Education for Mid-Life Careers
“Norman” had been working for 15 years with great success. His mid-life career change came from a decision to move to a new state to be closer to his family, he discovered he would need a certification from an approved university. He found certification programs at a variety of venues, from a community college to a state university to a private school.
When Norman asked for help in evaluating his options, I suggested that he find out how he’d be viewed by prospective employers when he conducted his job search. My hunch was that employers would look first at his experience. At this point, the certificate was just getting his ticket punched. He didn’t need a school with a big name. He could choose the cheapest, fastest option with no loss of opportunities.
“Cynthia” had a successful professional career as a veterinarian. But after ten years she wanted a career that would let her spend evenings and weekends with her family. She considered getting an MBA to seek a corporate job. Harvard? Wharton? Northwestern? Those programs were high on her list.
Cynthia needs to find a way to use her skills to transition into the business world. She might find a pharmaceutical company where she could use her experience to market to veterinarians. She might develop software to help veterinarians keep track of their expenses and income.
Would a Harvard MBA help? Like Norman, she needs to research how she’d be received by prospective employers. I’d suspect she would be evaluated by the question, “What can you bring to the table? How can you contribute immediately?”
Both Norman and Cynthia need to be aware that they cannot forget their experience. When I talk to workers who agree to take a big pay cut and step back to a lesser position, they almost always report more frustration – not less.
On the other hand, if they are starting in a whole new field, they may be advised to take an entry level position. If they do, they need to pick organizations where they can move up quickly, rather than rigid companies that cling to outdated norms and timelines. Experienced workers learn fast and when you are bored, everybody knows it.
Bottom Line: For a career change at mid-life and mid-career, look at the whole picture. Before investing in the top schools with big names and big tuition bills, find out if you can make the same progress with a lower-cost program. You will be surprised: you may be equally challenged in those programs.
Of course, if you have the funds and you want the experience, you have little to lose with an Ivy League degree or a top-rated certificate program. Just be aware that you will respond differently to the program, compared to millennials. And you need a realistic evaluation of the opportunities that present themselves when you hold that coveted diploma in your hand.
More? Download my Ebook: Back To School For A Mid-Life Mid-Career MBA.
When executives and professionals think of mid-life career change, they often consider a return to school. We’re often programed to associate career development with formal training, and that’s not always a bad thing.
Today you don’t even have to leave home to find a new career. You can go online for career change. In fact, there are so many opportunities for online education, it’s hard to sort them out.
You can take a MOOC (Massive Online Open Courses) program from a major university; you’ll usually (but not always) get top notch teaching from leaders in the field. The leaders in this area are EdX and Coursera. Personally, as a recreational learner, I like Coursera: you get longer videos rather than the more intense training of EdX. EdX often requires more outside reading and student involvement.
You can just go online and help yourself to recorded lectures from universities like Yale and UC Berkeley. You can sometimes find them on YouTube and you might find courses at websites like http://academicearth.org/ (which gets outdated sometimes).
Finally, you can get degrees online from universities of all levels. For instance, you can get a library science degree from U of Arizona or an MBA from Syracuse – online with just a few on-campus visits. You can attend a university that’s entirely online.
Of course, online education comes with pitfalls, especially if you choose degree programs. I put together an ebook to help you choose a program that will help your career (rather than just drain your bank account and possibly your credibility).
Learn more here.
And if you’re ready to get serious discuss your own career change, check out this program. Clients tell me we get more done in one call than they usually accomplish in a month or two with more conventional career consulting.
For an overview, watch this video:
Recently I followed a thread on a LinkedIn forum for professionals. “Ann” wrote with great frustration. She had spent large sums of money to get a degree to prepare for a career that required a license. Now she had large loans – and she discovered her degree would not meet the rigid requirements for a license in her state.
This story is more common than you might realize. A few other people added similar comments to the discussion.
The school’s answer will be, “It’s your responsibility to read the fine print.” That is true.
However, when you return to school at mid-career, you need to be aware of 2 realities that can cost you thousands of dollars and leave you in worse shape than when you started.
Reality #1: You can’t count on anyone employed by a university to be your advisor or advocate.
