Overcoming a Lack of Qualifications

Gaining the Skills You Need

Overcoming a Lack of Qualifications - Gaining the Skills You Need

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Imagine this scenario: You're doing a great job in your current role, but you've recently become interested in a completely different line of work. This is something you feel passionate about, and it could advance your career to exciting new levels.

The only problem is that this new type of work requires qualifications or experience that you currently don't have. Sure, you've got some useful skills, and you're so inspired by the new role that you know you would quickly gain the necessary knowledge. But you fear you may not get the opportunity.

So you ask yourself: Do you really have the time or desire to quit your current job to pursue that advanced degree you need? Can you afford to spend the money or vacation time on executive-level coaching courses? While gaining formal qualifications is the best way of advancing your career, for many people, it's not always realistic or practical to obtain those qualifications.

So, what are some alternative ways of learning the skills you need, without spending too much time and money?

The good news is that there are several ways to overcome your lack of qualifications. In this article, we offer strategies for gaining the skills necessary to help you secure the job of your dreams.


This may come as a surprise, but volunteering isn't just about doing charity work: it's also a great way to acquire new skills that would be hard to learn elsewhere.

Let's say you've heard a rumor that a management position at your company will open up in the next few months. You've always wanted to work in management, and you'd like to apply for the job as soon as the vacancy is advertised. But you currently have no management experience. What can you do?

Well, you can show initiative, and keep an eye out for opportunities that arise in your organization – they may be advertised on a bulletin board or company intranet – even if they are not directly related to your current job. What about joining an employee relations committee? Or how about a planning committee that's organizing a major company event? Why not volunteer to run it? Taking on new duties will involve more work (and, as a volunteer, you won't get paid for it). But it's also an opportunity to be involved with managing a group of people. When it's time to apply for that management position, you'll be able to show that you have experience in successfully running a team.

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As well as learning new skills, volunteering for extra jobs or projects can also help you prove to your boss that you can handle increased responsibilities. Although you may not see immediate results, don't dismiss the long-term value of the knowledge you'll gain, and the good impression you'll make.

If you can't identify opportunities within your company, then consider volunteering for community organizations. Many nonprofits – such as school boards and youth work programs – look for people to do accounting, marketing, fundraising, project management, writing, budgeting, and more. These skills are highly valued in the business world, and you can add them to your résumé when you apply for a promotion or new job.

Start at a Lower Level

This may not seem to make sense at first. Why would you apply for a position further down the ladder from the one you want?

Here's the reason: If you have no qualifications or experience for a specific role, then applying for a related position, with fewer responsibilities and fewer requirements, can at least lead you one step closer to the job you really want.

Imagine that you'd like to start a career as a journalist. You're a good writer, but you have no experience writing feature stories or working in a newspaper environment. Well, chances are pretty high that you won't get a writing position without a portfolio.

But if you take a job as a receptionist at a media organization, you'll soon gain detailed knowledge of how a newspaper works. You can write a few articles in your spare time, and ask your new journalist colleagues for feedback. You can even offer to help out with some of the smaller articles. The important thing is to see your name in print, and to build up your portfolio. You'll then be in an ideal position if there's a job opening for a writer. Eventually, you could make the transition to full-time journalist.

Applying ‘downward' may not seem appealing in the short term. However, in the long term, if you really want to make a career change, it may be worth exploring this option if it helps you reach your ultimate goal.

And, depending on the new company or position, you might be able to learn the skills you need for your ideal job during your regular work day. The company might offer training seminars, or reimburse you for outside classes. Failing to consider a lower-level position might mean you would miss out on these opportunities.

However, do bear in mind that certain occupations require specific qualifications and experience. For example, if you want to become a medical doctor, then just helping out on a hospital ward will not be enough to secure the job of your dreams. Several years of rigorous medical training is essential here – something you would have to consider on a practical level before making such a commitment.

Take Advantage of Distance Learning

Distance learning (Internet-based classes) allows you to gain additional qualifications while working full time. This is because it's often more efficient than going to classes on campus.

With distance learning, you attend class at the time and place of your choice – on your lunch hour, in the evenings, or on weekends. You don't have to waste time driving to and from campus. And, because you work on your own (instead of at the pace of an entire class), you can often complete a qualification in less time – and at a much lower cost – than a traditional school.

Perhaps the biggest benefit to distance learning is that, because it's so common now (compared to even a few years ago), you can become certified or earn a degree in almost any area.

Skills like project management, personnel development, marketing, business management, accounting and finance, and leadership are just a few subjects you could study in a distance-learning program.

Take Executive-level Workshops

Executive-level courses can help you gain qualifications in a specific area. These are usually intense training sessions that last anywhere from one day to a week or more.

Executive workshops often use several different approaches to teach upper-level managers important new skills that will help them advance their careers. For example, a traditional campus class is usually taught by one professor. Executive-level workshops, however, often use lectures from several different experts – plus group exercises and one-to-one coaching.

