Getting the Credentials You Need to Make a Career Change
Many are interested in finally taking the plunge and making a mid-career course correction or career change. While you're already employed and earning money is an ideal time to start this process so that you can focus on exploring your options, setting realistic goals, making sure the change is right for you, and getting the new or improved skills and experience you'll need.
The good news is that there may be elements of your current career that can easily transfer over to the new field. On the other hand, your new endeavor may require either some new skills or a refresh of your skills if it’s been more than a few years since you last worked in a field you wish to return to.
Employers in your new field will be looking to see if you have the up-to-date knowledge and skills necessary to help them. So how do you get that know-how? Although many times people think they need to get a full degree to make a change, that’s not necessarily the case. Here are some other options to consider to help you get the skills and experience you need to make the shift.
Adult education/continuing education courses. Online or offline adult and continuing education courses or certificate programs can be a good option. Courses can not only be found at universities but also workforce development programs at community colleges; local government adult education programs; and one of the most valuable and overlooked sources, the professional association of the field you are interested in breaking into.
The major benefit of these courses and programs is that you get an updated curriculum of the latest practices in the new field. In addition, your classmates will likely be working practitioners in the field or other career changers like you. This instant network is often just as valuable as the course itself.
If you decide to pursue a more formal certification program, you may be able to gain additional credentials and credibility that can help prove that you have the competencies to work in the new field.
Getting real-world experience. Having a track record of hands-on experience in the new field also will be particularly attractive to employers. And that experience will be important to highlight your career change resume.
Ways to get this experience include volunteering, job shadowing, special internships, and even through special projects in your current job. This experience does not have to be paid. Skills are skills. There are scores of small organizations, businesses, and nonprofits that would be willing to let you write a brochure for them if you’re looking to break into copywriting, or conduct a team-building exercise for their staff if you are a fledgling organizational development practitioner on a pro bono basis. Be sure to document these experiences and highlight them in some sort of online or offline portfolio.
You can search volunteer opportunity databases for relevant activities or you can create your own opportunity by developing a proposal for an internship opportunity at an ideal organization. Think about whom you would like to assist while building up your skills—what organizations or causes speak to you? These are great places to start to develop skills and offer your pro bono services.
Mentors. Finally, finding a mentor or experienced professionals already working in a particular field to assist with projects can also be effective. Having professional relationships with those already in the new field to turn for advice and reassurance will be critical as you make the professional and personal mind shift to your new field.
Getting the right training, practical hands-on experience, and advice from those in the new field will help smooth what can be a challenging—and sometimes lengthy—transition. In the process, you’ll also get a very good sense of whether this is really something you want to commit to doing. Your career change resume can highlight your related training and experiences, and you’ll already have a network of colleagues and mentors as your embark on your new career direction.