Academic advises – whether they’re faculty or “enrollment managers” – typically feel a conflict of interest when students ask, “Should I enter this program?” When you apply to a highly competitive program, such as a doctoral program with limited places, you may be screened. Otherwise anyone who is employed by a university will be unlikely to say, “I think you would be better served by going elsewhere.”
Anyway, even with the best intentions, faculty and administration often don’t understand the value of specific degrees. I once talked to a professor from a university that offered one of the top 10 programs in his field. I expressed concern that students wanted to earn a certain type of masters degree – one that wouldn’t qualify them for anything or make them more marketable. He just shrugged and admitted he directed students into those programs because “they would have a good learning experience.”
Reality #2: As a new entrant into the field, you may not appreciate the significance of disclaimers.
In one case, the fine print says that a certain psychology program is not suited to a “clinical degree.” When you’re new you may not understand which degrees are accepted by licensing agencies and which are not. You may be even less aware of finer distinctions. When I lived in the southwest I considered taking a certain kind of degree at a local university.
In doing my research, I found out that this university did offer degrees that were considered appropriate for my new career goal. If I had asked the school, they would have said, “Yes, our degree will gain you admittance into the new career.” What they might not have said – and they were not required to say – was, “However, with our degree you will have to jump through some expensive, time-consuming hoops to reach your goal. If you choose a different school, your path will be easier.”
The bottom line is that you have to do your own research – something that may midlife career changers are not equipped to do. It’s very different from applying to a company for a job.
I’ve written a Report where I outline very specific steps you can take to assess whether a particular program is right for you. You can draw on my experience as a professor, business owner, and student. Visit http://www.midlifecareerstrategy.com/schoolbk.html
You can also hire me for a consultation. See
Psychologist Jonathan Alpert answers a question about career change.
Read the full article here.
A 30-something man writes that he’s working long hours in a job he doesn’t like. However, he makes really good money so he’s reluctant to quit. He wants to be in a job where he can make a difference. He’s considering a career as a teacher.
Alpert says he should go for it. He makes an excellent point: “The longer you stay in [this job], the greater the dissatisfaction and likelihood of poor behavior driving you out.” I tell my own clients, “If your miserable, you’d better think about doing something; otherwise you will self-sabotage and you will be forced to make a change.”
He’s also right when he emphasizes the need to explore – to find out what new teachers earn and what their days are like.
But I’m not sure I’d agree that he’d be “well received” due to his experience. Teachers at the elementary and high school level are hired based on credentials and education credits, as far as I can tell. These days it’s not easy to get and hold a teaching job. I’m told you often need a contact who can be an intermediary.
I’d also question what’s going on. It’s not always clear what’s wrong when people feel restless or frustrated. Sometimes you think the problem is related to the job and it’s really about your family, home, location or other aspect of your personal life. You may be in the wrong job with the wrong people.
Teaching has a lot of downsides too. Check them out.
Education does make sense for mid-life career changers… if you choose targeted, focused education from appropriate programs. But it’s not always easy to find the right schools. For instance, online education can be extremely valuable when you choose an accredited program that’s recognized in your field. But you will find many diploma mills and fake schools offering online programs because (a) they’re cheap to set up and (b) they’re appealing to working students. Some of these schools don’t even exist.
Be especially careful of ads inviting you to apply.
It sounds SO appealing: “You’re losing $21000 if you DON’T go back to school…” You complete some questions about your background, age, interest, previous schools and majors. Then a list pops up of schools for you.
Don’t believe it. Check out this page.
Why would anyone recommend schools for you? They’re getting a commission, of course! Who’s paying the commission? Established, accredited schools don’t have to.
I’d also be careful of schools that never fail anyone and schools that permit plagiarized work. “Real” universities and colleges have policies related to plagiarism in their student handbooks.
Additionally, be wary of schools where all the professors came from the same place … usually the school where they’re teaching. A few professors do teach at the schools where they got their degrees but you shouldn’t find that half the faculty graduated from there. Most people teaching at top universities do not teach at the school that granted their degrees. If they do, they usually teach at another institution first.
How do you check out a school? You have to go beyond accreditation. Find out if employers respect your school. I’ve seen dozens of students who attended a school at great expense of time and money … only to learn their education had no value. Worse, employers raised an eyebrow: “Why would you go there?”
I’ve created a comprehensive, straight talk Report you can download at http://www.MidlifeCareerStrategy.com/blog/schoolbook