highlight everything you did right.

Scott Singer is the President and Founder of Insider Career Strategies Resume Writing & Career Coaching, a firm dedicated to guiding job seekers and companies through the job search and hiring process. Insider Career Strategies provides resume writing, LinkedIn profile development, and career coaching services, including a free resume review. You can email Scott Singer at scott.singer@insidercs.com, or via the website, www.insidercs.com.

No Degree? 11 Winning Strategies To Help You Compete In The Job Search

You've got this. / iStockphoto.com ( YiorgosGR)

You've got this. / iStockphoto.com (YiorgosGR)

You're browsing the job boards and you come across a position that's a great fit in every way. The company advertising the job has a great reputation, the role's responsibilities are right in your wheelhouse, and it's just a couple minutes drive from your house.

Then you see the following line in the job description:

"Requires a Bachelor's degree for consideration."

Despite the fact that you've had a successful career to date, have progressed forward in your line of work with multiple promotions, you never finished college.

It happens. Life takes unexpected turns, and sometimes earning a degree becomes less of a priority than earning a living, caring for a sick parent, or raising a child. Next thing you know, the years have slipped by, and school hasn't been a priority any more.

In addition, it's also not unusual for an individual to enter a company at the bottom of the ladder – for example, starting in a retail position working the sales floor and earning a promotion into a management role. However, even their own employer may be hiring their new managers straight out of college (upon completion of their degree) for the company's management training program – in other words, if it weren't for their track record inside the company, they wouldn't even be considered if they were applying for the job they now hold.

Many companies value a college degree for their newly hired employees. There are several reasons for this:

  • Essential foundation of knowledge. Especially in technical fields. Think about a mechanical engineer, for example, and the intensive study they would have undertaken. An auto manufacturer would prefer not to have to teach their newly hired engineer how to - well, be an engineer, and the required fundamental science and math skills. Or consider retail management jobs; employers may want business graduates who have taken accounting, finance, marketing, and operations classes so they can better understand how to manage their store's P&L.
     
  • Demonstrated discipline. A degree shows you had the diligence to complete four (or more) years of rigorous study. True, I know some people who partied their way through college, but employers don't really ask about that in the interview so long as the candidate has a respectable grade point average and a completed degree.
     
  • "Raising the bar." Some employers use a college degree as a minimum screening criteria even for jobs in which the degree doesn't matter, in order to get what is perceived to be a more "promotable" individual. By this reasoning, if somebody wants to become the Vice President of Sales, there won't be any education roadblocks, and they will set a positive example for the other employees as a "highly qualified" individual. It also makes it easier to say "no" to people who don't have a degree, reducing the number of resumes to review. A corollary is the perception that having a degree is a predictor of success, because all the company's current top managers have degrees.
     
  • It's easier to compare candidates. Publications such as U.S. News and World Report publish annual rankings of the best colleges. I've seen hiring managers make sweeping determinations about the relative quality of job applicants based the schools attended. By this reasoning, a graduate of Duke (#8) must be a better candidate than a graduate of UCLA (#24), right? It's much easier to quantify a hiring decision, whereas it's a more difficult comparison point for an individual who didn't graduate college - without that valuable school ranking as a metric, the degree-less candidate doesn't rank. 
     
  • It's always been done that way. Don't underestimate the power of corporate inertia. Many managers fall back on this reason, or, "it's our policy," in order to avoid the heartburn associated with making an exception or - even worse - being accountable for accommodating an exception that flopped.

While the hiring process may not always be fair, take heart. Your goal is to position yourself as a great candidate whom an employer should take a chance on, so irresistible that a potential employer is willing to take chance on you regardless of the fact that you never finished college.

Here are eleven strategies for positioning yourself for a job when you don't have a degree.

  1. Really, really, REALLY show off your skills. All through the process, employers are going to be questioning your ability to do the job. Your strongest selling point will be your applied skills. Be prepared to explain in excruciating detail - both in your resume and in interviews - your foundation of work, and how you've gone about your work. It needs to be glaringly obvious to an employer that you've done this job before, and stepping into this role will be both quick and easy, with minimal learning curve.
     
