Whether you pivot from one corporate career to another, or from corporate to entrepreneurship, you almost always need education. Sometimes you need actual knowledge.
If you want to become a web designer, copywriter or life coach, you’ll need to make sure your skills will stand up to the competition.
If you’re seeking a new corporate job, you might need knowledge or a credential or both. Some fields require not only training, but also degrees from specific programs and universities.
And some pivots require specialized training. If you want to become a lawyer, accountant, professional librarian, or real estate agent, you’ll need to pass exams and be licensed.
Many of those who pivot already have significant education and training, along with professional experience. And many of us have been trained to place a high value on education. I used to follow this guideline myself: “When in doubt, go to school. And then? More school.”
As a result, career coaches and business coaches often see education as both a valuable path to a new career and as a deadly trap. On the one hand, you can save time and increase earning potential with certain types of training.
But a lot of people sign up for courses, degrees and information programs without digging deeply into their reasons. They seek education that’s more than they need. I’ve worked with clients who wanted to apply for an Ivy League MBA degree, even though there was no clear benefit.
And it’s very common to use “I need more training” as an excuse to wait. It can be hard to acknowledge, “I already know what I need to do and how to do it. Now I’ve got to jump in, start doing it and start promoting myself as I do it.”
This article will help you get the educational support you need and avoid the most common and costly career-killing detours.
How do you know you need a credential?
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. To continue his career in the new state, 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.
Norman needs to consider how he’d be viewed by prospective employers when he conducted his job search. Most likely, at his career state, employers would look first at his experience. 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 in the medical field. 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?”
When you pivot, it’s easy to assume that you need a degree or certificate because that’s what “everybody” says. Even worse, you might assume you need a certain type of degree or certificate when in fact you need something completely different.
The only way to get accurate information is to talk to people who are currently working in your target field. . Choose people who have entered the field recently and/or who hire people now. Hiring criteria will change quickly.
Career and Business Requirements Change Fast
Coaching is a good example of a field that’s changed in the last 10 years. At one time, people who wanted to be coaches were encouraged to skip coach training. Many coach training schools were pretty lame and overpriced. Now you have a wide variety of training programs, including some good options at the university level. And nowadays, if you’re a coach, you’re expected to get training (except in some cases if you’re a psychologist or counselor).
How To Choose An Education Program
Kids who graduate from high school are bombarded with advice about choosing a college. Mid-life career changers? Not so much.
Once you realize you need a credential, talk to people who recently graduated from programs that could give you the certification you need.
This step is critical because programs differ widely in their graduates’ success. When you tell a lawyer about someone who repeatedly fails the bar exam, often the lawyer will ask immediately, “Where did she go to law school?”
Matt considered becoming a licensed counselor. He talked to several recent graduates from a program in his small town. “I wouldn’t do this again,” one said. “I had to do a longer internship and had more trouble getting a placement, compared to students from other programs.”
My ebook, Back To School For A Midlife Career Change, walks you through the process of choosing a program, doing the research, checking the school’s reputation, funding your education and surviving the culture shock that’s inevitable when you move from corporate to classroom. I’m uniquely qualified to write this ebook: I’ve taught in traditional and non-traditional programs, got two graduate degrees as a “returning student,” and coached dozens career changers,
What if you just need the knowledge?
Often corporate executives will find they need skills to move to the next level or stay current. One executive found that her new job assumed finance knowledge she didn’t have. Another wanted to move to a new company but discovered she would need to be more comfortable with technology in order to get hired.
Alternatively, suppose you want to set up your own business or side hustle. Unless you’re entering a field where you need a license, or you’re working with large companies that want to see paper evidence of your skill, you probably need to invest your educational energy learning how to run a business. You might need training in a specialty, such as web design or copywriting.
You can start with the lowest-priced, most accessible options.
If you’re self-disciplined and motivated, check out the MOOCs – Massive Online Open Courses – at Coursera, edX and Udacity. These courses tend to be extremely well-taught by professors at top universities. These courses are free unless you get a certificate, which may or may not be valuable to you.
If you’re looking for shorter, more targeted courses, check out Udemy (not the same as Udacity). You can learn everything from google analytics to web design to art, presented as videos. Get on their mailing list to be notified of sales.
A recent arrival on the creative-and-business education scene is CreativeLive. Their courses tend to be taught by people who are well-established, even famous. If you’re thinking of starting a business or side hustle, or if you want to get paid to be creative, start here. Click here to get $15 off your first course with them.
With both Udemy and CreativeLive, the quality varies. As soon as you buy a course, begin listening. If you don’t find the course useful, get a refund within 30 days. If it is useful, you can keep it forever.
Higher End Options
Finally, you’ll find higher-priced mentoring courses all over the internet, especially if you want to learn about marketing online. I offer some myself. For instance, if you’re thinking of becoming a copywriter, check out this relatively inexpensive course.
These courses tend to be more oriented to using tools for marketing rather than simply learning how to do something. Often they’re longer and they introduce you to more ideas and to a style. You may get access to a community where you can get insider information and introductions to prospective joint venture partners and even leads.
However, if you want to start an online business, your biggest challenge is finding your niche and your market. When I work with clients, we explore options for starting a business, choosing a niche and positioning yourself effectively.
When you’ve identified a market you can serve, and have solid evidence that your services are wanted, you are 90% there.
If you’d like to learn more about pivoting your business or career, I’ve interviewed a dozen successful entrepreneurs who made the switch. You can get the course here.