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

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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 November 15, 2021

20 Ways to Describe Yourself in a Job Interview

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20 Ways to Describe Yourself in a Job Interview

“Please describe yourself in a few words”.

It’s the job interview of your life and you need to come up with something fast. Mental pictures of words are mixing in your head and your tongue tastes like alphabet soup. You mutter words like “deterministic” or “innovativity” and you realize you’re drenched in sweat. You wish you had thought about this. You wish you had read this post before.

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    Image Credit: Career Employer

    Here are 20 sentences that you could use when you are asked to describe yourself. Choose the ones that describe you the best.

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    “I am someone who…”:

    1. “can adapt to any situation. I thrive in a fluctuating environment and I transform unexpected obstacles into stepping stones for achievements.”
    2. “consistently innovates to create value. I find opportunities where other people see none: I turn ideas into projects, and projects into serial success.”
    3. “has a very creative mind. I always have a unique perspective when approaching an issue due to my broad range of interests and hobbies. Creativity is the source of differentiation and therefore, at the root of competitive advantage.”
    4. “always has an eye on my target. I endeavour to deliver high-quality work on time, every time. Hiring me is the only real guarantee for results.”
    5. “knows this job inside and out. With many years of relevant experience, there is no question whether I will be efficient on the job. I can bring the best practices to the company.”
    6. “has a high level of motivation to work here. I have studied the entire company history and observed its business strategies. Since I am also a long-time customer, I took the opportunity to write this report with some suggestions for how to improve your services.”
    7. “has a pragmatic approach to things. I don’t waste time talking about theory or the latest buzz words of the bullshit bingo. Only one question matters to me: ‘Does it work or not?'”
    8. “takes work ethics very seriously. I do what I am paid for, and I do it well.”
    9. “can make decisions rapidly if needed. Everybody can make good decisions with sufficient time and information. The reality of our domain is different. Even with time pressure and high stakes, we need to move forward by taking charge and being decisive. I can do that.”
    10. “is considered to be ‘fun.’ I believe that we are way more productive when we are working with people with which we enjoy spending time. When the situation gets tough with a customer, a touch of humour can save the day.”
    11. “works as a real team-player. I bring the best out of the people I work with and I always do what I think is best for the company.”
    12. “is completely autonomous. I won’t need to be micromanaged. I won’t need to be trained. I understand high-level targets and I know how to achieve them.”
    13. “leads people. I can unite people around a vision and motivate a team to excellence. I expect no more from the others than what I expect from myself.”
    14. “understands the complexity of advanced project management. It’s not just pushing triangles on a GANTT chart; it’s about getting everyone to sit down together and to agree on the way forward. And that’s a lot more complicated than it sounds.”
    15. “is the absolute expert in the field. Ask anybody in the industry. My name is on their lips because I wrote THE book on the subject.”
    16. “communicates extensively. Good, bad or ugly, I believe that open communication is the most important factor to reach an efficient organization.”
    17. “works enthusiastically. I have enough motivation for myself and my department. I love what I do, and it’s contagious.”
    18. “has an eye for details because details matter the most. How many companies have failed because of just one tiny detail? Hire me and you’ll be sure I’ll find that detail.”
    19. “can see the big picture. Beginners waste time solving minor issues. I understand the purpose of our company, tackle the real subjects and the top management will eventually notice it.”
    20. “is not like anyone you know. I am the candidate you would not expect. You can hire a corporate clone, or you can hire someone who will bring something different to the company. That’s me. “

    Featured photo credit: Tim Gouw via unsplash.com

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