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5 Tips for Your Transition from Higher Ed to Corporate

Updated: Feb 21, 2023

Many professionals working in the higher education space find themselves wanting to grow in their career by making the leap from higher ed to the corporate arena. I've had dozens of interviews with potential employers outside of higher education, and I consistently heard versions of this statement:

"The corporate world is very different from Higher Education. It's fast paced and work needs to get done."

In my head I always thought, "Huh? Well of course work needs to get done, and my University work calendar is usually bursting at the seams. Do they think I sit around all day picking boogers?"

From most interviewers, there was this undertone that my higher education experiences weren’t really professional experiences, but more like glorified volunteer roles. Even though many of these same folx were educated in higher ed spaces, there was a strong bias about how they saw work in higher ed. Let's break it down and offer 5 tips to higher ed professionals looking to make the change to corporate.

Tip 5

Reframe Those Timelines

In higher ed, our lives revolve around the academic school year. While higher ed professionals normally plan for events, classes and programming months in advance, it is important to utilize the language used by corporate in terms of goal-setting and planning. For example, change "semester" or "academic year" to "quarterly" or "Q1" to give timelines in language used in corporate settings.

Tip 4

Use Those Connections

I know, using your network in the job search is not a new idea, but lean onto your ex-higher ed colleagues and learn from their journeys. Take bits and pieces that are applicable to your own professional transition. For example, if you are a career coach or career services professional taking the steps to move into a corporate industry, you'll want to connect with folx in L&D, HR, recruitment, DEI and coaching. These have been the most applicable transition paths for those folx from higher ed to corporate.

Tip 3

You Need to Explain

Similar to how many students have no idea about all we do for them, many folx in corporate have no idea about the wide array of responsibilities we have in higher ed. To give you an idea, as a career coach and employer relations strategist, I worked on lead generation, research, relationship building, event planning, budgeting, coaching, strategic planning, problem-solving, DEI, long term goal-setting, and more. I don't think I ever sold those skills enough in my interviews, so I started to really breakdown the skills I used and the experiences that prepared me for the corporate role I was applying for. The first time I really focused on those areas and said, "In higher ed, we have to work ahead of our employer partners to be ready for your needs in recruitment and branding. Let me walk you through my experiences in detail," led to me getting an amazing offer! I wasn't afraid to directly challenge stereotypes about higher ed work. I said something like, "I know there is a stereotype that higher education is slow and relaxed, but in my role at a career center, I saw over 600 students in 1:1 appointments, while holding individual strategic planning meetings for multiple employers at one time and working from the university's larger strategic initiatives." Explain, then invite the interviewer to ask you more in-depth questions. Make sure they understand you've worked your ass off! With a smile of course. 😊

Tip 2

You Are Worth It

In higher ed, we are paid peanuts. Many of us have worked years in the same role with little to no movement in title or compensation. We are made to feel bad if we want to leave to better our own financial situations because we are supposed to be there for students. An easy fix to that is for universities to pay better, but that's a post for another day. In your jump to corporate, you better shoot for what you value your self as. Check out the normal resources like Glassdoor and PayScale for a ballpark on where you should start the salary negotiations. I went into the negotiations with a number and they met that number! Compared to the higher ed pay-scale, the compensation I was offered by my new corporate venture was life changing! It meant that I would no longer have to struggle paycheck to paycheck. The other benefits, ability to travel, and the mission behind the company and product all were bonuses and made the decision to accept that offer easy. The point is, you can actually negotiate your salary now, so do it and be confident in your worth.

Tip 1

Don't Give Up

I spent more than a year applying and interviewing for my jump to corporate. During that time, I learned that I had so much support from my higher ed family in the career center. I really needed that support after getting to the final 2 candidates for multiple large name brand orgs and never being able to get the offer. I know now that the perfect fit for me was on its way. I have found a team, company and product I can get behind. I feel valued for my experiences, and they are open to my ideas of introducing typically higher ed approaches into the corporate world. I am learning so much just one month into the role. I share my story because I know many of my higher ed colleagues want to transition to corporate, but they are hitting some of the same barriers that many of us experienced during the transition. Hang in there!

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Matthew French (He/They) spent 8 years in higher education career services in small liberal arts schools and large 4-year research universities. He still works as an Adjunct Instructor for Communication and Media Studies. Keep those side hustles where you can.

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