Life After Advising: Identifying Crossover Career Skills and Pathways

Elizabeth Wilcox, Sr. Consultant for Advising

Love advising but ready for a change? Whether you are a seasoned professional or new advisor it makes good sense to keep your career options open. You may not realize that the core skills involved in academic advising are highly transferable to other employment sectors. Employment trends demand a much more entrepreneurial approach to career planning. The following resources are provided to help you identify your most valuable core skills and develop a plan for thinking broadly about your options for career change and advancement.

Exit the Ladder: Enter the Lattice

Linear, stable, upward career trajectories are now less common. Career pathways are more likely to follow a non-linear “swirling” pattern based on good lateral moves as compared to predictable leaps forward through regular promotion. Your career success is likely to be contingent on your ability to be entrepreneurial, creative, and adaptive. More risk will be needed to advance and lateral moves may be necessary to gain access to new opportunities. If you make a lateral move and increase your salary, or gain an improved title, this will ultimately help with advancement. Consider access to new projects, people, and skills to be your primary drivers and look at every opportunity to build core skills.

Evaluating Career Goals and Priorities by Career Stage

There are many good reasons to consider a career change and these vary depending on career stage. Very seasoned advisors are vulnerable to burnout which is important to address through a shift in responsibilities or even an entirely new role. Young professionals with exceptional training and education can be looking for rapid advancement and promotion into leadership positions. Depending on your career stage, carefully consider your acceptable level of risk and urgency for making strategic career moves. If you are young, you may want to consider bold moves like relocating or changing institution type. Work-life balance is also important, so also consider important pros and cons like your commute, working hours, and child care responsibilities and options.

Understanding Pathways

Career pathways can be “formal” or “informal” and it is wise to pursue and blend both. Formal pathways include things like formal degree programs and other educational opportunities like research, publication, certification, and formal roles with professional associations. All can be career enhancing. Informal pathways involve more direct experience with people and projects and can include things like high level volunteer work, project work (leading committees, report writing, etc.) and coordinating special projects and change initiatives. Look for ways you can combine formal and informal pathways to enhance your experience and opportunities. In addition, seek out opportunities to network, take on stretch assignments and “brand” your professional reputation and identity. Look for pathways that build skills you need to make a successful transition to new types of work.

Hint: What do I mean by branding your professional reputation and identity? Can you name three words you would use to describe yourself, your work (including the way you work with others), and your value added? Are these the same words others would also use? This should not be a difficult task. Take the time to reflect on what makes you special and make sure this is also what others recognize in you.

Identifying Crossover Skills

When evaluating your professional experience think carefully about the core skills involved in your everyday work. See below a sample list of essential advising skills that transfer to a wide variety of roles.

Communications (transferrable to a wide range of sectors including instructional design, curriculum development, employee training and development, talent acquisition, public affairs, technical writing, communications and web design...)

  • Report writing
  • Website design and public communications 
  • Teaching, training, curriculum and workshop design
  • Public Speaking - Presenting (to large and small groups)
  • Teaching and coaching
  • Interpersonal and relational skills, counseling, advising (including cross cultural competencies)

Analytics (transferable to instituional research, planning, organizational development and consulting...)

  • Critical thinking
  • Data analysis and synthesis (predictive analytics)
  • Policy interpretation and analysis
  • Survey design and evaluation
  • Assessment and program evaluation
  • Articulation and course evaluation

Financial management and student systems (transferrable to roles in finance, budgeting, IT, research administration, and business process functions,...)

  • Block Grant Management, financial reporting and tracking
  • Student information systems and tracking (mobile applications and device management)
  • Enrollment management and tracking
  • Detailed record keeping and data base management (degree checking and mapping)
  • Network security

Executive support (transferrable to administrative, planning, project management, change management and other executive support functions...)

  • “Deans” support and academic planning
  • Record keeping, executive briefing
  • Committee and cross unit consulting and coordination
  • Complex problem solving and decision making on behalf of deans and directors (including admissions and recruitment)

Project management (transferrable to change initiatives, organizational development, and consulting...)

  • Time and resource management (cost control and risk management)
  • Contract management
  • Scheduling and task management
  • Team building, meeting facilitation and leadership skills
  • Negotiating
  • Executive level briefing and communications

Personnel management (transferrable to managerial roles and human resource management...)

  • Hiring, interviewing, evaluating performance
  • Recruiting, on-boarding and training
  • Managing and supervising (including student workers and peer advisors)
  • Meeting and team facilitation and coordination

Event Management (transferrable to a wide range of event planning roles...)

  • Recruiting, admission and outreach event planning and management
  • Special programs (celebrations, recognition events, learning programs, etc.)
  • Conference planning and event management

Identifying “Crossover” Employment Sectors

If you are considering a “sector change” think broadly. Your “core skills” (and a little extra experience through formal and informal pathways) may help you transition to a variety of other sectors in higher education such as finance, information technology, research administration, analytics and assessment, human resources, communications, or to an executive support role within your central administration. Try to identify at least three core skills you currently have, for example, writing, analytics and training and see how these might transfer to other roles. Set up informational interviews with others who have jobs you may be interested in. Use your interview to ask about a) your interviewees core skills and career story b) what they see as essential skills for making a transition, c) and advice on how you might begin to build a skill related portfolio. 

Resume Boosters

Consider the following resume boosters and ways to get yourself noticed.

Publish: A published article in a related journal, newsletter, magazine or other professional publication can lead to new opportunities and connections. This (often national) exposure can make your résumé stand out by highlighting your advanced subject matter expertise.

Present: Look for opportunities to present at a conference or other professional meeting. Excellent presentations are memorable and help build your brand and identity. They offer opportunities for maximum professional exposure and opportunity.

Lead: Taking a leadership role on a special project, initiative, or committee will bring attention to your ability to manage projects and people. These are especially important if you are a young professional aspiring to a future managerial or leadership role.

Design: Creating a unique professional tool (training, job aid, website, workshop, product, etc.) will demonstrate your creativity and focus on improving service. These special contributions can be highlighted in year-end performance appraisals and résumés.

Collaborate: The ability to collaborate across large organizations is an important workplace skill. It is particularly impressive when these collaborations are “trans-disciplinary” and include relevant partners across several sectors (HR, Finance, IT, Student Services, etc.). Look for common problems, interests, themes, objectives and see if you can create new partnerships to address them in novel ways.

Your Career Skills Planning Worksheet (in the  sidebar)

Use the following planning worksheet to begin your career crossover journey and get “actionable”. What’s one thing you could do this week to get started? Another thing you could do this month to facilitate your career transition? What do you expect to have accomplished in three months?

Check back - Coming soon. Advice and inspiration from individuals who have successfully transitioned to new roles on campus and elsewhere.

Life After Advising: Identifying Crossover Career Skills and Pathways