A recent SAchat topic centered on transitioning from one area of higher education to another, and having recently made the leap from Student Life at a public institution to Online Learning Services at a private company, I knew that this was a conversation I wanted to participate in and contribute to.
There are many reasons why we choose to move from one area of higher education to another, most commonly, for advancement opportunities and to diversify our experience. However, the decision to make a move like this is one part research, one part risk.
You likely wouldn’t make a large purchase (a home or a vehicle) without doing some research first, so the same should be true for making any career related decisions. Before deciding if moving to a different area of higher education is right for you, spend time researching the field to gain a foundational understanding. Consider the following:
Use Your Network
Talk to those who currently work in the area you are considering moving to. Ask them about their day-to-day routine, what they love about their job, and what challenges they face. If feasible, job shadow them for a day to get a sense of what it is like to work in their area.
Do Your Homework
Start reading articles, journals and other publications related to the area of higher education you are considering moving to. What are the best practices in the field? What are the hot topics and challenges? How do you foresee these impacting the work that you would be doing? Thinking critically about the issues facing the field and how your role fits in will help you to assess if this area of higher education is right for you.
If you have a particular institution or company in mind, learn everything you can about them. Many departmental websites share information about important projects and current initiatives, which will provide you with insight into their core values. Try to uncover what the mission and vision of the department/institution/company is, if there is a strategic plan in place and what recent news releases have been publicized.
Assess Your Skills
In order to determine which of your skills will be most beneficial in a new area of higher education, review job descriptions of positions from that field. Most job postings will provide an overview of the required and preferred level of education, experience, and skill of a desired candidate. Highlight anything that applies to you, and make notes on what examples you would provide to demonstrate experience in that area, and how you will apply it to your new role.
When pursuing a new position, you will have certain non-negotiables – the things that you are not willing to compromise on in order to secure the position. These may include location, salary, commute, hours of work and flexibility. Knowing your non-negotiables will make it easier to narrow down your search and determine which jobs to apply for.
Putting time and effort into researching your intended new area of higher education will help you to make an informed decision about your career path. However, this does not guarantee that you will be successful in the new role or that the field will be a good professional fit for you. There is a certain amount of risk involved when changing careers, even if the role is still within higher education.
In order to determine if the risk is worth it, consider the following “unknowns” that come with making a career change:
Leaving Your Comfort Zone
You are likely very familiar with and comfortable in your current role. You have a good grasp of your daily, weekly, monthly and annual tasks, and know who to call for what, and may even be a “go-to” person in your department. Making the move to a new area means leaving this comfort zone behind and starting over again. You will need to build new relationships and strategic partnerships, learn new ways of doing things and let go of having all of the answers. Are you prepared to do this?
The Learning Curve is Steep
There will be a lot to learn in your new role and you will have to fight the urge to overdo it. It’s natural to want to reinforce your supervisor’s decision to hire you by doing your very best. That means being realistic about your transition and taking the time to soak up all of the new knowledge you are learning. You will be frustrated and may even long for the days when you instantly knew the answer without having to ask anyone. Are you prepared for that?
Fit & Culture Are Not Just Buzz Words
When I first started working in student affairs, I did not understand why all of the institutions I interviewed with put such a strong emphasis on finding the right “fit” for the role. It seemed so elusive to me, but having worked on five different campuses, I now fully understand why “fit” is such an important component. If your values don’t align with those of the department and institution, you will likely not enjoy working there. It is also incredibly difficult to ascertain “fit” and “culture” during an interview process. This is probably the greatest area of risk when taking on a new role in a new environment. Contemplate what you will do if you make the move and determine that the role/department/institution/company is not the right fit for you. Are you prepared for that?
I have a very low aversion to risk, but I still made sure to do my homework before I left the on-campus world for a corporate environment. By doing this, I armed myself with enough information to make an informed decision. My transition has been very positive, and my new role challenges me and contributes to my professional growth in ways I did not imagine. Being open to new ideas and new ways of thinking have really helped me to adjust. If you do your research, recognize and embrace the risk and keep an open mind, I am sure your transition will be positive as well. Also, keep in mind that our professional journeys are not linear and each experience provides us with invaluable lessons, even if we don’t realize it at the time.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Danny Malave on New Professional Retrospective on the Job Search