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Do You Really Need a College Degree to Advance Your Career?

Do You Really Need a College Degree to Advance Your Career?

I recently participated in a radio show in which a woman in her 70s called in to ask if she should get a college degree so she could pursue counseling work. That’s a big decision, especially for someone who already has significant life experience.

But her question was one people at various stages of their careers ask all the time: “Do I need to go back to school to advance my career?”

I tell anyone in this situation the same thing: do not saddle yourself with $50-100,000 in student loans unless you can guarantee you’ll be able to pay it back. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that the federal government is garnishing a growing percentage of senior citizens’ social security payments to repay their student loan debts.[1]

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That’s a terrifying situation for people who are counting on social security to see them through retirement, so think hard before committing to a costly degree program.

To Pursue a Degree or Not to Pursue a Degree?

If you’re on a corporate track, a college education is a prerequisite for walking through the door at major companies. But a bachelor’s degree today is the equivalent of a high school diploma back in the days of the Baby Boomer generation. Everyone has one, so you’ll need at least a master’s degree to distinguish yourself. Some corporations require an MBA from a top-20 business school just to apply for leadership positions, so if you work in the corporate world, getting an advanced degree is in your best interest.

However, if you want to freelance or become an entrepreneur, going back to school is unnecessary. In this case, it is all about leveraging knowledge to get results. In the entrepreneurial world, it is all about meritocracy. Credentials don’t matter. You can learn business skills for free through online platforms such as Udemy, Coursera, and EdX. Those sites offer classes from some of the most prestigious universities in the country, including Stanford, Harvard, MIT, and Yale. For a nominal fee, you can receive certifications after completing skills development courses that you can add to your résumé and LinkedIn profile.

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Online learning platforms are also valuable for people who want to advance professionally but haven’t had formal skills training since college. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) and nanodegree programs such as those offered by Udacity enable you to develop cutting-edge skills without going back to school.

Google sponsors a free nanodegree course through Udacity, and participants can pay to become certified once they complete it. Executives from Google monitor graduates’ scores to potentially offer jobs to high performers, proving that where you went to college matters less in today’s job market than whether you can code and which programming languages you know. Meritocracy rules!

How to Build a Better Résumé

How you craft your résumé matters as well. Many people submit old-fashioned résumés that are little more than lists of data and dates, but that’s no way to get noticed. Companies care about the skills you possess and the value you bring to the table. Help them connect the dots by weaving your experiences into a narrative about why you’d be an asset to their teams. Be explicit about your goals — What do you hope to achieve in this position? What are your overarching career ambitions? Clarifying those answers makes it more likely that you’ll get to where you want to be. Most importantly, connect the dots of how your past experiences give you the ability to help them accomplish THEIR goals. Show an understanding of their mission and how you can help them achieve it!

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There’s a saying in journalism that applies to résumé-writing as well: “Show, don’t tell.” Companies see thousands of résumés that follow the standard college, job, date format. Those submissions tend to be uninspiring, no matter how seasoned the candidate. Instead, show them what you can do by saying, “I’ve researched your company and learned that you’re dealing with X problem. This is whom I’ve worked with previously and how I’ve helped them solve a similar issue. Here’s what I suggest you do.”

Not only does this showcase your skill set and problem-solving abilities, it demonstrates the precise value you’ll bring to the company. The conversation becomes richer and more engaging, and you have a better chance of being hired than if you submitted a plain, regular résumé.

Getting noticed in today’s job market requires having desirable skills and being proactive about your ongoing education. Formal degrees are not prerequisites to professional success. But a willingness to seek out learning opportunities is key to building a satisfying career around the work you love. For those looking for help and career clarity, I highly recommend taking a career direct assessment before making major career transitions. That assessment will help you understand your skills, interests, passions, values, and areas of expertise so you can make an intentionally designed move to the area in which you’ll have your greatest success!

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Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

More by this author

Robert Dickie

President, Crown Financial

do you really need college degree advance career Do You Really Need a College Degree to Advance Your Career?

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Last Updated on August 20, 2019

How to Find New Growth Opportunities at Work

How to Find New Growth Opportunities at Work

Career advancement is an enticement that today’s companies use to lure job candidates. But to truly uncover growth opportunities within a company, it’s up to you to take the initiative to move up.

You can’t rely on recruiter promises that your company will largely hire from within. Even assurances you heard from your direct supervisor during the interviewing process may not pan out. But if you begin a job knowing that you’re ultimately responsible for getting yourself noticed, you will be starting one step ahead.

Accomplished entrepreneur and LinkedIn Co-Founder Reid Hoffman said,

“If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward.”

It’s important to recognize that taking charge of your own career advancement, and then mapping out the steps you need to succeed, is key to moving forward on your trajectory.

Make a Point of Positioning Yourself as a Rising Star

As an employee looking for growth opportunities within your current company, you have many avenues to position yourself as a rising star.

As an insider, you’re able to glean insights on company strategies and apply your expertise where it’s most needed. Scout out any skills gaps, then make a point to acquire and apply them. And, when you have creative ideas to offer, make it your mission to gain the ear of those in the organization who can put your ideas to the test.

Valiant shows of commitment and enterprise make managers perk up and take notice, keeping you ahead of both internal and external competitors.

Employ these other useful tips to let your rising star qualities shine:

1. Promote Your Successes to Your Higher-Ups

When your boss casually asks how you’re doing, use this valuable moment to position yourself as indispensable: “I’m floating on clouds because three clients have already commented on how well they like my redesign of the company website.”

