How to Change Careers From Higher Ed

Recently a reader of this site wrote to me asking me how to change careers from higher ed. He said he loves helping students, but he feels frustrated that universities increasingly view students as numbers rather than individuals. He is exhausted and burned out rather than energized by solving the same problems over and over.

Career Change Higher Ed

I responded to him by writing an article about how to know when to change careers, but as a follow up to the general article, I also solicited some additional expert opinions how to change careers from higher ed, specifically. Here are more ideas for anyone who works in higher ed and is considering leaving:

“I studied English Literature in school and with that major, you are often pigeonholed into a career in education, as most English Lit graduates go on to teach. I originally started out wanting to be a teacher and I realized that although teaching is a good path for many, it wasn’t the best option for me.

I have always had a passion for reading and writing, but I really wanted to channel my analytic skills into marketing and put my knowledge into practice instead of simply teaching it to others. Plus, there were, and still are, so many different opportunities available in marketing, which can allow you to learn on the job and kick-start your career in digital content.

My advice to anyone considering a career that is different than their career history is to gain freelance experience. This could involve creating a blog in preparation for a content role or doing freelance design if you are aspiring to be a graphic designer. Not only does this give you a taste of what’s to come, but it also bodes well with employers who will look at your freelance/voluntary work knowing you have initiative. More importantly, you should never expect to just waltz into a job with no experience, so accept the mission to create some to be successful.”
Katie Derrick, Content Marketer for It Works Agency and Blogger at Katie Elizabeth Yorshire

“It can be extremely difficult to go from higher ed into a non-academic job because hiring managers outside of higher ed sometimes don’t respect or value the experience gained in academia. However, I’ve gone back and forth a couple of times over the years, from higher education to digital marketing, and vice versa. I would say the public speaking and the knowledge about how to conduct credible research are the skills that transfer the best from higher ed into private industry.”
W. Jonathan Poston, Sr. SEO Manager

“When I worked in higher ed, I taught career counseling and my advice to career changers from higher ed is to try to find private industry niches that value the experience you have from higher education. For instance, if your higher ed experience focuses on teaching science, you may find that a science-oriented employer values your expertise.

Once you identify the bridge between what you want to do next and what you did in higher education, decide what you most want the employer to know about you and look for opportunities to mention that point three separate times in the interview. This is called “anchoring” and is highly effective at persuading interviewers that you are the best fit for the job.”
Dr. Karen Gorback, Author, Freshman Mom

“I did a Ph.D. in physiology and I taught nursing students during my training. I intended to become a professor, but after doing a post-doctoral position, I saw how limited my career path would be. So, I did an MBA (MIT Sloan Business School), entered the pharmaceutical industry, and I now run my own business designing and selling mobility products.

My advice to career changers: Don’t completely leave your education behind. Combine it with another training and find a specialty to use both. It will make you more valuable. For example, I combined my medical training with a business education and had a career in the pharmaceutical and medical industries.”
Dr. Gene Emmer, RehaDesign Wheelchair Accessories

“I worked in higher education for a decade. For much of my career, I worked with underrepresented college students: first-generation students, students of color, and students who were in bridge and support programs designed to help them survive in college. While working with these students I became very passionate about breaking through the barriers to access that they faced. These often emerged from bureaucracy and red tape that seemed designed to weed out, rather than empower, students (e.g. expecting 18-year olds to complete the FAFSA is just shameful). The barriers were also in the curriculum, which favored inaccessible traditional canonical texts by ancient white males whose perspectives were often outdated and oppressive.

For many years, I worked to disrupt these systems and break down the many barriers to access and success, both in my classroom and through organizational leadership. Ultimately, I decided that my passion for access and equity would be better scaled if I left higher ed and began an educational technology startup in Silicon Valley. My co-founder and I started KickWheel because we believe that the systems that help students get to and through college are broken.

What has amazed me most about leaving education is that the skills that made me an excellent educator also serve me as an organizational leader. In fact, when I left the classroom, I found that my skills were more valued in the EdTech sector than they were in the classroom. It was ironic (and a bit sad), but I have been thrilled to have found my niche. Leaving higher ed completely transformed my life for the better. And its allowed me to help millions more students than I would have if I’d stayed.

The old adage, “Those who can’t do, teach” is a lie. The truth is that excellent educators make excellent business leaders. We are deeply driven and determined, we know how to inspire and organize people, and we know how to iterate again and again until we get things right.”
Allison Winston, President and Co-Founder, KickWheel

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