I spoke this weekend with my colleague TK Coleman at the 2016 Voice & Exit conference on how to build a career outside of college.
During the question and answer period, I was challenged a bit by a member in the audience with a question I hear regularly. He told me “everything you’re saying makes sense if you want to go into a sales or marketing role where the barrier to entry is pretty low. What if you want to go into manufacturing or high level management? What about other fields that require more education?”
It’s a good question and one that I don’t believe has been answered here on the Praxis blog before.
The short answer is that you can absolutely go into those fields as well. Online courses, interviewing successful professionals, apprenticeships, books, and other resources mean that you can get all the information that college offers and more. You don’t need school to get a professional education anymore.
I know college optouts working for NASA and international commercial real estate firms. It’s totally doable using many of the same principles I’ve outlined in my article, “How to Get a Job Without a College Degree.”
But leaving it here would miss the fallacy behind the question. It’s a myth that we buy into at a very early age perhaps when we start taking those career compatibility tests in school.
This is the idea that careers are like single track conveyor belts. If we enter in marketing, we do marketing for the next 40 years until we retire. If we enter in engineering, we’re an engineer for the next 40 years until we retire.
Based off my conversations and work with successful professionals as well as my own experiences, I know the reality to be quite different. Most career paths are much more random and chaotic.
We might enter an entry level job in social media but quickly become the head of a manufacturing division. We might start as a web developer but later move to the marketing department.
While it’s true that some fields are more difficult to enter without a degree, it’s also true that once you begin your career and develop a portfolio for yourself that proves you’re somebody who can get things done, few people will care about your education status.
If you’re a young person who is looking to get started and feels overwhelmed by a lack of experience, one of the best things you can do is pick an easier field to break into to. Start doing social media or photography for companies like I did. It will allow you to get your foot in the door, begin a dialogue with an employer, build relationship, develop a portfolio, and most importantly, it will get you introduced to the world of business.
For the ambitious, energetic and creative young person, there are endless opportunities to create value at a company. Once you get your foot in the door at a company, you can start exploring these other opportunities.
Notice a system that you helped implement in the marketing department that might help the business development team? Bring it to them and help them implement it. Work with a client who has a cool way of streamlining their product manufacturing? Learn from them and take it back to your employer.
That’s how careers are built. They aren’t built by following a single track towards higher and higher levels of positions within the same department or field. They’re build by looking for opportunities to create value and following those opportunities wherever they may take you. The best way to have these opportunities is to just get started in any position you can.