A common assumption is that if we get more education or training, our employer will reward us. But is it always true?
The short answer? Not always. While most jobs have minimum educational requirements, once you surpass those, it’s not clear what employers are looking for in a candidate.
I often hear from my coaching clients,
“I need to get my MBA to be competitive.”
While some HR screening processes advance candidates with a higher level of education, a higher level of education often implies higher pay. If your potential isn’t offering the higher pay to match your education, anything beyond a bachelor’s degree may become a liability.
Assumptions about how education could impact their career path led to some surprising results for the these people.
John: Absence of a Network of Sponsors
John was a night security guard at an office building. He worked his way through school, first getting his degree in business, and then going on to getting his MBA. He was a diligent, hard working guy with the sole focus on getting his degree. The last time we spoke, he was still working as a security guard.
“The degree will get me the job.”
He neglected to broaden his perspective and build a network of contacts and supporters who would help him transition to a new career path.
Janie: Lack of Employer Support
Janie went back to school to get her MBA at night while working full time. She chose to do this on her own at her own expense without her employer’s knowledge. Once she got her graduate degree, and she approached her employer with her accomplishment, nothing had changed in her employer’s mind.
“The degree will get me a promotion.”
She neglected to explore with her current employer whether they supported her getting her advanced degree (financially or otherwise), and whether they would value the increased knowledge once she finished.
Ellen: An Intentional Strategy
Ellen leveraged her corporate experience in industry to obtain a role as a banker on Wall Street. She had great relevant experience and a bachelor’s degree in finance. Most of her colleagues had MBAs. Ellen wanted her MBA for her own personal satisfaction and to boost her confidence as well as her knowledge in her new field. She was able to get her employer to support her graduate education with time off and financial support. Several years later, Ellen was able to use her experience and her advanced degree to earn a higher position that required an MBA.
“The MBA will provide professional development and help me get a better job.”
She observed the competitive market and tested her ideas with her employer. Her education plan dovetailed with her ambitions for a specific higher level position. Her worst case scenario was her desire to get the degree for her own personal satisfaction.
James: Knowing Oneself
James was a high potential employee in a large company. Everyone in leadership positions within his company had a law degree and he was told by his mentor that he would need a law degree to advance to senior management. James contemplated it, but decided not to pursue the law degree. He later changed companies and career paths, neither of which required a law degree.
The Mentor’s Assumption
“A law degree is a ticket to senior management.”
He knew he had no interest in law and didn’t want the degree. He also believed that his experience and talents would carry him farther than a specific degree. They did.
Jennifer: Combining New Knowledge with Past Experience
Jennifer was an accountant. She performed the job well, but it did not excite her. In fact, as she grew in experience, she grew in dissatisfaction with her job and the likely career path ahead of her. Jennifer went back to school at night to get an advanced degree in Organizational Effectiveness. She then used that degree as a jumping off platform for changing her career path. She leveraged her business experience and her new degree to get a new job in the field of organizational effectiveness.
“A new degree will qualify me for a new field of expertise.”
She was right about the new field of expertise and she knew that future employers would also value her business experience in the departments that she was now advising. She sold herself as a package of expertise and experience to future employers.
I’m a huge fan of education. If you want to gain higher education for your own personal satisfaction, go for it. If you’re thinking of getting more training and have an expectation that the new degree will lead to something new, different, more, promotion, etc. do your research and check your assumptions before you take the leap. Check the general market, check with your current employer and know yourself and your own goals and desires. If you do those, you’ll be prepared to make the right decision.
Question of the day: Do you know what is required to make you the most competitive for your desired professional goal(s)?