Be cautious – attaining degrees and certifications

We live in a society that loves education.  It seems everywhere you go there are  advertisements for it; billboards, radio, TV, internet, direct mail, etc.  Universities and colleges continue to offer more programs, locations, and online options to draw in prospective students.  Training centers seem to pop up everywhere offering certification courses in various fields, too.  Therefore, one of the natural questions that many job seekers consider when seeking new or better employment is “Should I go back to school?”  My answer would be to proceed very cautiously with this decision.

When I was growing up, my father was an officer with the State Police.  Up to that point he had attended various college classes but hadn’t completed his degree.  He decided in his early 30s to finally complete his bachelor’s degree so he would be eligible for future promotions in the department.  The move proved successful as he was promoted shortly thereafter.

Several years into his new role, he decided to go back to school again, this time to prepare for a future career change once his State Police days were over.  He had always thought about law school and decided to get his degree in the evenings after work.  It was a sacrifice for our family those three years as I remember my parents mentioning that they chose to save and pay for it instead of taking out loans.  He studied hard and completed his degree and passed the bar exam.  Shortly after he retired from the State Police, he started his law career where he worked until retiring for good several years later.

There are three lessons from this story that I’d like to highlight.

My dad had a specific goal and purpose.  Too many times I talk with people who start taking classes without knowing exactly what they’re going to do with the degree.  Without a plan, the person is more susceptible to being disappointed with their options upon completion or possibly abandoning the program altogether part way through.

He pursued the degrees while he was working.  Too often I see people decide to enroll in classes after losing a job.  If getting back to work is the goal, networking with others should be the primary focus.

He counted the cost.  Each time he knew what the cost of the education was versus the payoff upon graduation.  I also think it was a prudent strategy to avoid loans as it allowed him and our family to enjoy the benefits sooner and saved on interest.

Schools and training centers are in the business of increasing enrollment and filling up classes, not managing your career.  I wouldn’t advise asking the education institutions for career advice or trust the numbers they present about the success of their graduates.  Too many times these placement numbers don’t accurately reflect graduates working in their new chosen field or earning the salaries mentioned in the literature.

Please don’t misunderstand my warnings.  I’m not against pursuing degrees and certifications as some can provide great career boosts, but I believe there are right and wrong ways to go about it.  While achieving more education might not hurt, it doesn’t necessarily always help.  Some of the most valuable
people within organizations do not have their college degree, while some of the most expendable people do.

Who you know is still more important than what you know.  A degree or certification can help, but you’re always one relationship away from your next opportunity!

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