Do You Need to Go Back to School for Your Dream Career?

by | Dec 11, 2012 | Interviews & Inspiration | 12 comments

S o many career changers come to me feeling completely helpless.

They think they have an either/or decision to make: “Either I stay in my current career or go back to school to retrain for something better.”

When neither option is appealing, the tendency is to just give up.

But what if I told you that not only are there many jobs that don’t require a degree, but it’s completely possible to get hired without one, even in those that do?

Today I’m sharing an inspirational story from one of my No Regrets clients.  She shares how she landed a job as a librarian (definitely a job that normally does require a degree) and thrived in that career without one for 22 years.

These are her own words.  I’ve only edited them for length and clarity.

Her lessons apply to nearly every profession outside of becoming a doctor or lawyer.  It’s a good reminder that all you really need is passion, the right mind-set, and a belief that your value doesn’t depend on a piece of paper.

A true story: faking it until it’s real

Sometimes it doesn’t feel like you are really ready for primetime in whatever your dream job is.

It may be that you don’t have a lot of experience or maybe you don’t have the certification or in my case I didn’t have my MLS degree (necessary to be a “real” librarian). But for the first 22 years of my professional career as a librarian I held 4 librarian positions without my MLS graduate degree.

How did that happen?

First of all, when I discovered librarianship might be my ideal profession I had just completed my BA in Elementary Education. To get a graduate degree meant I would have to move to another state because there are only a few schools (all out of state) that offered accredited degrees. And it would mean going deeply into debt.

Fortunately, I had two things going for me:

  • I had a year of part time experience at the local public library as the lowliest of all library employees – a shelver (boring!). It kept me solvent while I completed my BA degree.
  • I was totally and passionately excited about librarianship. I wanted to know everything and do everything. I wanted to be a reference librarian and find answers for everyone who asked one.

So how did that help me out? When I’m excited about something I share–with anyone and everyone. I ask questions of others who are in my ideal job. And bless my boss at the library (where I shelved hundreds of books a week) – she listened to me.

She offered me low level librarian tasks that didn’t usually get offered to shelvers. Even if I wasn’t sure I was really ready for the challenges (did I know enough?) I never said no. I always said “yes” and “thank you” and worked till the wee hours prepping for whatever opportunity she offered.

Eventually she suggested I apply for a new position they were creating at the library. I did apply (again – faking it and making it up during the interview) and my first professional job was mine. I was the new Bookmobile Driver and LIBRARIAN!! Score!

Advice that travels

My next position was the result of a move for my husband’s job. My first act, once I got settled, was to check out the library and call for an informational interview/appointment with the Director. I wanted to introduce myself and talk about their bookmoblie service.

Of course you know I really wanted a job but I didn’t actually say that. The director called me within the month and asked if I wanted to work part time at the checkout desk. Not a professional position but once my foot was in the door I made sure to do everything they wanted, ask questions and offer to do more. Soon I served as back up for the reference librarian (it was a small library, everyone wore several hats) and offered the chance to assist with collection development and help the library foundation raise money for a new library addition.

Eight years later we moved again to another state. I won’t go through all the details but the common thread is that I once again visited the Library and called the Director for a informational “meet and greet” interview. Within a month I had a part time position which turned into a professional position that same year. I was offered the choice of running the children’s department because of my elementary ed degree or be a reference librarian, which is where I had the most “on the job” experience.

I started in the children’s position because it allowed me to learn new professional skills. Three years later I applied for a reference position in the same system because the reference manager had a lot of expertise that I could learn from. Once in that position I was trained in a variety of speciality areas without having to take a single class – just by expressing my interest and enthusiasm in learning new skills. Ultimately, I was able to make project proposals that benefited the library, allowed me to use the skills I learned on the job, and shape my position to focus on the areas I loved the most.

How to stand out (without a degree)

Here are the key elements that stand out as I faked it until I was a “real” librarian with the piece of paper that said I had an MLS degree – 22 years after I started working professionally in libraries:

Don’t wait for the perfect position. Get your foot in the door.

  1. Don’t wait for an actual job opening. Ask for an informational interview as a means to make yourself known to the people who can give you a job you want.
  2. Always assume there is a lot to learn and set out to learn from everyone you work with. Faking it doesn’t mean acting like a “know it all.”
  3. Learn your job but also learn as many aspects OUTSIDE your job so you become indispensable to the organization. One of my strengths is that I have worked in almost all departments and with all ages in a public library so I am very flexible when it comes to finding a position. And nothing was “beneath” me. I can fix the copier or answer complex reference questions. It doesn’t mean I don’t have a work preference but see #1 – don’t always wait for the perfect position – it may morph into the position you will love. And if you have your foot in the door you may be able to influence the creation of your ideal job.
  4. Lastly – the world is small – always leave on good terms whenever possible. After I got my MLS and became a “real librarian” with the piece of paper, I was hired for my “perfect” job by the very first library I ever worked for – as the bookmobile driven and librarian.