Gaining the Skills for a New Career

6 years ago

[Editor's Note -- This week in the Reinvent Yourself series, we examine the role training plays in switching careers. Think a new job means heading back to the classroom? Maybe - and maybe not. -- Michelle V. Rafter]

So, you've identified what you might like to do for your next what?

One part of that next step is getting the skills you need to enter and succeed in your new endeavor. How radical a departure that is from your current field will dictate what retraining you'll need and what form it will take.

For instance, moving from corporate management to hanging a shingle as a management consultant looks entirely different from becoming a brain surgeon. At least let's hope the training requirements are different!

Making a Sensible Move

Because a career change requires time, energy, commitment and courage, make sure you are making the move in a way that makes sense and brings you desired results. I've changed careers a few times and each shift required new skill building, training and professional certification. I approached each move differently, and every time I had a definitive sense of where I wanted to head and why.

I also made it a point to always, always, always do behind-the-scenes research to get information on what the career I was moving to was like in the "real world" from real people. Meaning, I did an awful lot of informational interviews before I took the plunge. I can't recommend such interviews highly enough. Done the right way, they provide you with information, help you make great networking connections and help identify what training is absolutely necessary and what isn't really needed. That can save a heck of a lot of time and money and help you avoid doing something that won't give you a return.

Evaluating Training Opportunities

Let's assume you know where you want to go and have done your due diligence. It's time to take a look at different ways you can gain the skills needed to make your transition successful.

I'm a firm believer in ongoing learning. My philosophy is that you're either growing or dying. If you're stagnant, you're screwed. Here's the good news - the ways to get retraining are almost endless and more easily accessible and affordable than ever. Gone are the days where everything required a formal degree or traveling to apprentice with the few people who did what you wanted to do. Let's look at some of the opportunities:


A common and obvious reaction to "I need retraining for a new career" is thinking that you have to go back to school. For careers in medical fields, psychology, education, etc., it's a must. But for many careers, it doesn't have to be the first course of action. Let's face it, whether you attend a physical college or an adjunct online version of higher education, it's a big commitment, financially and time-wise. Be sure it's the best step before you take the plunge. This is where that informational interviewing can really come in handy.

DIY Online Training

I made a career change from accounting, auditing and finance to information technology and then to web design and development by doing a lot of DIY study. This was back in the mid-1990s, so learning on my own meant reading a ton of books and borrowing computer-based training modules from my company's educational lending library.

To give you an idea of what that was like in the "real world" circa 1995, I would request a learning module and they would snail mail me a pile of CD-ROMs and cassette tapes. Then I would sit at my desk (or often in my car if someone else was driving) and click away through the simulated lessons. People, these were the days of DOS and coding websites in Notepad sans images. Yet through creativity and pro-active self-study, I developed a strong foundation in technology that allowed me to leave one Fortune 500 company for another, becoming the latter's the first-ever intranet webmaster, with no reduction in salary. Not bad!

Today, DIY learning easier and more effectively than ever. Sites like are great for technology topics. With the exception of say rocket science, you can pick up skills for just about any career on the web. It's a convenient way to start or augment any formal training you might need, not to mention an excellent way to see if a new field is for you.

Virtual Seminars

Much like DIY learning, virtual teleseminars and webinars abound. As the use of video and videoconferencing expands, the potential is almost limitless. In these learning environments, an expert and live instructor guide you through the material. You can achieve A LOT via this medium. I completed a 200+ hour formal training program through Coach University. Separately, I spent nine months studying through the Ford Institute of Integrative Coaching (although that course also had an in-person component). Many virtual trainings also come with an in-person or one-on-one component.


Just because someone is certified doesn't mean they actually know what they are doing. Book knowledge is not the same as real-world application. That said, being certified in a field or job can hold a great deal of weight when you're making a career change, particularly if your current field is a total departure from your previous one. Of course, certification is a requirement for some professions (think: psychologist). Depending on the field, it's possible to get certified by taking classes online instead of in person. As part of my move into the Internet development field after I had started my position as a webmaster, I obtained a Internet webmaster professional certification. I currently hold a coaching credential from the International Coach Federation as well. It's helped differentiate me from someone who just hangs out a shingle and says, "Hey look! I can build websites," or "Oh I've been coaching all my life so I didn't need training." Yeah, right!


What better way to learn - not to mention see, feel and taste if you'd like the job in the first place - than to be with someone already in the field. There's something to be said for the olden days of working as an apprentice. That's still the way people master some crafts. My local baker is from Paris, and spent years working with a mentor and master baker in his home town before moving to the States. Believe me, it paid off, he makes the best croissants and pastries I've eaten outside of France.

On-the-Job Training

Working part-time, interning or volunteering in your new profession is a great way to experience baptism by fire and gain real world While not recommended for say that brain surgeon example, most fields offer at least some entry-level options where you can get your feet wet. Think of it this way, creative freelance professionals create portfolios this way. In the end it'll be part of the process, so the earlier you start the better.

How have you gained new skills or trained for a career change? What did you learn? What would you do again? What would you warn others about? I'd love to hear your experiences as well...



Credit Image: BlogHer '11 attendees, by Alex Asher Sears (official BlogHer photo)

Paula Gregorowicz is owner of The Paula G Company and The Intuitive Intelligence™ Coach and helps you learn how to tune into and turn your intuitive knowing into practical action for better results in your career and business.
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