My education differs from my colleagues': Is it an issue?

Susan Ricker, CareerBuilder Writer

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Your career path doesn't come with a set of rules to follow or a condition to make you stay in the same field forever. A background in chemistry could lead to a career in health-care public relations. A doctor may one day run a bed and breakfast. An orchestra member may eventually start a music blog.

However your professional life has transformed, you can bring your experience to your new job, even if you think you're the educational odd man out. Here's some advice from professionals who have made unconventional career moves.

Know your new field
If you're starting in a new field or your educational background differs from your co-workers', the first step to being successful is playing catch-up. Jason Batt, who holds a dual degree in language arts and secondary education, is a pastoral staff member at Capital Christian Center in Sacramento. His approach to joining colleagues who hold degrees from seminaries was to "learn as much about the field -- study, study, study -- and recognize my alternative training provides a great source of talent to a team that can sometimes be homogenous in thought and procedure."

Learn everything you can about your company and the field, especially the commonly used language, terms and actions. If you're working at a law firm, make sure you're briefed on the different legal processes your firm handles. Being knowledgeable about the latest industry standards levels the playing field. If you understand what's going on without having to seek help from your co-workers, they're more likely to value your input instead of being skeptical.

Share your unique perspective
A perk of having a different educational background than others is your ability to approach your job with a different perspective. While most of your co-workers may be trained to spot problems and solutions in a traditional manner, your atypical background may help you think more creatively.

Liz Rampy, a kindergarten teacher and licensed professional counselor from Easley, S.C., has a master's degree in community agency counseling. Her advice is "to embrace the unique perspective that you bring to the table. After all, you were hired in the first place." Your employer believes you'll offer a fresh viewpoint. Take this vote of confidence and prove him right.

Make yourself relevant
Remember when you were applying for colleges and your counselor told you that colleges prefer well-rounded applicants? The same is true in the working world. Having a wide range of experiences can be advantageous in your new position, as long as you find a way to make them relevant and prove that they connect to your vision for the future.

Becky Boyd works on marketing, PR and social media at MediaFirst PR in Roswell, Ga., but she has a degree in engineering science and mechanics. "Getting hired by a company outside of your degree depends on how much experience and expertise you have garnered in previous positions," Boyd says. "Because I can understand clients' audiences, industry issues and challenges, I am able to help my clients develop value propositions that win the attention of prospects, the media and industry analysts." Making your background relevant disproves that having a different educational background could be a negative.

Find creative connections
Your background and current career are linked, but in less obvious ways than your co-workers may know. Aside from the obvious reasons why you were hired, what other skills and talents can you apply to your position? Elle Kaplan, CEO of the investment firm Lexion Capital Management, received a bachelor's degree in epic Renaissance literature and chemistry. "I took that and went to Wall Street. My first job was in an investment bank, where I was an analyst," Kaplan says. "Epic Renaissance literature was extremely helpful. When studying, I had to read with a skeptical eye, and I use the same skills when looking over Wall Street research. This critical eye has been key in making smart investment choices."

What may seem like an unrelated background could be an untapped resource in your current career. Get creative and find new connections.

Susan Ricker is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.



Last Updated: 30/07/2012 - 5:50 PM


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