It’s that time of year when many folks are contemplating a change of school, district, or role. I’m receiving weekly phone calls and emails with requests for career-change advice, so I thought it may be helpful to share some of my standard thoughts here.
- Consider your Ideal Week in a new role. As in, completely sketch it out, personally and professionally. How much time are you working solo versus with people? Are you out in the field or working from home or both? Are you ever traveling? Now consider how far your current job is from this ideal. Why? Is it worth changing roles? In my experience, people often fantasize about the grass being greener in some other organization, school or district – and while there are likely incremental differences – the same annoying stuff happens EVERYWHERE. David N., who recently shifted from here to here for geographic reasons, advises, “People are going to ask what you’re looking for, and the more precise you can be, the easier it will be for them to help you. The clearer the vision, the more successful the search!”
- Get real about how much change you want. I frequently tell people to avoid changing CONTENT and CONTEXT at the same time because that is a LOT of change. Better to learn new things in the same context, OR transfer your content expertise. And while you are doing this, make sure you’ve also blocked time in your calendar for job search work, or else it will haunt you at night. Guaranteed!
- Read this book and complete the questions at the end of each chapter. I’m sure there are lots of awesome career and job transition books, but for some reason, The Pathfinder has hung with me over the years. Back when I transitioned from this organization to this one, my friend Heather P. and I read chapters, sent written reflections to each other, and met at 7:00 AM on Friday mornings for two months! I still reflect on my responses to this day!
- Update your resume and get your narrative straight. Updating your resume is a fairly straightforward task, and I’m sure you already know to keep multiple versions depending on what you wish to highlight. But I want you to take it one step further: Write up a narrative (or several) of what you have to offer an organization and why. You may script one narrative with an operations bend and another that focuses on teacher coaching. And yes, I literally mean write these down and include supporting evidence and examples. Let’s say part of my narrative is my ability to train teachers and principals. My supporting examples would be a list of past host sites – along with some specific quotes, feedback data, and results. David N. notes, “Once your narratives(s) are ready, share them with a good friend and thought partner. I found it hugely helpful to get feedback on my “pitch” from thoughtful people who knew me well. Not only can they make suggestions for how to improve it, but they can also provide a gut check on whether the things you say you’re looking for in a job are true to your real passions and goals.”
- Make a list of organizations, schools, or companies that sound interesting. And then research the heck out of them. Who works there? What are their results? What is their budget? Growth plan? Board members? How do they make decisions? What is their staff retention rate? It may be helpful to start keeping a chart of with facts and notes at this point. Versha, who recently moved from a principal role to a role at another education organization notes, “Connect with folks who work at those organizations through LinkedIn. If you’re coming from a school it can be difficult to know how your experience translates to non-profit or network roles. Research the types of roles that exist in those organizations: What are the job titles? What types of experience and degrees do folks have?”
- Activate your thought partners. Now that you have a sense of what you want, how much change you desire, and the types of organizations that are out there, it’s time to activate your personal cabinet. But before you go reaching out all willy-nilly, make sure your resume is updated (and PLEASE PDF it, people!), your key questions are bulleted out, and your request is clear. And PLEASE SEND THANK YOU NOTES! No, you are not cashing in a ton of chips with these meetings, but they still take up people’s time and they are ultimately a favor to you!
- Network, network, network. With your vision, resume, list of organizations, and thought partners in place, you may NOW begin networking. This could look like anything from asking for help getting an introduction somewhere to asking a former colleague for coffee or a drink. Follow all leads, send thank you notes, and also do the same for others. This step should help you add to your existing spreadsheet of organizations, ideas and possibilities. Versha adds, “If appropriate, ask if your connections would be willing to pass your resume on to leadership at organizations that interest you.”
This whole process can take anywhere from three months to, in my case one time, two years. David N. advises, “Most of us only have a limited set of high-leverage contacts, and you only have one chance to make a fantastic first impression. Doing my homework in advance (i.e. steps 1-7) ensured that I maximized my impact with these contacts by being crystal clear on what I wanted and what I had to offer.” Too many people jump to Step 7 without doing their own full soul-searching, research, and articulation of goals, but when you do, you will ultimately land in a great spot!
Best of luck on your upcoming transition!
Oh, and there’s more on the blog if you’re curious about my personal journey or a potential path to starting your own business. And yes, I do try to help people with this stuff, but only if they do their homework!