How to use a master’s degree for a career change

Switching careers has become normal (and almost expected) in today’s world of work. A master’s degree can undoubtedly give you an advantage in making the switch, so we’ve gathered some valuable tips and insights if you’re looking to take the leap!

In short

Changing careers is entirely normal (today)

While working in one job for most of your life was once the norm, the career of the modern-day professional looks a little different. Today, the average worker in the United States has 12 jobs throughout their lifetime, with young professionals changing their careers an average of 5.7 times – according to career insights and recruitment platform Zippia. The COVID-19 pandemic has only intensified the desire to change careers.

In her work as a career coach, Colleen Paulson also sees career change becoming more and more common. “There’s nothing written in stone that says that you have to follow along that path,” she says. “I think there’s just so much more acceptance around…knowing that what you’re going to do [and] the work you’re going to do [is] going to change over time, and that’s okay.” (09:12)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the millennial and Gen Z generations are the most likely to switch careers, citing reasons such as the desire for more flexibility, increased pay, and employee benefits. Education also plays a massive role in changing careers, with millennials rating learning and development opportunities as the primary driver of a “good job”.

So, if you’re thinking about making a change – and maybe even using a master’s degree for a career change – don’t be scared! It happens more often than you’d think, and it could be better for your life and career than staying on the same path.

How to choose a master’s degree for a career change (plus: application tips)

Before pursuing a master’s degree for a career change, it’s essential to consider what a master’s degree would mean for you – and how you can use your degree strategically to switch careers. In a Finnish study, master’s graduates typically described a master’s degree as “an intermediate phase, a step, an advantage, a need, and a qualification.”

Generally, there are two ways you could go about choosing a master’s degree to facilitate your career change:

  1. If you’re moving to an entirely new career field, choose a broader master’s degree program that provides a solid foundation to build your new career.
  2. If you’re staying in your current field but are looking to “level up,” choose a master’s degree that builds on your existing knowledge and allows you to apply it to new challenges. It might be worthwhile to pursue a more practical degree in this case.

In any case, Colleen urges aspiring career changers to be realistic. It might not be sensible to switch both industries and roles – the “double switch” – in one move. (04:18) You must assess and reflect on your experience and skill set to determine the best path forward.

When applying for your desired master’s program, Colleen advises structuring your application to tell your story effectively. “I’ve looked at probably thousands of resumes over the past few years, and everyone comes from a different path,” she says. “So I think the biggest thing is just being able to tell your story… As your goals and your vision change, I think it’s very easy to explain how you go down different paths… Any employer that you want to work for will understand that you’ve made changes for real reasons, and you have the skills to back yourself up.” (06:26)

Employers also benefit from career changers

One of the most considerable reservations about changing careers is whether you’ll be able to land a job in your newly-desired field or role. But remember, you’re never starting from scratch! You still have skills, experience, and knowledge that are extremely valuable to companies.

Colleen explains, “Where a career changer can come in and really benefit [any company] who’s willing to take a chance is that this person is motivated. They are trying to keep up [with] industry trends. These are folks that probably have been thinking about making the change for a long time, have been researching this, they’re motivated to come in, they really want to perform and help, and so to me, it’s only smart for these companies to embrace it.” (07:24)

As mentioned earlier, education is a significant cause and effect of switching careers. Research has shown that experiences such as updating knowledge and learning through interpersonal interactions contribute to developing career adaptability. Career switchers also display more resilience and the ability to manage risk and uncertainty.

While employers will undoubtedly benefit from these skills, it is crucial to showcase your relevant skills and experience and demonstrate how they will serve the organization. For example, if you’re moving to marketing, try to show how you have used your digital analytics or creativity skills in previous work. As Colleen says, “You can still make that switch. You’re just going to have to draw on some of [your past] experience and show how you’re going to use that to succeed in your next role.” (04:44)

Take the leap!

As we’ve seen, career paths are shifting from traditional and static to adaptable and flexible – and we can only expect more changes as the world continues to transform. If you’re an aspiring career switcher but scared to take the leap, remember that feeling stagnant, a lack of growth, or potentially unhappy is considerably worse!

You can always reach out to career counseling services or the master’s program(s) you’re considering to help you assess your readiness to make a change and determine whether a master’s degree (and which one) can help you take that next step.

Still not convinced? Get in touch directly with master’s students who changed their careers to hear about their experience.

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