A few weeks ago, I was asked to present to a group of student leaders within the Housing and Residence Life department. Our office has a standard presentation on resumes and cover letters, but we were asked to customize this presentation to discuss how their roles in housing will assist them in getting full-time jobs after graduation. This is a typical conversation for anyone that works in career services.
The students represented a variety of majors. They were, however, easily able to identify skills from their position in housing that related to the work they hope to do one day. So, why is it so intimidating for us to consider transitioning departments within student affairs? Most positions require a master’s degree in higher education or student affairs. I personally didn’t train specifically to work in my original role within student involvement.
After about six years in student activities, leadership development, and student involvement, I knew it was time for me to do something different. While I loved the work that I was doing, I was ready to transition into another area within the university setting. I considered all of the things that I loved about my current work. Then, I determined areas that I would be able to continue to do those tasks. I loved meeting one on one with students and interacting with students daily. I’ve always loved reviewing resumes and cover letters. I did this often with my leadership students applying for on-campus jobs, internships, and full-time positions. Career services naturally ended up being at the top of my list. But I was worried that I would never be able to “convince” an employer that I could successfully do the work in a new department.
I wanted to make sure I was not the only one with those feelings. So, I spoke to some colleagues about their experience in transitioning careers.
Here is a little background on each colleague:
Krystal transitioned from housing to academic programming.
Erin transitioned from housing and working in the dean of student’s office to career services.
Aaron transitioned from working in retail management to career services.
When discussing advice you would give to someone considering changing their career path, Aaron’s insight was very valuable. He did not originally come from a student affairs background. He shared,
“Neither of my degrees are in higher education or a related field. It’s okay to pursue a career that doesn’t “match” your degree. Finding a career that fits your interests, values, skills and motivations will be much more rewarding at the end of the day.”
When asked about advice would you give someone that is considering transitioning departments within student affairs, Krystal shared,
“Don’t give up. It can be hard to get a bite on a new job opportunity. My resume is filled with all sorts of different experiences and transferable skills. It was very, very difficult for the academic side of the house to recognize that. Higher education tends to get very siloed. Moving between those silos can be difficult and frustrating, but it is possible.”
When asked about transferrable skills, Erin stated,
“I tell everyone in student affairs that, if you have worked in Housing, you can work ANYWHERE in student affairs. In my current position, because of my time in Housing and with the Dean of Students, I am often considered the ‘go-to’ staff member when you don’t know where to go or where to find information about a particular campus concern or topic. I pride myself on my resourcefulness. It is what separates me from the pack and makes me a strong team member in my current job.”
Regardless of what area of student affairs you work in, or even outside student affairs, you’ve probably had a conversation about relating student experiences to requirements for their future careers.
So, I challenge everyone to “take your own advice” when considering transitioning.
Your degree and experiences have prepared you in many ways to do a variety of work within student affairs. If you are considering transitioning, do what we advise students to do:
- identify transferable skills,
- consider how you can highlight your strengths and how they could work in your new role,
- network with professionals in the area you are going to pursue.
It may be challenging, but your future and happiness is worth it!
This post is part of our #SACareer series, addressing careers in student affairs, careers outside of student affairs, and the work of career services professionals. Read more about the series in Jake Nelko’s intro post. Each post is a contribution by a member or friend of the Commission for Career Services from ACPA. Our organization exists to benefit the careers of career services professionals, student affairs professionals, and anyone supporting students in the career endeavors. For more information about how to get involved with the Commission for Career Services or the #SACareer blog series, contact Cristina Lawson at firstname.lastname@example.org.