Principal Consultant, Career OverDrive!
There's a common response or reaction among both students who have just graduated and have "no luck finding a job" and among working professionals who have been routinely passed over for promotion or who are currently having "no luck finding a job".
So what exactly is that response or reaction?
Come on, you know what it is -- These people must all be somehow lacking in something and that something is "education" or "knowledge" which can be easily be "fixed" by "going back to school".
Now, while "going back to school" sounds good on the surface (after all, we can never be too educated or too knowledgeable, right?) it ignores many factors and even presents risks and dangers to your current (or budding) career as well as your future career.
Just because you are not hired or you are passed over for promotion it doesn't mean that you are lacking any knowledge. In fact, in some cases (many cases actually) involving office politics and power you will be passed over not because you lack anything but because you are too good or too knowledgeable.
With that said, even if you do lack knowledge, there is no guarantee that pursuing a new formal education will provide you with the necessary skills or knowledge you desire or think you need.
In fact, it may be far cheaper to study or develop those skills on your own or, if you must, you can simply take some short and very focused certification classes.
You also would be well advised to determine exactly what skills you are lacking and then ask yourself if your being passed over for a promotion or not landing a job has anything to do with a lack of skills.
In most cases, it doesn't. Instead, we can isolate the problem in areas such as:
1. Your resume -- the way your skills are packaged and productized.
2. Your interviewing skills -- how do you communicate and convey your value.
3. The way you locate or surface positions.
4. And so forth.
Collectively, I term these the "Job Search 4P's" or "4P's of Job Searches".
Going back to school can also be extremely expensive both in direct costs for tuition and out of pocket costs as well as the opportunity costs of not working (assuming you are going full time, you've forgone that salary) and in the case of taking out loans you then risk limiting your option for jobs in the future as you now have an additional fixed overhead.
In some cases you'll find that this new knowledge increases you career options but conversely and simultaneously having this new debt also reduces your options.
So what should a person do?
Well, look around. As just one example. if you are passed over for a promotion and you are told "you need an MBA", why not open your eyes and confirm if every other manager in your firm (or industry) has an MBA.
Trust me, they don't.
And you'll quickly see that not only does not everyone have an MBA (MBA as just one example, not to pick on any degree) but that, lo and behold, some managers don't even have a college degree!
There are many other factors to research and analyze beyond this but the best way to do it is to simply make the most of what you have now while tweaking and testing it in the job market.
Because the job market's response to you is all that matters. No degree, certificates or anything else matters. Are you getting invited to interviews? Are you getting written offers? That's what matters.
Specifically, you need to SWAN & tweak before you decide to "go back to school".
What is SWAN? Well, the SWAN principle is:
Whatever skills you have now, make the most of them in your job search (and/or at your present job). This may be using them to develop a visible and provable portfolio (volunteering or working to create tie-off projects, etc.) where these skills are demonstrated and productized.
Using the SWAN principle will also force you to improve how you package, present, communicate and convey your skills and value to your current employer or prospective employer.
Forget your dreams about all the attention your shiny new degree will supposedly bring you and focus on selling what you have now and the value you can add to a prospective employer -- right now.
Once you know what you are doing it becomes like shooting fish in a barrel.
And you'll find that you don't need to go back to school, at least not "now", in almost every single case.
*Just to note, in this case, I use the term Job Search 4P's to describe a set of specialized job search skills as well as one overall process of the job search lifecycle. If you are familiar with classical marketing literature there is also the Marketing 4P's which are Product, Place (distribution), Promotion and Price.