Imagine that you decide to take an executive workshop on relationship building, so you'll have a better chance at a career in upper management. Instead of a traditional management class, which may have only one lecture on building relationships, workshops might offer several different lectures, each exploring a different area of relationship building. You could attend lectures on topics such as Barriers to Relationship Building, Asking Questions and Telling Stories, The Cost of Building and Maintaining Relationships, and so on.

Executive-level workshops can be expensive, but they're terrific ways to learn some specific skills to add to your résumé.

If you attend a longer workshop (lasting a week, for example), you may have to use your vacation time. This is an admirable demonstration of your commitment to excel in your career, but make sure you still have enough remaining days off to take a real vacation during the year. It's never a good idea to wear yourself out in the race to get ahead.

It's worth checking with your company when you register for a workshop. It might be willing to reimburse part of the expense, especially if you can prove that the skills you'll learn will be useful for future projects or tasks.

Key Points

Although it can be disappointing to realize that you lack the qualifications for the job you want, you don't necessarily have to give up your dream. Where possible, work towards obtaining the formal qualifications you need to get ahead. If that's not practical, then take proactive steps to investigate other ways of learning the skills you need. You may not only impress your company with your ambition and enthusiasm, but prove to them that you really do care about the job.

Consider accepting a lower-level position to gain experience in a new field, or invest the time in distance-learning classes. This will strengthen your qualifications, and give you a chance to examine whether you really want the new job enough to work hard for it. This can often be as enlightening as the knowledge you acquire along the way.

Apply This to Your Life

  1. Consider where your next career move will be. If you're still not sure, our article on Finding Career Direction could help.
  2. Is your dream job a logical next step from where you are now? Assess whether you need to acquire new skills and/or qualifications to help you make that leap.
  3. If you can gain those new skills within your organization, volunteer for projects that will add those 'must-have' attributes to your résumé.
  4. If you need professional qualifications to secure your ideal job, find out whether courses are available for study by distance learning.

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Comments (5)
  • Over a month ago Midgie wrote
    Having done several radical shifts in my career, status and money is not the 'be all and end all' for me personally. I certainly would not knock anyone who sees what I would consider a 'traditional' career ladder as a negative thing, I just believe that we have to build our own ladders and decide which walls to put it up again. That means that sometimes we have to take our ladder and move it to another wall if that is what will make us happier!

    I believe that we have to define success by our own terms, rather than having it defined by others. Being a slot techie, moving from accounting to a lower paid PR job or (like I did) move from an administrative role in the senior executive offices to a 'lower' area or moving to another country and doing a secretarial job, might not be for everyone, however, in the bigger picture of life, what makes you happy?

    When I coach individuals on career changes, some of the things we consider before they make a move include: status, money, security, stability, lifestyle / time flexibility, contribution to company and to community, formal / informal qualifications and experiences, location between work and home, outside activities involved with. Looking at the big picture of what is important to someone and what fires up their interests and passions may mean a 'step down' or 'step sideways' on the ladder, but in the long run, they are much more healthier and happier!

    Food for thought!

    p.s. Welcome to am08121980, and what a great comment to jump in with. I hope you find the site interesting and of benefit. If there is anything I can help you with, just let me know. Looking forward to seeing you around. Midgie
  • Over a month ago colinscowen wrote
    Turning this around a bit, I have had a situation where I was offered a job that would be considered a step up the ladder. One of the reasons I turned it down was because taking it would effectively mean that I could not come back to where I am now. Yes, having the title Quality Manager would have been nice, but, I enjoy engineering, getting my hands dirty etc.

    That being said, when I was working as a croupier and I was watching the slot technicians walking around while I was stuck behind a blackjack table, I decided that I wanted to be doing that job, so I talked to the slot manager and arranged that on the time between my shifts I would get trained up to become a tech. That worked really well, and within 6 weeks I think it was, I moved out of the pit and onto the floor.

  • Over a month ago mayc wrote
    Hi AM,

    What you are saying was my reaction to the article as well. But then I remembered a gentleman a few months ago asking about openings in my department. He was interested in PR work but was trained in accounting and he'd been working for our company for many years. He said he was willing to take any position available because this was the direction he wanted to take his career. I didn't have anything for him at the time but we did keep in touch because I could tell he was very serious. I told him to try and work with HR and his boss to develop a career plan but he ended up leaving our company and taking a job in PR at another organization. He took a significant pay cut to make the move but it must have been worth it to him. I couldn't do it. I have to be honest! I do have an issue with status and the traditional hierarchy. Taking a step down the ladder would be devastating to me but it also means that unless I'm willing to go back to school and learn a new skill completely, I will probably be in a similar role for the duration of my career.

    So while I agree with you I think there are a number of people who would take this route because it means that much to them.

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