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#136: How to Navigate a Career Change in Online Education

#136: How to Navigate a Career Change in Online Education

This post initially appeared at https://apuedge.com/how-to-navigate-a-career-change-in-online-education/.

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenAssociate Dean (interim), School of Arts, Humanities and Education

Is it time for you to change jobs or start a new career? In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares tips to help with the transition. Learn why it’s important to craft a strong narrative about your career, build a strong network and be prepared to negotiate.

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Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This podcast is for educators, academics and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging and fun! Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. This is Bethanie Hansen, your host, and I’m really happy to talk with you today about the potential for changing careers in your online teaching journey. Now, a career change could be a minor thing. It could be, you’re just changing jobs, perhaps you work at one school, and you’d like to work at another. Or maybe the career change is actually in a new direction. Perhaps you’ve been teaching in a face-to-face classroom, and then you’ve had an adjunct role teaching one class at a time online, but maybe you want to just expand that.

Maybe you want to go full time in an online capacity. That does feel like quite a bit of a change, doesn’t it? Maybe you want to leave teaching altogether and go into higher education leadership, or educational administration in the K-12 system. Perhaps you’re leaving the standard classroom and you’re becoming a virtual coach, trainer or consultant.

Whatever type of career change you are contemplating, changing careers can be a challenge. I have changed careers myself several times. And these changes have been interesting, they have been difficult, and in my experience, they have also involved a little bit of identity consideration. For example, when I made my first career change, I was leaving a role of, where I thought, I was a band director.

My job title was band teacher. But we in the band-directing field, when we’re running the entire program, we’re doing a lot of fundraising, we have parent groups and all of those things along the way, we would call that more of band director role versus just teaching. So, I was leaving this role of being a band director, and becoming a 100% online teacher in higher education. That role change involved an identity shift in my mind. I had to stop calling myself a band director, and I had to stop referring to myself as a band director. And a lot of people who knew me did not understand what online teaching was all about, or what I did for a living.

In fact, they kind of didn’t ask about it at all once I told them what I was doing, because they just didn’t understand it. They didn’t relate to that. Now that online education has been around a while, and it has developed into something that is spoken of in the general population, the general public, a career in online education is not as far of a reach if you’re telling someone else about it. Either way, I’m going to give you some steps today that will help you out if you’re thinking about changing careers, either into or out of online education.

Considerations When You’re Changing Careers

The first thing to consider when you’re changing careers is your narrative. The narrative of your career change is really the story behind that career change. One place where we tell that story is a profile network like LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is a virtual platform where you have almost a virtual version of a resume. You have a space where you have some paragraphs that summarize who you are, what you’re all about. You also have your jobs listed, what some of the key things were you did in those jobs, what dates they were, where you worked. And you can also provide links to any articles you’ve written, presentations you’ve made, podcasts you’ve hosted, and more. You can add a lot of those things and share them with a network of people that you’re hoping to connect with more fully.

LinkedIn does have jobs posted, and many companies are doing this now, many educational entities also are. So, when you post yourself on LinkedIn, and you really work on your story behind your career change there, and the story of where you’re headed, this can be a helpful place to go.

Develop a Narrative about Your Career Change

One thing to think about in your narrative is why you’re changing careers. You can say it succinctly and diplomatically. That story of why you’re changing careers really never includes the negative judgments you might have made about a prior boss or a prior situation or employer. When you’re telling this story, succinctly and diplomatically as I mentioned, one thing would be to talk about the direction you are growing. The experiences you’ve had in the past and how you’ve learned from them, and now you’re pivoting in a new direction. And what some of those common threads are.

In literature, we call that the “red thread” of your story. So, in my band-directing career, I was helping people grow and develop and transform into adulthood. They were learning musical skills, leadership skills, self-management, all kinds of things. And as I moved into higher education, I was still working on those very same core things. And in my part-time coaching work with people, I also work on helping them develop and change and transform in their direction. So, that thread for me is very consistent, even though the subject matter or the way I played it out has changed over time.

Another thing that you can include in your narrative of your career change would be what transformative skills you bring that are relevant to a new role you’re seeking. For example, if you have primarily taught face to face, and you’re actually just hoping to move into full time online work, you can talk about all of the different methods you have used to communicate with your stakeholders in that face-to-face environment.

If you have led, or attended or developed webinars for people, or presented live, synchronous classes through a virtual mode, like Zoom or something like that, those would be skills that you can bring that are relevant to the new role you’re seeking of being online.

And then, of course, there are past paid and unpaid experiences that might directly relate to the new role you’re hoping to get. And you can talk about those, write about those, list them on your LinkedIn profile and on your resume, and include those in your narrative.

What are the Positive Aspects of Your Career Change?

Something else to consider is how change is positive for you and your fulfillment. In the direction you’re hoping to go, think about what positive aspects of that change will bring into your life. What is good about that change? What are the benefits you’re seeking and hoping for? And how have you been preparing for those very benefits and positives, and seeking them out now and not just waiting for the future change?

For example, if one of the reasons you want to teach online 100% of the time is that you love to travel and you love the flexibility, you could be thinking about how you’ve already been using some flexibility in your current work schedule to fulfill your travel desires, and not just how you’re waiting for the future to play out. So, how is the change is going to be positive for you, and how are you already seeking it and getting some of that?

