Whether it’s earning an undergraduate degree, an MBA or enrolling in continuing education programs, going back to school could take your career to the next level.

Share story

“I feel like I’m stuck in my role as an administrative assistant,” a mentee once told me. “I don’t want to be an administrative assistant for my entire career, but I feel like I’m not being taken seriously when I say I’d like to move into a different role.”

Ever felt that way? That you’re stuck in a job because the people around you have become so comfortable with the work you do?

For “Sarah,” it was a combination of two things. First, she had been in her current role for six years and the management team she supported had come to rely on her skills and advice, which made them nervous at the thought of having to replace her.

Second, Sarah had a college degree in English, but the types of roles she wanted to move into within her company’s marketing department required a business or marketing undergraduate degree with a preference for an MBA. Her lack of an MBA and lack of experience in marketing was making it difficult for the management team to see how she could move into a different role.

To succeed with her goal, Sarah needed to gain the additional education while also helping the management team see her as a potential marketing employee. The good news? With her manager’s approval, Sarah substantially reduced the cost of her MBA through her employer’s tuition reimbursement program.

Sarah continued working full time while she earned her MBA through evening and weekend classes. She chose real-life scenarios within the company for use in class papers and projects and even volunteered to participate in several of her company’s marketing projects, so she could put her newfound knowledge to use.

By keeping her manager updated on her educational progress and by sharing her project results, she demonstrated her skills and helped her boss view her in a different way. Over time, her manager became her biggest ally and supporter to help Sarah move into a marketing role.

After she received her MBA, Sarah successfully interviewed for a role as a business analyst within the company’s marketing department. Two years later, she moved into a role as a marketing manager; three years after that she became a product manager; and now, Sarah is a senior product manager. Her career progression happened because she was willing to invest in furthering her education.

Here’s how you can move forward in your career, just like Sarah.

Evaluate the job requirements. Look at the job description for the job you want and conduct an analysis to understand all the gaps — the areas where you don’t meet the minimum requirements, such as education, certifications, skills or experience.

Create your action plan. For each gap identified, determine how you’ll overcome it. If you don’t meet the minimum education requirement, could you go back to school to finish or obtain your college degree? Could you take a class that leads to a certification?

Research ways to obtain any necessary education or certifications. There are many choices for obtaining additional education that can be worked into just about anyone’s busy schedule — everything from evening or weekend classes to online education and continuing education programs.

Consider ways to defray costs. Like Sarah’s situation, many companies offer tuition reimbursement programs to encourage employees to continue learning throughout their careers. Starbucks is a great local example of this, with its Starbucks College Achievement Plan. In collaboration with Arizona State University, Starbucks offers all full-time and part-time benefits eligible employees full tuition coverage for every year of college to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Meet with your boss. Share your career development action plan with your manager to discuss your aspirations and to ask for his or her support. If your organization doesn’t offer a tuition reimbursement program, find out if your boss would be willing to support you through internal training opportunities or would be willing to pay for all or a portion of a class, course or seminar you’d like to take. Just remember to demonstrate to your manager how the additional education will help you in your job.

Lisa Quast is a certified executive coach, and the author of the book Secrets of a Hiring Manager Turned Career Coach. Email her at lquast@careerwomaninc.com.