How to Decide the Type of Training you Need for Upward Career Mobility
You’ve decided that there are knowledge and new skills and experience you need to gain. How do you decide what training is the best option?
Certifications, Courses, Advanced Degrees, or Self-Directed Learning?
First, what do the job market data say? Is certification or an advanced degree necessary for the work you want to target? If yes, then you know what to do.
If no, what are your best options?
Types of Professional Development
A Certification, Course, Program, or an Advanced Degree will offer a systematic process for learning new knowledge and skills. Learning by doing will help you develop the advanced experience and skills.
Self-Directed Learning and Skill Building by Doing
Learning by doing is my favorite way to develop advanced skills. It is the fastest way to gain experience. But there are some small obstacles to overcome with this method.
First, you have to be very clear on what skills you are working to develop and why - how will you use those skills? Second, you need some sort of benchmark to apply and test your learning.
Earning while you are learning is the best because you are getting paid while you are learning and developing new skills and getting experience.
Combining self-directed learning with a systematic process (certifications, programs, advanced degrees) allows you to apply learning and develop skills concurrently.
Volunteering and internships are other methods of self-directed learning. The downside; you often don’t get paid. The upside; you’re gaining experience and developing skills.
Certifications, Courses, Programs, and Advanced Degrees
You will need to evaluate the time and resources you will need to invest to gain advanced knowledge and discern if it will move you closer to your career goals. If it is a requirement for your profession, then you know you need to do it.
However, there are some degrees that are not necessary for the work or profession that you are targeting. MBA’s are an example that comes up often; “I want to get an MBA so I can be an entrepreneur” or “I want to learn business skills.” My response is almost always, if you want to be an entrepreneur, be an entrepreneur. In other words, learn by doing. I’m not sure the entrepreneurial learning curve is any shorter for people with MBA’s. Of course, there are many benefits of pursuing an MBA - business models and methods, case study exercises, resources, network building, etc.
Peter Thiel's belief is that higher education isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it needs to be pursued with a clear purpose.
My friend, Larry Buckalew in Newport Beach who is a private investor and former healthcare executive, has this to say about the differences between MBA's and Entrepreneurs: "My experience is that most “entrepreneurs” are passionate about an idea and will sacrifice almost everything to realize their dreams. Most “MBA’s” primarily want to maximize their earning power by utilizing their business skills. “Success” usually occurs when these two profiles meet up and work well together."
Larry goes on to say, "Kristen, my short answer is that an MBA usually provides a good return on investment if you go to a top 10 school with a focus on “finance”, and get recruited by a well-known investment bank or private equity firm. Those who want to run their own business would be better off studying enough business to learn basic accounting and some finance, and then chase their dreams while surrounding themselves with the best people they can recruit. That formula plus a lot of luck will help."
This is why it is important for you to be clear about your desired outcomes and how you plan to use the degree. If you want to secure employment, you need to know if the jobs you are targeting require an advanced degree, if there is a substantial benefit to having one, and what it will take beyond the degree to land the jobs.
You develop skills by doing, not by learning.
You will need to decide what the costs and benefits are worth to you. And only you can decide what is the best option for you. But the market data will always tell you so you can make an informed decision.
Questions to Ask of the Market Data and Yourself
Does it give you the necessary knowledge and preparation to advance your career? Does it give you credibility? Does the investment of time and resources offer a reasonable return?
The downside; you’re not getting experience while you are learning unless you are engaged in combining learning with doing.
Protecting the Downside
Thiel suggests that the more traditional path of a law or business school graduate was a better option before the Great Recession when high-paying jobs were more plentiful and less competitive.
I advocate the pursuit of professional development and learning activities that you can easily leverage to protect the downside.
If you do choose to pursue an advanced degree, my opinion is that it is wise to pursue something with a market demand that you can always rely upon. Concretely think through what it will be like to pursue and work in that career. Will it position you easily for employment in the future? What is the competition and access to entry like? Is the career in-demand? Get a realistic job preview to understand what a day, week, and a year is like in that role.
Insulate yourself and provide a level of control over your career in case of situations that you do not have control over such as changes in economic, industry, and other career vagaries. Make yourself more marketable by developing more global crossover skills and technical acuity.
Finally, always work on being career agile by continuous learning and doing for upward career mobility.
Only you can decide what is best for you. You will want to weigh the risks and benefits to make a decision that is right for you. But, be assured, the data will always inform you.
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