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Want to change careers without going back to school? Here’s how.

Achieving Goals, Career Discovery, Career Enrichment, Career Transitions, Life Coaching, Self Awareness
07/01/24 - Robbi Crawford
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Changing careers can feel overwhelming. Whether you’re considering a career change for personal growth or new opportunities, you might ask yourself if returning to school is necessary for your career shift.

The answer isn’t always a simple yes or no. The fact is, you can change careers without going back to school. It’s important to assess the shifting job market, explore non-degree alternatives, and carefully weigh your options before making a decision.

First, let’s explore some factors to consider:

What Education is Necessary vs. Beneficial

When you’re considering whether going back to school is the right career choice, it’s essential to consider if it is truly necessary or even beneficial for your career goals.

For example, in some fields like accounting, finance, architecture, education, engineering, healthcare, law, research science, psychology, and counseling, specific degrees are often required for entry-level jobs, according to the (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

If the job you want requires a solid understanding of core concepts, a degree program can provide that critical foundation.

Gather Information About New Careers

A great first step is to look at a job description for roles to understand the specific skills and qualifications employers seek. This will help you determine if additional education or certifications are necessary.

If you aim for a career change with higher salary potential, remember that degrees often lead to higher-paying jobs. Research salary data for your target careers, both with and without more education.

Remember: although a college degree is valuable, it is not always mandatory to change careers. Many exciting and lucrative careers are accessible without a traditional four-year or two-year degree.

Make sure to consider options like community college or even completing coursework as part of your high school diploma.

Understanding the requirements and benefits can guide you in making an informed decision about further education.

Self-Discovery and Goals

Woman journaling

When you think about a new job, it can be easy get caught up thinking about career paths that you’ve heard are secure, pay well, or have great benefits. Maybe they even just seem glamorous to you.

These are all good reasons to consider your career options, but before you go down that path, make sure to take into account what’s most important to you.

If there are things you don’t like about your current job, what do you hope to find when you switch careers? These might be things like more autonomy, a new challenge, or more flexibility.

Exploring what you truly want and value most is crucial when considering your next career move. The fact is, even the best paying job won’t always make you happy if it doesn’t match your own needs, interests and values.

Consider what kind of work environment you are seeking.

Do you crave the fast pace of a startup, the closer work environment of a small to mid-sized company, or the stability of a large corporation? If you have obligations outside of work, like taking care of family members, or even just want more flexibility, some work environments are more conducive to that than others.

There is no right or wrong answer to any of these questions. Instead, it’s about what matters most for your life.

Get practical about your new career.

Think about your salary expectations. Certain careers offer higher earning potential, which might influence your decision. Will your future salary cover your investment into a new career?

Additionally, how much time and money can you realistically invest in earning a new degree?

Be sure your expectations align with your goals and current life situation.

You can use online resources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook to research potential careers with promising growth and salary potential.

Also, connect with professionals working in your desired field on platforms like LinkedIn or at networking events. Well-planned informational interviews can provide valuable insights into the daily aspects of a job.

By aligning your career goals with your values and resources, you can create a clear path toward your career of choice.

Now, let’s explore some alternatives.

Skills-Based Careers

There are many interesting and high-paying careers that don’t need a degree or prior experience. Fields such as web development, digital marketing, graphic design, or project management are worth considering.

Switching to these careers may not happen overnight, but with a focus on transferable skills and some training and study on your own time, it’s very possible!

You can look up labor statistics to explore which industries have the best job outlook, meaning they’re growing and have a larger number of open roles.

Think outside the box.

Many jobs in the trades have excellent prospects and do not require you go back to school. For example, jobs associated with wind turbines grew 45% in 2022.

With the increasing presence of AI in the workplace, many view the jobs in the trades as more secure. For the average worker, this prospect can be very appealing for a career transition. If you’re going to change jobs, it’s good to know that role is in high demand!

Here are a few other places to start.

Look into skill development programs offered by community colleges or non-profit organizations, which provide targeted training without the commitment of a degree program.

Become a web developer by learning in-demand programming languages like Python or JavaScript through boot camps and online courses.

Master online advertising and social media marketing with courses and certifications offered by platforms like LinkedIn Learning, Google or Facebook. Or, develop your creative skills in graphic design software like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator through online tutorials and certificate programs.

By focusing on skill-based careers, you can build your resume in your free time and build a rewarding career without the need for grad school or even any other higher education.

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Grow at Your Current Company

Most people assume that to switch careers or move to a different career path you need a completely new job. It’s also possible that you can start with your current career and work with your employer to build skills and expertise that will help you move into a new industry or role.

There are many opportunities to gain experience through on-the-job training, making it an excellent alternative to going back to school.

Take charge of your learning by setting your own objectives using a self-directed approach, and develop your own curriculum to build more skills.

