5 Ways Additional Training Can Help Your Career—And When It Doesn’t

Caroline Ceniza-Levine '93BC
August 06, 2021

Deciding if you need additional training to advance your career can be tricky. Columbia Career Coaches Network's Caroline Ceniza-Levine '93BC shares the pros and cons of investing in additional training.

  • Would you recommend going through a Board certification program before applying for board positions? – International Finance Manager
  • Should I attend a strategy consulting intensive? – Operations Director
  • Is a conflict resolution certification a good add-on? – Employment Lawyer

Whether or not a specific certificate, conference or other training can help your career is one of the most popular questions I hear. Specific vocational training can be a prerequisite—I know a banker turned anesthesiologist who needed a significant amount of training to complete his target career change! Before forking out tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, for an advanced degree, make sure you have thoroughly considered the pros and cons (here are 10 questions to get started).

Most training is a nice-to-have, but ultimately not a prerequisite to many careers. There are five main reasons additional training helps with career change or advancement, and you should vet the training you’re considering to make sure it meets several, if not all, of these criteria. However, there are drawbacks to signing up for yet another activity. Check your real motivation for wanting this additional training, and make sure you’re not making the common mistake I highlight below.

Training Benefit #1Skill or expertise development

If you’re trying to advance, and this is a skill or expertise that others above you have but you don’t, then filling the gap with training could be worthwhile. However, you may want to hold off, if you could learn the skill or subject matter on the job, or if the people who have already advanced don’t all have this skill or expertise.

How relevant is the training material to meeting your career goal? How comprehensive is the curriculum? Does it cover all the areas you need?

Training Benefit #2—Branding

Even if you can get the skill or expertise on the job and not by a formal course, you may want the training, if a certificate or degree is valued in your field. Companies differ in how much they prioritize hands-on experience or formal training, so check what your target companies prefer. You can look at their employee profiles on LinkedIn, or network with company insiders to find out. In addition to the certificate or degree boosting your brand, the school that conveys it also has a brand that may be worth the extra training investment.

How strong is the brand of the school or teacher offering the training? How much weight does the certificate or degree carry in your target field? Do you already have brand-name schools and multiple certificates or degrees in your background?

Training Benefit #3—Networking

Going to a particular school also conveys networking benefits. Your immediate classmates and teachers become part of your network, but so do the alumni of that program or overall school. If it’s a large, brand-name school, that alumni connection alone might be worth the training. The networking benefit even extends to your existing network—use what you learn from the training to reconnect with contacts you already know, by sharing what you have learned.

Who typically attends this training —will this add to your network? Who is leading the training—are they active in the field or well-known? Does this school have a robust alumni network?

Training Benefit #4 — Interviewing

What you’re learning and what you’re doing in the program, especially if there is a group project, case analysis or other hands-on experience can be compelling fodder for job interviews. If you’re a career changer, the experience you get through training may be the most relevant to your new career, especially if your current job is very different from where you want to pivot.

Will there be a hands-on component to the training? Will you have a project that you can talk about or a presentation you can add to your portfolio?

Training Benefit #5 — Structure and support

Going to a school or organization for training provides built-in structure and support. You have a defined schedule, resources (e.g., lab, library) and maybe even career placement help. Training could be a welcome break from your day-to-day job—a reminder to focus on career management, time dedicated to learning, or simply enjoyment. The momentum from investing in yourself, the accountability from your classmates and teacher, and the confidence from learning something new are also significant ancillary benefits.

Will you take advantage of the training by focusing your time and energy to all that it offers? If you’ll be distracted from work or miss a lot of the classes, it may be more of a hindrance than a help.

Where training doesn’t help or even hurts is when it becomes a way to procrastinate or avoid other things

The time, energy, and money you could spend on training, especially if it’s a substantive curriculum at a brand-name institution, is significant. These resources can be invested elsewhere. In addition, training on its own is insufficient for major career goals, like a career change, advancement, or getting a new job. Training is not a magic bullet if your job search isn’t yielding results or if you were passed over for a promotion or if you think it will turn you into a viable hire for a brand-new field. You still need a good job search technique, a promotion campaign, and a much more comprehensive career change plan.

Are your training resources better invested in a coach who can customize a career strategy for you, or a professional membership where you have ongoing learning and development opportunities or a retreat to get some dedicated time to yourself? If you opt for training, are you able to continue all of the other career actions you need to take, in addition to the training? Is your pursuit of training a salve for impostor syndrome or other confidence issues that can be better handled to acknowledging the issue head-on?


This post originally appears on Caroline Ceniza-Levine's website. Image courtesy of Caroline Ceniza-Levine.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine is a longtime recruiter turned career coach and media expert on the job market. She has coached executives from Amazon, American Express, Condé Nast, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, Tesla, and other leading firms. She has been a repeat TV guest on CBS, CNN, CNBC, and Fox Business and has been quoted in major media outlets, including BusinessWeek, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Fortune, Inc, NPR, and Success Magazine. Ceniza-Levine is a career columnist for Forbes.com and formerly wrote for Money.com, Time.com, CNBC, and Portfolio. She is the author of three books, including Jump Ship: 10 Steps To Starting A New Career.

Learn more about Ceniza-Levine and the Columbia Career Coaches Network.