My grandfather worked at one company for his entire life. He started off selling typewriters door-to-door from his bicycle and ended his career a high paid manager. This is literally unheard of in today’s workforce as most people will hold at least 10 different jobs throughout their lifetime. Although these positions are usually at different companies, they are normally in the same general field.

This is also changing. Lately, there has been a trend towards going back to school to retrain for a completely different career; I hear this from millennial, mid-career professionals and even some close to retirement. One colleague of mine had spent 15 years working in retail management and had quit to become a welder. Then of course we’ve seen a massive influx of bloggers – food, travel, DIY – which are run predominantly by young women and mothers. Clearly, the welder requires extensive training and certification while the blogger does not.

What if you just want to change job functions within your subject area? Let’s say you are interested in communications but have been working in HR – do you need to complete another degree? Probably not.  Here are 3 questions to consider when thinking about your career change:

1. Does the job market require specific training?

Research the types of positions that interest you to determine whether specific training is always necessary. Many skills we possess are transferable to other areas and leveraging any related experience can be a huge help in making the jump from comms writer to hiring specialist. Often, a combination of education and experience can be substituted for a degree or diploma in a particular area. Geography matters, too: in North America, experience counts much more than education, whereas in parts of Europe, like Germany and France, you had better be qualified in exactly the domain you are aiming for!

2. Do I already have these skills?

When looking through job postings, look twice at your own qualifications before deciding you don’t have what the employer is looking for. Almost every one of my clients have sold themselves short when comparing their experience to the job’s necessary competencies. Try to look beyond the context of the activity and look at the function the job requires. For example, perhaps you don’t have experience writing specific types of briefing notes for a government director, but you may have experience writing other types of summaries and reports for your volunteer role on the board of your local community organization. Find those similarities (psst – we can help!) and play them up.

3. Should I do formal schooling or informal learning?

If you are convinced you need to retrain properly, do you actually need to pay tuition, attend classes, and receive a diploma? In our information age, there are seemingly limitless information resources available to us. One client of mine is interested in business and psychology, and enrolls in free online mini-courses and buys and studies used university textbooks from thrift stores. This is a great way to find out if the investment in an MBA would really be the right choice.  Other avenues of informal learning include workshops, seminars and conferences, not to mention Wikipedia, YouTube, and Google. Rethink whether you really need a formal class environment or if other means of learning would work just as well (or better) than carving out the time and money to return to school.

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