  1. Figure out which other job in your company is interesting to you.
  2. Identify knowledge gaps and concentrate on subjects that align with your interests and career objectives.
  3. Seek advice from a respected and trusted colleague to help you stay accountable and foster your professional growth.
  4. Consider taking on a project outside of your current skill level and propose an idea to your manager that will stretch you, allowing you to experiment and take risks.
  5. Explore job shadowing, which involves observing a professional in your desired field to understand the role’s skills, responsibilities, and challenges. This firsthand experience helps you explore potential career paths, understand daily tasks, develop professional relationships, and decide if further education is necessary.
  6. Consider a job rotation, a temporary lateral move that allows you to learn new skills.

This approach can expand your knowledge and experience, preparing you for your next job opportunity, often without the need to take a pay cut.

To get started, decide which roles you’re interested in exploring and then set up time to talk to your manager if you think you will need their support. Often this conversation is a wonderful way to showcase your work ethic.

Job-Specific Certifications

Don’t underestimate the power of certifications! They can effectively bridge the gap even without a degree.

Many industries offer specific certifications that validate your skills to employers. For example, tech and healthcare sectors often recognize certifications without a degree, leading to lucrative job opportunities.

Professional associations/organizations frequently offer certifications, so don’t forget to explore these options in your field of interest.

Earning relevant certifications can significantly boost your resume for roles that don’t require a degree, and many of the top certifications are highly respected across various industries. They can enhance your professional profile, and open doors to new career opportunities and advancement.

Often these certifications are faster and more affordable than full degree programs.

Professional Associations

Group of 4 women talking over coffee

Establishing relationships with industry professionals through mentorship and networking can greatly enhance your career development.

Mentorship provides personalized feedback and support, practical advice and guidance to develop relevant skills, a supportive system for encouragement, and increased confidence in your job search.

Informational interviews with professionals can provide invaluable insights and help you understand the day-to-day realities of the job. Leverage online platforms like LinkedIn to join industry groups and connect with professionals you admire, learning from their experiences. Networking can sometimes be more beneficial than formal education, providing valuable insights and opportunities.

Through mentorship and networking, you can gain critical industry knowledge and build relationships that support your career growth.

Volunteer Work

Volunteering in your desired field is an excellent way to gain relevant experience while contributing to meaningful causes.

Through volunteer work, you can acquire and hone relevant skills, connect with professionals and organizations in your field of interest, and test different roles and industries that align with your passion and career direction. Volunteering enhances your resume, helps you develop new skills, and allows you to form valuable connections. This can be especially helpful if you’re looking for jobs that don’t require a degree or experience. Explore sites like GreatNonprofits.org and VolunteerMatch.org for suggestions and immediately available volunteer opportunities.

Volunteering not only benefits the community but also significantly enhances your job prospects and personal growth.

Freelancing and Gig Economy

Exploring freelancing or the gig economy can provide valuable experience and flexibility in your career.

Freelance work is another way to build your skills when you’re making a career change. If you want to move into a particular field or hope to own your own business, freelancing can be very useful. Not only does it allow you to build your own book of business, but often it is easier to get started because there is lower commitment by the person hiring you since you are not a full-time employee.

Freelancing allows you to gain practical experience through projects and build a portfolio without formal education. Many jobs that don’t require a degree or experience value such hands-on learning. Trying out your new career on a part-time basis can help you gauge your interest and the need for further education. Platforms like Upwork, Fiverr, and TaskRabbit offer numerous opportunities for freelancers and gig workers.

By participating in the gig economy, you can develop your skills, build a professional portfolio, and gain valuable experience in your area of interest.

Man looking at website on tablet

Leveraging Social Media

Building a strong personal brand online is crucial for showcasing your skills and building your network.

Use social media to connect with industry professionals and potential employers. Platforms like LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook can be powerful tools when you’re ready to pivot. Showcase your skills and experience through a professional website or portfolio. Engage in industry-related discussions and share your insights and achievements to build your online presence.

Leveraging social media effectively can significantly enhance your career opportunities and professional network.

Changing careers is a major undertaking that requires self-reflection, thorough research, and careful consideration and planning. By exploring alternatives such as skill-based training, certifications, online learning, networking, and more, you can find fulfilling career opportunities without committing to a traditional degree program. The journey to a new career is unique for everyone, and the right choice depends on your individual circumstances and aspirations.

If you’re seeking guidance and support to explore your options and develop a personalized coaching plan for your next move, schedule a complimentary consultation today.

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Robbi Crawford

Hi! Robbi here, I’m a Life and Career Specialist with Ama La Vida. I believe a successful coaching partnership begins with mutual respect and curiosity. My approach is holistic, as all aspects of our lives, are integrated and can pointedly reveal what’s working or not working in the others. My intention is to actively listen and honor your story, meet you where you are, ask thought-provoking questions and together identify potential obstacles and opportunities. Then, you’ll set your GPS and we’ll roll up our sleeves and get busy uncovering your “just right” solutions.

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