The toughest professional and personal decision I have to make is to end my career working on college campuses. I have done this recently – closed the door for more than 20 years as a student-affairs manager to become an executive search consultant.
Working at a university is not just a job for me but a call. I am a first generation college student whose career may not have been possible without the guidance, support and commitment I received at my alma mater. The reason I became a student-business manager was to pay for all the grace, support, tears, dreams and hopes I had invested in my development. Higher education changed my life.
So knowing that I would never feel the same way or experience such a professional and personal adventure, as I lost a piece of myself somewhere leaving that world.
I left anyway, for a lot of good reasons. These days, many are weighing the same decision to stay or go. This article is for those on the fence. The nation is changing and people and organizations are redefining work-life balance. With so many professionals in higher education riding a wave of big resignations, it’s important to take the time for some serious introspection. Leaving one profession and moving to another – regardless of life or career stage – has social, economic and personal consequences.
It took me three years to move away from my career in student affairs. I don’t recommend you take enough That is Is long. Here are some key points to consider before you make the leap:
Ask yourself if you want to quit your job or your job. My decision was not a job hop but a career change. At the time, I was assistant vice president. As I approached the workforce more and more years, I had to consider if I wanted to stay in student affairs, try to move up the administrative ladder, or take a leap of faith and try something different. I knew I felt “over it”. But I had to reconcile two key questions:
- Am I over the firm where I worked?
- Or did I work in higher education altogether?
Before I started looking at job postings, I came to the conclusion that I no longer have the same desire to continue in student affairs or to take up senior leadership positions. I have felt the urge and traction that I have another way to contribute to education in this country.
Are you dissatisfied with your position because of the external and surface inertia found in any profession, or is it deep? Maybe the political and cultural environment no longer matches your values? In its online guide to changing careers, the Glassdoor team offers five steps to a new job. One of them is “follow your gut.” When I no longer wanted to continue at the academy, I knew it was time to go.
Make sure your new business and / or position aligns with your personal and professional values. The phrase “values alignment” is overused in online articles and career-changing platforms, but it is a legitimate consideration. Be sure to find a line of work that has values and a mission you can embrace.
Perfect positions do not exist. As a black woman, for example, I had to deal with the fact that racism, sexism, misogyny and white privilege were everyday menu items at any table I chose to join. They are inescapable and for the foreseeable future. I knew I had to choose a career and employer who would share my own ambitious values around inclusion, equity and opportunities for everyone. Fortunately, in my new career I found myself working as an executive search consultant to hire leaders in higher education.
Understand that a career change requires you to move your comfort zone. Higher education is its own special ecosystem – with a certain way of looking at a certain type of lifestyle, culture and things. In an essay last summer Times Higher Education, Janelle Ward, who left her associate professorship for a private-sector research position, wrote about the transition from higher education to noncademic careers: “Learning to look like a foreign language is part of a changed career. Terminology-heavy professions are everywhere.
As a ward, I was fluent in campus-speak and had to master the ability to interact and engage with diverse populations of stakeholders in the consulting world. Your success with colleagues in any new environment depends on your speaking ability Adapt to their language and their habits and culture.
Do a cost-benefit analysis of the career or company you’re looking at. The old tagline of American Express advertising – “membership has its privileges” – fits the academy. Working on a college campus has many benefits. I helped my family navigate college. I met some of the greatest writers, politicians, artists and humanists on earth. I got to travel, meet people of diverse backgrounds and experiences. I was able to pursue my doctorate while working full-time so my supervisors understood its need in my personal and professional path.
All of this is to say: If you choose to leave higher education, make sure your next landing location offers enough “membership privileges” to satisfy you at work. Look for a company and / or industry that does not invest in its products and services, but in you as an individual.
Create your own version a 360-degree evaluation As an exit strategy. You don’t have to share it with anyone; You are doing this completely for yourself. Take stock of the skills you have developed so far in your career. List all the ways you have contributed to campus culture. Think about what makes you happy. Yes, happiness. In Essay 2019 Harvard Business Review“Prioritizing happiness at work,” argued that happiness in the workplace “results from a combination of harmony, influence and acceptance.”
In my own assessment, I asked students, peers, direct reports, supervisors, parents, and other community members some questions: When did they find me happy? (I mean, when did I feel happy in the workplace?) When does my work seem seamless and more productive? What attitude do I have that has drawn people to me and made me a potential contributor to changing campus culture?
And don’t just ask questions that lead to flattery. Ask tough questions too. Select the people you admire and admire and ask: What areas of my attitude and presentation need to be adjusted? These are invaluable pieces of information to carry with you on your next professional journey.
I didn’t leave campus life as much as I hated it. I left because I liked it, though I knew I was being pulled to make a different kind of contribution to higher education. You can leave your field or your organization. You can either skip higher education altogether or find side-by-side opportunities. Make sure you’re leaving for the right cause – not because of the desire to jump on the Great Resignation Bandwagon but because you look elsewhere and want to embark on a journey of self-discovery and learning. After all, once an educator, always an educator.