Thursday, September 15, 2011

How to recharge your career through higher education: Be a learner, not just a knower

Staying relevant in your workplace and career has always been necessary in the American job market.

But in today's fierce and rapidly changing global job market, you need to go beyond just staying relevant, and instead prove yourself to be a necessary pillar in the continued success of your organization.

To do so, you have to be as knowledgeable as possible of the people and trends shaping your industry, and well-versed in the latest technologies, policies, procedures and competitive pressures that are driving change in your field.

Indeed, continued training and higher education are fundamental to this knowledge and skill development, and can go a long way in helping you light up your creativity and productivity. They also can be key factors in your ability to recharge your career and ensure ongoing reward and enjoyment in what you do.

By recharging your career through higher education, you will have the necessary tools to continually reinvent yourself based on changes in the marketplace and in your own career goals. Here's my guide for powering up your career through higher education.

Opportunities for Career Change

The nature of work and the workplace is changing rapidly. The career many professionals entered five, 10, or 20 years ago almost certainly has changed over the years. In some cases, it might not even exist anymore due to technological advances. Consider how much librarians' jobs have changed, for instance.

In addition, many of the fastest growing and most interesting careers today have only been around for a few years. Just look at the wide array of social media and SEO consulting jobs nowadays.

The increase in mobile technology is also untethering professionals from their physical location, and opening up new possibilities to work remotely across the country and the globe. Without geography as a limitation, it's easier than ever to change jobs within the same field or enter a whole new one.

The tremendous improvement in access to quality, flexible higher education through online learning is also unlocking doors for millions of professionals. Working adults no longer have to choose between a career and a quality higher education. They can pursue both at the same time, like the working adults we've featured on our blog.

All these changes makes it easier for well-qualified and busy professionals to become lifelong learners capable of recharging their careers in ways not available to them in years past.

Training Certifications vs. College Degrees

If you are looking to recharge your career, the good news is that your education options are plentiful. Depending on what you want to pursue, training might be a good option. Training might take the form of internal workshops, weekend seminars or courses at local schools relevant to your industry.

Training can help you build the skills necessary to take advantage of immediate opportunities or needs in the marketplace. It teaches you what you need to know now, and it's often relevant for a given time. This option often is best suited for entry-level or intermediate-level positions.

However, if you are a mid- to late-career professional looking for advancement, or someone with minimal formal higher education looking for a new career, enrolling in a university program might be a better choice.

The educational opportunities and the credentials associated with higher education provide something concrete that an employer will recognize and see as relevant. An advanced degree will often separate you from other mid- to late-career professionals against whom you are competing.

The skills afforded by higher education are longer lasting and develop your ability to adapt to and lead change, create new value for an organization, and apply critical thinking skills to future possibilities or problems -- skills that will serve you for a lifetime.

So before deciding on your plan of action, I encourage you to ask yourself the following questions:
  1. What is it that you want to be doing?
  2. Where do you see yourself in five, 10, 15 years?
  3. What skills and knowledge do you already possess?
  4. Where are the deficiencies in your skills, background, or credentials that need to be addressed in order to achieve your career goals?
  5. What's the best way to develop new skills or advance existing ones?
After you have answered these questions, you will have a better sense as to which career plan is the right one for you. For most professionals it will involve at least some higher education retooling. If you are still stuck, seek out those who are in the field and find out how they got where they are and what they think you would need in order to achieve your career goals. 

Enter the Workforce In Your New Role

After you've earned your certificate or degree, you're well-armed to enter the workforce seeking your new role. As you're job searching, remember this catch phrase: "Show, don't tell." Your new degree or certificate will be far more valuable to an existing or prospective employer if you can demonstrate how you've been able to apply what you've learned to solve real business challenges.

By the way, that's why this is a fundamental part of our graduate degree programs at Post University. They are structured to help adult learners develop the skills and knowledge pertinent to their world today. For example, our MBA degree program capstone course requires students to develop a plan to solve an actual business problem they are currently facing or create a business plan for a new venture they want to pursue.

Adult learners need to be able to immediately apply what they're learning and gain real-time feedback on what's working and not working. If they're doing this throughout their coursework, they will have myriad ways to demonstrate to current or prospective employers that they can learn, grow, add value, and lead.

It's also important to constantly expand and develop your network. There are so many vehicles to do this, from LinkedIn to online Meetup groups to networking events to your university network of fellow students, faculty, and alumni. Focus your efforts and be clear with what you want and where you want to go.

In addition, when you are networking, be sure to listen, learn, and collaborate more than talk. You'll be in much better shape if you don't assume that you know all the answers, or constantly try to compete with others.

In short, become a die-hard lifelong learner. Keep learning, whether you pursue formal higher education, or develop new skills and build on existing ones through less formal means. In the ever-changing job market, it's crucial to stay current with your knowledge and skills to prove your worth in your position and field.

As I often say, "be a learner, not just a knower." Look for opportunities to expand your knowledge base and don't assume that just because you've done something the same way for years that it's the best way to continue doing it today.

I hope this advice helps you! Let me know how things are going for you or if you have any questions by leaving a comment!