How to make a career change within higher education

 Erin Burns   August 28, 2019  Career Transitions

Nowadays, career changes are becoming increasingly common. Employers are starting to see the benefits that multiple career directions can offer, as employees can widen their skill sets and bring new perspectives to a job.

If you’re looking to make a career change within higher education, the principles will be much the same as for any career change, only you have the benefit of knowing the industry already. Whether you are looking to transition from faculty member to administration, from communications to admissions, or something else entirely, you can leverage your skills and experience to show you’re a great candidate for your new role of choice.

Follow these tips to a successful career transition:

  • Conduct thorough research

When transitioning to a new career, it’s important that you research the role you want to do. You need to discover essential criteria such as key competencies and required knowledge and experience. You may realize you’re lacking certain required qualifications, or that you need update your skills with some additional training. Determine whether there is a financial investment needed for training/certifications and how long it will take to achieve those goals.

Additionally, you can set up an informational interview with someone who currently holds, or has held, your ideal role. Over coffee or tea, inquire about that individual’s career path, the role’s day-to-day tasks, and what particular competencies were critical for success. You may even ask for advice on your resume/CV and cover letter.

  • Optimize your transferable skills

When you’re changing careers, it’s essential to provide evidence of your ability to take on the new job, including optimizing your transferable skills. Assess the transferable skills you already have, including communication, teamwork, organizational skills, IT, and problem solving. These skills will be vital in all roles within higher education, from teaching to administration to admissions.

Identify the skills that cross both your current job and your ideal new role. For example, if you’ve worked in a Communications/PR role, you’ve produced targeted, engaging messaging. These communications skills will be just as valid in an admissions role, where you will need to present complex information in a way that is accessible to students. Present your relevant, transferable skills like this in a new light on your resume/CV.

  • Utilize your specific skills

If you are transitioning within higher education, your knowledge of the industry will go a long way. You may have experience using specific systems, student databases, and—if your transition is likely to be internal—you will have knowledge of your employing institution. Specific skills such as these, when combined with evidence of necessary transferable skills,  could be what takes you above and beyond other candidates.

  • Network and use your contacts

Networking is one of the most important points when you are looking for a new role. People often overlook networking, but getting yourself in front of the right people and building relationships with them can be a huge leg up in all aspects of your career.

If you’re transitioning within higher education, having useful contacts who can vouch for your skills can be invaluable. Going from a teaching role to an administration role, for example, will be quite a change, but getting to know people who have experienced your professionalism and can introduce you to prospective colleagues/supervisors will go a long way.

As a candidate who is already in the industry, it’s highly likely you have some useful contacts. Make sure you use them.

  • Advice from those who have made the transition:

Two staff members from Centre College in Kentucky shared how they transitioned jobs within higher ed. Jessica Durham transferred from an Academic Affairs position within an Academic Dean’s Office to a position in an entirely different department, Centre’s Performing Arts Center. She attributes her success to focusing on skills rather than position.

Jessica shares, “I think many times people get hung up on job titles, but the focus should be more on skills. Job seekers think they are not qualified given what they are currently doing, and hiring managers toss out applications based on titles. My advice to anyone who is looking for employment, whether or not they are trying to switch fields, is to take titles off the resume and focus more on the transferable skills. I made the switch on my resume and it has made all the difference in securing the job(s) I wanted.” 

Ellen Prusinski wanted to find a position that would allow her to apply the academic interests from her PhD to support international education efforts. Ellen started submitting applications for a range of positions in academic, governmental, and non-governmental institutions and made the transition to teaching full-time last year.

Ellen’s advice is to keep an open mind about what kind of work you might find satisfying and to not underestimate the importance of having a strong rationale for why you want to make a change.

About the Author: Nikki Vivian is a Career Coach and owner of From Kids to Career, which was set up to support women who are returning to a career, or looking to move in a new direction after taking time out to raise a family. Nikki works with Mums to find their true passions and to re-build confidence that can be lost after a break from the workplace. She believes passionately that being a parent does not put you at the bottom of the pile when it comes to your career. Nikki owns CV writing company Confident CV and has 8 years’ experience working in Careers for Cardiff University.

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