The Thrill of Re-Careering on Your Own Terms

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Readers of the blog were recently asked to recommend topics to explore. This topic is from Beth, who asked to read more about how to prepare for your next career move after you land your first job. The first part explored the top three things that will help you in your next career move. The second part will explore how to manage a career change if you leave Student Affairs.

The Thrill of Re-Careering On your Own Terms

When I think about my original cohort of twenty student affairs folks from my masters degree program, I believe there are only three or four people working in student affairs full-time.

Life happens. Kids happen. Moving for a partner happens. Not moving for a partner happens. Our career interests change. Our background and skills evolve. And we move on.

After the closure of the college in 2018, I tried my hardest to stay working professionally in student affairs. And while my search has not ended, I have had to think about what life would look like if I were to start another career with the skills I currently have. The thought of re-careering is scary at best. But I believe in what I know and that I will find as good a fit doing something else than higher education administration.

From Tales of a Displaced Worker

I am a firm believer that our skill sets working with students can transcend departmental roles and that people in student affairs can act exclusive when reviewing resumes. But crisis and chaos may put us in positions where we need to find work immediately and those feelings may need to be explored later. Make your own career a priority and do as much homework as you can to ensure that your resume is viewed for its skills rather than its deficits.

Below are three steps I believe are necessary when considering a career outside of student affairs. All three were taken from my book, Tales of a Displaced Worker. For more tips, please look for the book on Amazon (Kindle or paperback) or on my website for a signed copy!

Step One: Update an Out of Date Resume

For anyone considering a new career outside of student affairs, you should spend more than a few minutes reviewing your resume. Probably written to showcase student outcomes and achievements, such things may not be quite as relevant for your next job move. Look at the tips suggested below to get your started. And then edit, edit, edit. Below are suggestions offered by, Tips to Keep your Resume Updated

1. Start with the Look and Lingo

“Whoever says looks don’t matter hasn’t been out on the job search battlefield lately,” says Monster resume expert Kim Isaacs. “You have to use every possible advantage to compete in today’s job market.”

For starters, get rid of the “objective” field. That’s yesterday’s news and a potential red flag to hiring managers that you’re not on top of current standards and practices in the workplace.

And while you’re at it, toss out any mentions of outdated skills, old software programs, or other examples of terminology from yesteryear that may make you seem out of the loop. “Terminology changes from year to year,” says Isaacs, “so be sure your resume reflects current trends.”

It doesn’t need to be your thrill in life, but like Cher, it’s never a bad idea to do a makeover.

2. Toss the snail mail and boost your social profile

An active online presence speaks volumes to your potential employers. In fact, a recent study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 84% of employers recruit via social media, and 43% of employers screen job candidates through social networks and search engines. Include links to your personal website, blog, and social pages. Just make sure that people who are searching for you online will like what they find.

3. Check your fonts

Playful, unprofessional fonts are an eyesore. The worst fonts for your resume should be pretty obvious (hello, Comic Sans), but in case you’re not sure, take a look at some current sample resumes to see what is and is not in fashion.

4. Temper the testimonials

Of course, your references are available upon request—that’s a given. Don’t waste valuable resume real estate by offering something to potential employers that they’re going to wind up requesting anyway. Use the extra space to expound on your winning skills and work experience.

Step Two: Review the ABCs of your Student Affairs Career

When looking at our student affairs skill sets, it might be easier to look at them alphabetically to help understand how our skill set can be applicable to jobs outside of higher education. Below are tips offered and adapted from Victoria Estrella Worch from Café Victoria.

Using your current resume, create your own ABCs from the verbs you have listed: 

A: Accounting, Assessment

B: Budgeting, Branded new program

C: Conflict Resolution, Crisis Management

D: Designed programs, Developed programs

E: Enforced policy, Event management

Do you notice a pattern of verbs from your various experiences?  Similar types of work that might translate outside of our higher education world? Do you have more verbs that show that you led a project? Saved the department or institution time and money? Managed a team? When looking at your resume for jobs outside of higher education you may want to highlight these experiences with more details in your cover letter or with differently worded bullets in your resume.

Take the time to consider all of the work you do, even the work that doesn’t make it to the resume. All of these skills may help you figure out what kind of expertise you have outside of your current role.

