Midlife career change often begins with a move to education.
So every so often you’ll find articles asking the question, “Should I get an Executive MBA after 50?”
Frankly, I wonder why the question even comes up. The real question is, “Should I get a new educational qualification? From where? And why?” It’s completely unrelated to age.
(1) Instead of asking “Am I too old?” ask, “What do I need now?”
For an under-30 student, a traditional MBA can be an express elevator to the executive suite. Or it may be a complete waste of time and money.
For a midlife career change, you’re more likely to use your MBA for networking, starting a business, or jumpstarting a new career. Regardless of your age, once you’ve accumulated a certain amount of experience, you’re no longer eligible for management trainee positions.
But will you get a lower return on your investment, with fewer years remaining in your career?
These days any degree, at any age, has a ten-year life span at most. Midlife career change happens more than once in a lifetime.
(2) Education programs offer unparalleled networking opportunities.
You can use a graduate degree for career change. It’s a unique way to network without feeling pressure, bypassing informational interviews.
Your fellow students will have information about other companies, industries and professions. Professors at business schools (and other specialized degree programs, such as psychology, engineering and even music) often maintain a network of contacts.
Once I taught a class for an executive MBA program. Shortly after entering the program, student “Meredith” lost her job. Her resume landed on the desk of her classmate “Rodney.”
Rodney recognized her immediately, as they’d been on a class project team together. He invited her to come in for an interview. She didn’t have to sell herself too hard: Rodney already knew she had a strong work ethic. He knew, from class discussions, about her keen awareness of business strategies.
She got the job.
(3) Degree programs give you new ideas and opportunities.
You’ll meet people and take classes on subjects you’d never consider otherwise. Most career change comes from serendipitous encounters, so you’ll raise your chances of finding the best opportunity for your next move.
You might have fallen into a human resource management field when you sought your first job. But now you take a finance class. You’ve always thought finance was scary. You discover an adventure when you talk about investments, sunk costs and portfolio diversification.
You might need to take a few steps to begin working in finance. Sometimes your present company will allow you to change fields; more often they’ve got you pigeonholed.
So you could get a job with a more fluid, smaller company, where you get to start in HR but gain exposure to finance because everybody wears a lot of hats. Or you take an HR job in a financial management company, where you’re valued for your financial expertise.
Choose a program that’s right for you.
Every so often you’ll see newspaper articles about the perils of attending marginal schools. Your program could lose accreditation and you face raised eyebrows when you present yourself as a graduate.
Don’t worry about accreditation. Find out the school’s reputation among your current and prospective employers.
One technique: Does the university have an alumni program? If the answer is “no,” don’t bother applying. If yes, attend a few meetings as a guest. Talk to alums about their success, experiences and their memories of academic rigor.
For any educational program, set realistic goals and decide whether you can meet them.
Signing up is easy. These days, you’ll find a warm welcome at universities, certificate programs, coaching programs – just about anything you might consider.
Figuring out the benefits? That’s the hard part. Let’s say your local university offers a certificate program in Human Resources. It sounds great: just four courses and you get to write on your resume, “Earned HR certificate from Local U.”
How will future employers regard your certification? That depends on the reputation of Local U, the experience you bring to the table and the qualifications of your competitors.
Any of those factors could change overnight. So entering Local U with the goal of “a career change to human resources” may not be realistic.
But your certificate can pay off through networking opportunities, an extra edge if you change jobs, even a jump start to your bored professional self.
Bottom Line: You get my favorite answer. It depends.