In 2014, the U.S. generated about 2.6 million jobs, an uptick compared to 2.2 million in 2013.
However, a new survey from CareerBuilder.com reports that 30 percent of employers now require a college degree for jobs previously held by high school graduates. In other words, if you never got a bachelor’s degree, your options are sparse.
I spoke with Corrine Gordon, who teaches in Northern Arizona University’s Personalized Learning program. Here are her top three tips for pulling off a mid-life career change without starting over:
1. Find a focus
The first step in changing careers is figuring out what you really want to be doing — what moves you?
One way to explore new careers is by requesting informational interviews in professions or businesses that appeal to you. This is a great chance to learn about a new line of work while getting a sense of what someone does every day.
“Be creative in how you gather information,” Gordon said. “Spend your lunch hour at your cousin’s law firm or connect on LinkedIn and ask an employee at your dream advertising agency to share insights. Get out there and talk to people and you’ll have a better idea of what your focus should be when job searching.”
Gordon also pointed out that industry-specific magazines and blogs can be great resources.
“If you’re interested in becoming an admissions counselor, try skimming Inside Higher Ed to see some of the challenges facing colleges and universities today,” she said. “Or browse one of the hundreds of IT business blogs to see if you want to get into databases or coding.”
2. Make sure you have the right credentials
Once you’ve identified a target job, determine what it will take to get there (generally it’s stated in the job description, so read those carefully!).
A college degree will open a lot of doors for you, and keep in mind that it can also help you command a higher salary. A recent Pew Research Center study found that workers with a college degree make $17,500 more per year than those without.
But finding the time to get a degree can be challenging. Luckily, online education has evolved to meet the schedule of any student — lectures and coursework are available at the click of a mouse.
Many online college programs are competency-based, which means students can receive credit for skills and experiences they already have. Each lesson begins with a pre-test and students can test out of a lesson completely if they demonstrate a mastery of the subject.
“This type of competency-based program often allows students to earn a degree in half the time – for a fraction of the cost,” Gordon says.
3. Brush up on your writing skills
Contrary to popular belief, writing skills are mandatory for almost any job out there. In a job market crazed with emails and tweets, proper grammar has never been more important. If I see a typo on any job application, it’s going directly into the “no” pile.
“I put a strong emphasis on writing throughout all of my lessons,” Gordon said. “Writing is a critical part of communication and is a business foundation.”
You may think you’re a good writer, but writing on the job can be very different from composing personal emails or updating Facebook. Employers want to hire someone who can prepare a strategy document, write a new business email, or serve as a professional voice to clients and customers. “Consider courses that can help you improve your writing portfolio,” Gordon said.