Step Three: Show Your Expertise (Even If You’re New)

We often take for granted the skills we develop working in higher education, specifically student affairs. While it is often seen as the touchy-feely side of the organization, we are also problem-solvers, trouble-shooters, care and comfort givers. We can plan events with elaborate creativity, and we can teach students in subtle but memorable ways. Student affairs folks can recruit, hire, train and transition people out of our departments. If you wanted to focus your job searching to the skills you have, the American Management Association offers four steps to becoming an expert is just about anything!

Step 1: Study Up On Your Topics from Current Experts

Your first step to expertise is to identify the world’s three top experts on a topic/skill and to read one book by each expert. (You could also participate in their online courses, live seminars, or training programs.) Just make sure you learn from the right people. Thanks to the Internet, anyone can self-publish a book or create an online course and call himself an “expert” on any topic. Learning from unqualified sources will actually stunt your development. Make sure you learn from the world’s best.

Step 2: Apply What You Have Learned and Already Know

While you will definitely benefit just from absorbing the wisdom of thought leaders, you can’t become a true expert on a topic/skill until you apply your new knowledge. For example, you can’t become an expert on public speaking just by reading about public speaking; you have to speak in public. One can’t become an expert on project management just by reading about project management; you have to manage projects. One can’t become an expert on LinkedIn just by reading books about LinkedIn; you have to use LinkedIn firsthand. By applying what you learn through your initial study, you’ll deepen your understanding of the material and fill in some of the inevitable gaps found even in the world’s best books or training programs.

Step 3: Summarize What You Know

Before any exam in college, part of my studying process was to go through my textbook and class notes and create a concise review sheet of the major ideas and concepts. This step forced me to identify the key points and to translate the ideas from the authors and my professors into my own words. In addition, my summary was much easier to review before the exam than a 500-page textbook. So, after you read your three books (or take a course, attend a seminar, etc.) and after you apply what you have learned, you should create a brief summary of your new knowledge. This will deepen your learning even further and leave you with a very concise, valuable resource to refer to for years to come.

Without irony, this is a great example of what one can do when one looks for a skill and reinforces it by teaching others how to do it. We can all learn from Phil.

Step 4: Teach What You Have Learned to Reinforce It

After studying, applying, and summarizing what you have learned, you can strengthen your mastery by teaching your findings to others. You can “teach” your topic by writing articles about what you have learned, by delivering presentations about what you have learned, or simply by sharing your ideas informally with friends, family, or colleagues.

This Is Your Story, So Own Your Own Narrative

One lesson I have had to learn during my current job search is that how I talk about my skills and their transferability has everything to do with how I want others to perceive my story. The reasons behind my job search are both personal and public. It is scary to consider the challenges in changing careers twenty years into a career.

At the end of 2019, I had an interview for a manager position within a local non-profit. The skills were definitely within my professional wheel-house and I was confident about what I could do in the position. While I did not advance in the process, I still felt great about what I did offer.

We all have the opportunity to tell a new version of our story. Own your own narrative and start talking!

I believe I feel great, even without a job offer at the end, because it was the first time in years I felt in control of my story. No longer looking for a position I had once held. I wasn’t trapped by past ideas of what was the right fit. It was the first time I walked confidently into a position that matched my skills and that I could see myself working in for more than a couple of years.

Even lately, I have begun to introduce myself as a writer. I never thought that just changing how I perceived myself professionally would motivate me to do more. Because I believe in what I can do, I feel better talking to others about it. And eventually this is what I will be, to others. I challenge you to think about ways you can own your own new narrative as you move on to the next step in your professional journey.

Continue the Conversation

We all need different things to happen in our lives in order to level up our careers. For some, it’s learning how to characterize strengths. For others, it could be learning how to self-advocate and negotiate for a better title or pay. Do you need some help figuring out what you need to do?

I have worked with mid-level career professionals for nearly ten years, helping them reconsider their strengths and ways to learn new skills. I can review your resume and cover letter, and give pointers on how to better answer questions during in-person interviews.

Schedule an introductory meeting so we can discuss a plan that works best for you.

About Post Author

Joseph Rios, EdD

I am Joseph Rios and I believe that leadership is an expression of our values
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