In the course of my work as a career coach, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people tell me they can’t have the career they want because they don’t have the right education. Similarly, I’ve heard other people say they won’t get a certain job because they didn’t go to college.
The good news? These are myths.
The truth is our culture puts way too much emphasis on going to college and having formal degrees before starting our careers, so it’s easy to see why so many people assume that having the right education is essential to making changes later in their careers.
Of course, if you need a specific set of skills or technical training for a career change, by all means get the education you need.
But if not, here is something to consider before you decide to go back to school: You can do things other than what you studied in school.
When I was in college, I was nearly paralyzed by the tension between studying something that I thought would give me a job and studying something that I was interested in.
Fortunately, I chose the path of interest and that has generated much more momentum for me in the long run.
Later on, when I found myself interested in marketing, I was able to position myself for a job in marketing, despite having no formal training in that field.
If you think you’re unqualified for a new career path because you don’t have a degree in a specific subject, think again: Once you’re a few years removed from your degree, employers don’t really care all that much about your major any more.
What they’re really looking at is the fact that you earned it. That alone shows that you can stick with a long-term project, set big goals, complete assignments and communicate at a high level.
What if you don’t have a degree but you have work experience? It works in the same way. Your work experience, your life experience, your volunteer experience, and your pro-bono work can all work together to demonstrate that you are a reliable, creative, problem-solving person.
What matters is figuring out how to package this experience in a way that shows your value.
Neither of these realities—your degree or the lack of it—determine your possible career options. You can move beyond this potentially-limiting aspect of your life and use other strategies to show your value to potential employers. Here are a few practical ways to do that:
1. Go on informational interviews.
Make time to meet with people who work in the fields you’re interested in. Ask them what essential skills are to excel in that field.
Talk to them about your experience and ask for tips on how to position yourself to potential employers. Click here for my guide to informational interviews and an interview template.
2. Develop a skills-based résumé rather than one based on your work history.
This approach to a résumé allows you to highlight your best skills and attributes rather than the chronological order of your educational and work experiences.
It can also inspire more skills-based dialogue during an interview, which can be helpful when going for a position outside the scope of your education.
3. Create an online presence like a LinkedIn page or a basic website.
These tools can help you get ahead of the interview by creating a simple yet attractive online space that puts you in control of your narrative and encourages potential employers to engage with you based on the skills and accomplishments you have under your belt rather than what you might be lacking.