  2. Get your resume in tip-top shape. You need to make the best possible impression right from go. There's no wiggle room here, since you're already at a disadvantage. It needs to look good - really good. Make sure it's loaded with accomplishments and experiences which reflect the fact you're a proven professional and a low-risk hire.

    By the way, if you did attend college but dropped out, make sure to include your studies in the resume - something like "Studies toward a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration." This serves two purposes; first, it shows that you were accepted to a degree-granting program, which is an accomplishment in itself and, second, employers' Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS's - the databases they use to store resumes and post jobs) rank resumes according to how closely they match the job description, and the ATS might look for specific words pertaining to the degree. And put your education after your work experience, so it's not the first thing an employer sees.
     
  3. Read the posted job description carefully; you still need to be qualified for the job. Your technical skills and/or past experience need to be rock solid in order to be a candidate for a job - otherwise you're wasting everybody's time, including your own. Do you meet ALL the criteria, other than the degree ? If so, you've passed the first test. And look specifically at the stated degree requirements. If it says something to the effect of "Four year degree preferred, equivalent experience required," this means the employer is willing to look past the lack of a diploma but all things being equal, the process may break in favor of the candidate who graduated college.
     
  4. Apply to the job online. Yes, even if the job says the degree is absolute, apply. Make sure your resume is top-shelf. Look for the employers' keywords, terminology, and requirements, and make sure you're tweaking your resume to include these. And include a title on the resume matching the job's title. Better keyword match = higher ranking. And while it's not a sure thing that your resume will make the cut, one thing is absolutely certain: If you don't apply, you have a 0% chance of getting the job. Just apply.
     
  5. Work your network. You may need an advocate to sing your praises. Leverage referrals to network the hell out of yourself, and to build positive buzz. Let's say you know somebody who works at the company you're targeting, in the group most likely to hire you. A well-placed word from that individual to the hiring manager may convince him or her to schedule an interview, regardless of the degree requirement.
     
  6. Practice interviewing. Again, you're at a comparative disadvantage. So be ready to "wow" the interview team. Be dynamic, be engaging, be prepared. Have success stories so far up your sleeve you're going to need another shirt. Wow the hell out of the interview team.
     
  7. Have your story ready as to why you didn't finish college - and own it. Whatever the reason, employers will want to see that you are accountable for yourself. Interviewers may ask what happened. Even if they don't, it's often best for you to get in front of it, tell your story, and frame the situation. This can often be a fantastic opportunity to really sell yourself - how bad was your life situation, and what were you able to achieve in spite of this adversity?
     
  8. Be strategic about where you apply. Some companies, such as Google, don't care if their software programmers have diplomas. For many companies, it's about finding the best talent, and the degree simply isn't a factor.
     
  9. Know when to walk away. You will never be able to convince everybody that you can do the job. Some employers simply won't budge, and that is their right. But close out the situation cordially, be gracious, and live to see another day; your resume may once again surface in front of another hiring manager who's willing to go to bat on your behalf.
     
  10. Consider re-enrolling in college. Yes, going back to college as a working adult is a pain - it involves juggling a lot of priorities. But doing so can rally some empathy in your favor, and it gives you a current academic credential to include on your resume. Some employers are suitably satisfied if they see that you're dedicated to filling this gap in your work history. I've seen this happen.
     
  11. Never lie about having a degree. Not once, not ever. You will get found out, I guarantee it. And it will haunt you. When I was a recruiter, I ran into several situations where candidates who interviewed for a job indicated that they had completed their diploma - but really hadn't. Once we ran the background check and we found information contradicting the job seeker's claims, it killed their chances. The really sad part of this story is that often the degree wasn't really a firm requirement for the position. But candidates who lied about their education left us with serious doubts about their honesty, and we had no choice but to eliminate them from consideration.

Scott Singer is the President and Founder of Insider Career Strategies Resume Writing & Career Coaching, a firm dedicated to guiding job seekers and companies through the job search and hiring process. Insider Career Strategies provides resume writing, LinkedIn profile development, and career coaching services, including a free resume review. You can email Scott Singer at scott.singer@insidercs.com, or via the website, www.insidercs.com.