Omit Details that Don’t Contribute to Your New Direction

Leave out extra details that don’t help you in the direction you’re trying to go. I’ve seen some people write 50-page vitas or resumes that document every job they’ve ever had, every class they’ve ever taught, everywhere they’ve ever been. And a new employer hoping to hire you doesn’t know how to navigate that narrative on their own. So, include the things that tell the story that is important for your career change, and summarize those things that are not, or leave them out altogether. It’s okay to not include every single job you’ve ever had. But you definitely want to include the ones that are relevant and that do pave the way for the direction you’re headed.

You can think about this as a story arc. There’s a beginning, a middle and an end to your professional story. And the way you introduce it could be something that you’ve done or thought about or learned about or experienced in your life that ignited your passion for where you’re headed right now. And places along the way where you got a little bit more experience or insight or direction. And, in the future, you’re going to have that good resolution of being able to fulfill that direction you’re hoping to go.

I would like to recommend also imagining beyond open opportunities. The world we live in has a lot of career options available that are literally invented around a candidate. Not every job exists right now that you could be qualified for, and it’s possible you’ll be able to negotiate something that will build your dream job in the future.

So, that first part of changing careers is to think about the narrative and the story that you’re telling about your professional direction and your past, and all the skills you’re bringing with you. The second tip today about navigating your online career change is to build a network.

Build a Strong Network

Networking is sort of a buzzword in job seeking. Networking is connecting with other people and offering them something while you’re gaining something from them as well. It’s sort of like mutual relationship building. If you have an opportunity to connect with people in your field, you can always ask for advice and receive advice and give advice. It builds trust with other people when you share what you know and what you think, within reason.

Realize what you don’t know. Think about that future online job or that future job away from online, if that’s the direction you’re moving, and what role you would like to fill, what functions it might include and the industry in which that role takes place. And when you realize what you don’t know about that, now you have some questions to ask others.

Learn about how you can fill those knowledge gaps. Are you going to learn something through an online class or workshop? Will you go to a conference or join an organization? Whatever direction you go, you want to dive in. Really get to know people in that space and participate fully so those knowledge gaps will get filled. And you’ll build a new network along the way.

You can explore what the new role would really ask of you day in and day out, and that can happen by talking to those people in the industry, or in the role, and develop your narrative skills. You’ll be talking a lot when you try to build your network. And you’ll talk about where you’ve been, why you want to change, what you’re working on right now to move you in that new direction. And you’ll build a lot of opportunity to talk about your story, your career-change story.

Get Specific about What You Want to Do in Your Career Change

The third tip for navigating your career change will be to narrow, get specific about what you really want to do. For example, at one time, I was thinking about how I did a lot of recruiting and retention as a band director, and in online education, as a leader, we talk a lot about recruiting and retention, so I’m thinking about it a lot.

And in the future where I want to continue to support, strengthen, and develop educators, I would say something like, “I’m looking to do teacher retention work in higher education. I’m going to draw on my skills in coaching, managing and leading others. And the wellbeing training I gained as a coach to help manage and lead online faculty forward in better ways. I want to help people stay in this profession. And I want people to grow in this profession, so I’m prepared to do that.”

So, if I’m getting super specific about what I want to do, I would be saying that I’m looking to do teacher retention work in higher education. And I can give all those details that I just mentioned along the way.

Be Prepared to Negotiate and Compromise

The fourth step in your career change story would be to negotiate. You might have to compromise to achieve the career direction change that you want. If it’s a big change, that might mean accepting a lower salary than the current role you’re filling, until you’re able to gain new skills and move back up. You might lose seniority that you have in your current organization. You might also lose some of the flexibility you currently like. And, especially, if you’re working online right now and you’re moving into a not online position, definitely the flexibility will be something to be thinking about.

Or maybe there are other perks. Perhaps your employer supports you attending conferences and doing a lot of travel, and you won’t be able to do that in the future. That’s a perk you might lose. You can’t keep all the same benefits and perks if you’re changing industries, making a major change, like from K-12 education to higher education or from the higher education to the business industry, or something like that. You won’t have the tested skills that someone who’s been in that field their entire career has.

So, you will need to be a little bit more realistic about the value you’re going to create early in the path, as well as your potential to grow and develop and eventually demonstrate solid skills as an expert in that direction. Can you set aside money now, to make up the difference if you have to have a salary reduction? Can you move up to regain the title and direction you’re going in right now eventually in the new direction? Are there some perks you can let go of right now that you can live without for the rest of your career? Or can you get these perks some other way? Is there something else that will lead to what you want?

If you cannot make that career change right now, anything that you can do to change your existing role to enhance it or bring in more of what you’re looking for, will help you through the process of job crafting. Or you may also be able to gain more fulfillment from hobbies, a side gig, or some volunteer work.

If you’re really intentional about your career change, a thoughtful planning period and a lot of research and some careful narrative crafting of your actual experience, as well as building your network and being realistic about a potential change will bring you the most fulfillment. It’s going to bring you more purpose, and better engagement throughout the process.

I’ve been through several career changes myself, and I know you can have a really positive outcome when you put the time in that it takes to be diligent in your efforts and also think about where you really want to go. I wish you all the best in that pursuit, it can be a tough one. But, again, you can find that fulfillment throughout the future, as you are looking for what you really want, and doing the work it takes to make that change and get there.

And, ultimately, as I’ve said before, if you’re not able to make that change right now, you can consider job crafting your current role, or gaining additional fulfillment from outside activities. Thanks for being here in the Online Teaching Lounge today as we’re talking about navigating an online career change. And I wish you all the best in the next step on that journey, if that’s where you’re headed.

This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge Podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit BethanieHansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.

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