New Year, New Career (Part 3: Filling in Educational Gaps)

In previous posts (see here and here), we’ve been focusing on those who may be wanting to launch a whole new career in 2023, and the various ways to go about it. We’ve done the 10,000-foot view of the process, and we’ve talked about taking a personal inventory of your skills and passions to find your “why”, and how to let those things inform your new career path. Now, let’s assume you’ve settled on a new career path for yourself–you know what you want to do. It’s time to take some tangible steps toward that goal–beginning with revisiting your education and credentials, reviewing whether you have any gaps to fill, and figuring out how to fill those gaps.

Identifying Your Educational Gaps

The good news is, if you’ve followed the previous step of taking a personal inventory, there’s a good chance you’ve discovered you already have most of the skills and abilities necessary for your new career. That’s because most of us tend to move in the general direction of our passions throughout life, even if we don’t know that’s what we’re doing. It’s rare that someone would have to start over from the beginning with their education (although it does happen, and that’s okay, too). But most people aren’t starting from nothing, and that’s why we refer to it as an “education gap.” You most likely just have to fill in some spaces, update your credentials, get a little additional training, etc. Do some preliminary research, and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What additional credentials or certifications are required for your new career?
  • What additional credentials or certifications would be helpful for your new career?
  • What credentials are employers looking for in your new career path?

The idea here is to identify what additional training is required versus what training is simply optional–and then you can decide how to proceed.

Closing the Gaps

Once you’ve identified what educational gaps need to be filled, the next step is to determine how to fill them. Depending on your specific career choice and the requirements for that field, there may be a variety of options available to you. You may decide to pursue a degree from an accredited college or university, take online classes, complete certification programs (especially if they are offered in your area of specialty), join professional organizations and become certified, and/or attend conferences. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution here; it’s all about what works best for you and the new career you’ve chosen to pursue.

Set Realistic Goals for How Much Time and Effort (and Money) You Can Invest

Let’s face it: Filling educational gaps takes time (and usually money). You need to be realistic about how much time and effort you are willing to put into attaining the necessary knowledge. Can you realistically set aside a few hours each week? Is there anything in your day-to-day life currently that needs adjustment or can be dropped entirely? When you’re starting out, you may feel motivated to jump in with both feet and immerse yourself in study–but if you are still at your current job (or need to work part-time to keep the bills paid), that’s probably not a realistic goal. Flames that burn hot tend to burn out more quickly–and you don’t want to burn out. Pace yourself and set goals that are manageable and attainable so you don’t get tired and discouraged. It’s better to start small and take a little more time to earn your credentials than to overload yourself and eventually quit.

As for the cost…if the cost of schooling in tuition is challenging for you, there may be financial aid options available If you’re training to start your own business, research to see if there are any available grants you might be eligible for (for example, many organizations actively seek to fund women and minorities who are starting businesses, and you can use at least some of that money for education purposes). Contact the financial aid department at schools where your credentials are offered to see what options they have for you. As the saying goes, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Seek Advice and Mentoring from Professionals in Your Field of Interest

Getting advice from someone who is already in the field you want to enter can help you develop a better and more realistic plan for filling your educational gaps. Talking with professionals in the industry can give you insight into what it’s really like to work in that career and what employers are looking for. They may even be able to offer suggestions on which schools offer the best programs, or which certifications will best set you up for success. Even more than that–finding a mentor in your field of interest can greatly accelerate your ramp-up time. And sometimes, simply having someone who understands what you’re going through can be a great source of encouragement.

Speaking of mentoring…even as you’re working through these steps, embarking on a career change alone can be quite daunting. As a career coach (who has also switched careers), I can provide even more insights and one-to-one guidance than you’ll find alone in this process. For a free, no-obligation consultation, just click here to access my calendar.