Does Your Career Success Depend on Education?

Does lack of a degree get in the way of your career success? What if you earned your degree 15-20 years ago? If you have a bachelor’s degree, do you need an MBA or other advanced degree?

One or more of these questions might hold significance for you. Let me break it down into chunks.

Does a nonexistent degree hinder your career success?

As with many things, the answer is, “It depends.” Your career goal often influences how far you can progress without a four-year college or university degree. For instance, if your chosen career field is flooded with competitors who have a degree, companies can pick and choose. That makes it tough for you to compete.

Notice I said “tough,” not “impossible.” If you’re motivated to acquire expertise and skills that are in high demand, you can significantly boost your professional qualifications and “must-have” factor in the eyes of potential employers.

You need to put your value message on a strong foundation and work assertively to get it out to employers. And you need to work hard not to let a feeling of inferiority undermine the confidence you project to those employers.

“Old” degrees–how much do they matter?

One reason I don’t list dates for degrees in the 1980s and early 1990s these days is that I don’t want employers to zero-in on my clients’ age or how long ago they earned the degree. The experience they’ve acquired since then can and should tell their story in the most compelling way.

That said, if your degree is 15-20 years old and you haven’t engaged in professional development activities since then, you risk branding yourself as obsolete. Regardless of what you might have learned on the job over the years, you need to consider the possibility you might have missed something valuable that you could have gained through somewhat more formal education.

Note that by “formal,” I don’t necessarily mean an extended, rigorous classroom program, although that’s an option you might want to at least consider. Many of the country’s leading universities now offer online learning programs you can tailor to specific goals, complete at your own pace, etc. The flexibility those programs offer could save you from abandoning the idea of furthering your education and professional expertise.

Do you need an MBA or something equivalent?

Without knocking MBA degrees, I’d like to suggest that they’re sometimes overrated or not necessarily the best route for you to pursue. You need to evaluate their relevance to your career progress according to factors that take the unique aspects of your employability into account.

For example, is an MBA (or equivalent advanced degree) really necessary for the goal you plan to pursue? If you’ve been aiming for a higher-level executive position and have repeatedly found that lack of the degree has served as a roadblock, maybe the answer is yes.

On the other hand, an advanced degree takes a lot of time, energy, and money. Does lack of the degree present a high enough barrier to your desired career goal to justify the necessary investment? If you can get there somehow without it, you might decide the answer to that question is no.

One last thought about this final question: Not all MBAs or advanced degrees are created equal. Quality matters and so–unfortunately–can the institution from which you earn the degree. Whether you call it the snob factor or something else, it can be an influential factor in some cases. Research the possibilities carefully to determine which program you should choose.

When it comes to your career success, give yourself every advantage you reasonably can–including education! The right kind can help open professional doors for you.

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