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Tell your supervisors about any and all successes. Securing a new contract or signing a new customer should be a cause for celebration. Be sure to let your bosses know.

2. Cultivate Excellent Listening Skills

Listen well, and ask great questions. Realize that people love to talk about themselves.

But if you’re a superb listener, others will confide in you, and you’ll learn from what they share. You may even find out something valuable about your own prospects in the company.

If others view you as even-minded and thoughtful, they’ll respect your ideas and, in turn, listen to what you have to say.

Check out these important listening skills: 13 Powerful Listening Skills to Improve Your Life at Work and at Home

3. Go to All Office Networking Events

Never skip the office Christmas party, your coworker’s retirement party, or any office birthday parties, wedding showers, or congratulatory parties for colleagues.

If others see you as a team player, it will help you rise in your company. These on-site parties will also help you mingle with co-workers whom you might not ordinarily have the chance to see. For special points, help organize one or two of these get-togethers.

Take the Extra Step to Show Your Value to the Company

Managers and HR staff know that it can be less risky – and a lot less costly — to promote from within. As internal staff, you likely have a good grasp of the authority structure and talent pool in the company, and know how to best navigate these networks in achieving both the company’s goals and your own.

The late Nobel-Prize winning economist, Gary Becker, coined the term “firm-specific,” which describes the unique skills required to excel in an individual organization. You, as a current employee, have likely tapped into these specific skills, while external hires may take a year or more to master their nuances.

Know that your experience within the company already provides value, then find ways to add even more value, using these tips:

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4. Show Initiative

Commit yourself to whatever task you’re given, and make a point of going above and beyond.

Position yourself so that you’re ready to take on any growth opportunities that present themselves. If you believe you have skills that have gone untapped, find a manager who will give you a chance to prove your worth.

Accept any stretch assignment that showcases your readiness for advancement. Stay late, and arrive early. Half of getting the best assignments is sticking around long enough to receive them.

5. Set Yourself Apart by Staying up on Everything There Is to Know About Your Company and Its Competitors

Subscribe to and read the online trade journals. Become an active member in your industry’s network of professionals. Go to industry conferences, and learn your competitors’ strategies.

Be the on-the-ground eyes and ears for your organization to stay on top of industry trends.

6. Go to Every Company Meeting Prepared and Ready to Learn

A lot of workers feel meetings are an utter waste of time. They’re not, though, because they provide face-time with higher-ups and those in a position to give you the growth opportunities you need.

Go with the intention of absorbing information and using it to your advantage — including the goals and work styles of your superiors. Respect the agenda, listen more than you speak, and never beleaguer a point.

Accelerate Your Career Growth Opportunities

A recent study found that the five predictors of employees with executive potential were: the right motivation, curiosity, insight, engagement, and determination. These qualities help you stand out, but it’s also important to establish a track record of success and to not appear to be over-reaching in your drive to move up in your company.

Try to see yourself from your boss’s position and evaluate your promote-ability.

Do you display a passion and commitment toward meeting the collective goals of the company? Do you have a motivating influence with team members and show insight and excellence in all your work?

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These qualities will place you front and center when growth opportunities arise.

Use these strategic tips to escalate your opportunities for growth:

7. Find a Mentor

With mentorship programs fast disappearing, this isn’t always easy. But you need to look for someone in the company who has been promoted several times and who also cares about your progress.

Maybe it’s the person who recommended you for the job. Or maybe it’s your direct supervisor. It could even be someone across the hall or in a completely different department.

Talk to her or him about growth opportunities within your company. Maybe she or he can recommend you for a promotion.

Not sure how to find the right mentor? Here’s How to Find a Mentor That Will Help You Succeed.

8. Map out Your Own Growth Opportunity Chart

After you’ve worked at the company for a few months, work out a realistic growth chart for your own development. This should be a reasonable, practical chart — not a pie-in-the-sky wish list of demands.

What’s reasonable? Do you think being promoted within two years is reasonable? What about raises? Try to inform your own growth chart with what you’ve heard about other workers’ raises and promotions.

Once you’ve rigorously charted a realistic path for your personal development within the company, try to talk to your mentor about it.

Keep refining your chart until it seems to work with your skills and proven talents. Then, arrange a time to discuss it with your boss.

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You may want to time the discussion around the time of your performance review. Then your boss can weigh in with what he feels is reasonable, too.

9. Set Your Professional Bar High

Research shows that more than two-thirds of workers are just putting in their time. But through your active engagement in the organization and commitment to giving your best, you can provide the contrast against others giving lackluster performances.

Cultivate the hard skills that keep you on the cutting edge of your profession, while also refining your soft skills. These are the attributes that make you better at embracing diverse perspectives, engendering trust, and harnessing the power of synergy.

Even if you have an unquestionably left-brain career — a financial analyst or biotechnical engineer, for example — you’re always better off when you can form kind, courteous, quality relationships with colleagues.

Let integrity be the cornerstone of all your interactions with clients and co-workers.

The Bottom Line

Growth opportunities are available for those willing to purposely and adeptly manage their own professional growth. As the old adage says,

“Half of life is showing up.”

The other half is sticking around so that when your boss is looking for someone to take on a more significant role, you are among the first who come to mind.

Remember, your career is your business!

More About Continuous Growth

Featured photo credit: Zach Lucero via unsplash.com

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