August 13, 2010
Five alternatives to graduate school
I recently received the sort of email that I hate to see. "Paul," a thirtysomething laid off from an unsatisfying administrative job, was confused about what career steps to take next. He wanted work in a field he found more gratifying, only he wasn't sure what field that might be.
[Photo: j.o.h.n. walker]
The solution he was contemplating? To attend graduate school for a profession he wasn't even sure he wanted to pursue.
As I've said before, going to graduate school is a pretty pricy way to window shop for your next job. In other words, it's not a decision you should make lightly. If you haven't spent at least several weeks researching the programs you're considering -- from faculty to syllabi to alumni reviews of the program itself -- you haven't done your homework.
But researching the top programs in a haphazardly chosen field and studying for the GREs aren't your only options. Allow me to suggest a few alternate ways to investigate a career you think you may be interested in:
Start with one class. It sounds so simple. Yet people drop out of medical, law, business, and other graduate programs in droves. Sure, some of these dropouts will tell you that life just got in the way (a baby was born, a relative became gravely ill, the tuition was too great). But many others will say that they came to realize that the discipline they were studying was, in fact, not their cup of tea. Imagine the debt they could have avoided and the time they could have saved if only they had audited a class on the topic first.
Join a professional organization. The Greater Seattle area is lousy with professional organizations that love to host happy hours, lectures, and other educational or networking events. Here's a list of dozens of local groups representing everyone from managers to meeting planners to metal artists. Now you can no longer use "But I don't know anyone who does that kind of work!" as an excuse for not researching a profession you're curious about.
Attend a conference. Besides giving you a crash course in your field of choice, a one-day or weekend-long conference will educate you on some of the biggest issues professionals in the field face and offer you a far more effective way to network with workers in the trenches than the old "Can I take you to coffee and pick your brain?" routine.
Follow your career heroes online. I get that not everyone's comfortable chatting up professionals they don't know in a face-to-face setting. Fortunately, there's this nifty technology called the internet. Keeping up with the blog entries or Twitter and Facebook posts of your professional idols not only spares introverts the anguish of making small talk, it also gives you an ongoing glimpse into the worklife of your career heroes -- struggles and setbacks often included.
Volunteer or intern. Obviously, secondhand experience only goes so far. The best way to see what it's really like to work in a hospital, at a magazine, or at a landscape design firm is to really work at one.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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