According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, education, training, and library occupations are forecast to add 658,200 jobs between 2021 and 2031, growing by 7 percent, approximately as fast as all occupations. Moreover, as of May 2021, this group earned a median annual salary of $57,220, well above the national median wage of $45,760.
Each year, thousands of job candidates apply for teaching and non-teaching roles at educational institutions. But several of them are unsuccessful in landing their dream job. For this reason, they either put off their academic careers until later or find work in fields other than academia.
Whether you’re a first-time job seeker or an experienced professional looking to transition into a career in higher education, here are a few tips to help you get your foot in the door.
1. Try to get entry-level jobs that don’t require a lot of experience
Rewarding careers typically begin with entry-level jobs. Therefore, if you’re looking for a job with room to grow, starting from the bottom and working your way up is a good idea. Here are a few entry-level roles in higher education you can aim for:
- Student Placement Officer
- Admissions Officer
- Alumni Relations Officer
- Educational Testing Administrator
- Research Assistant
The first four are administrative roles and, therefore, are easy to land with an undergraduate degree. However, the last two positions often require a master’s degree as the minimum academic qualification.
2. Get a master’s degree in higher education
Perhaps you don’t wish to pursue an academic rank. Maybe you’re looking for an administrative management position at a college or university. If that’s the case, you must obtain a master of arts in higher education administration. This is because a master’s is increasingly becoming a necessary prerequisite for most entry-level positions in higher education administration.
This degree could help you advance to leadership positions in admissions, registrar’s office, student services, financial aid, alumni relations, advising, and more. With this highly regarded degree, you can even land the intensely competitive role of a school principal or associate dean at a local university.
3. Build a strong professional network
Expanding your professional network will help you find job openings in the academic sector, get a referral for a position, and perhaps even secure a job offer. Listed below are ways you can grow your network to start a career in higher education:
- Attend networking events for college faculty members and higher education professionals
- Join regional and national professional associations for higher education
- Get in touch with a career counselor and seek advice on transitioning into higher education
- Join the LinkedIn community for your alma mater and connect with alumni working at colleges.
Even if you don’t have any prior experience in your desired area, you probably already have some of the skills necessary to succeed in your next job. Ask your peers for suggestions on best adapting your current skill set to a potential higher education role.
4. Intern or volunteer to gain hands-on experience
Consider interning or volunteering with your choice of department at an elementary or secondary school. Doing so will help you gain insight into what it’s like to work at an educational institution on a day-to-day basis and prepare you for more specialized roles in higher education.
When applying for certain jobs, you may also be required to submit a portfolio of your previous work. For instance, the University Communications office could ask for a portfolio, including writing samples and social media analytics reports to demonstrate your writing and reporting skills. Internships and volunteer projects can be a great way to present your skills on your CV if you lack formal work experience in your desired field.
5. Customize your resume
Your resume showcases your value to your potential employer. Even jobs with similar titles don’t usually require the same skills, experience, or qualifications. So, if you want to increase your chances of receiving an interview invite, you should adjust your resume for each position you apply for.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to customizing your resume:
- Create a master resume highlighting your qualifications, experiences, and talents for your chosen career.
- After finding openings that interest you, read each job description and make a note of all the skills, experiences, and qualifications required for that position.
- Modify your master resume for each job by highlighting the skills and experiences mentioned in the job posting.
- Use similar language in your resume and cover letter for every position you apply for.
6. Be open and flexible to change
Progression through the ranks at a university may take several years. Thus, getting to the top of the ladder in higher education careers usually requires hopping from one school to the next to get the broad perspective required of top-level administrators.
When deciding how to begin your career in higher education, consider whether you’re mentally prepared to move to greener pastures when the opportunity presents itself.
First, be flexible and adaptable to changing work environments and work processes. Sometimes, the culture varies so much within a single organization that you may have to take the interviewer at their word that theirs is a healthy and welcoming environment in which you can thrive. Second, don’t let that Assistant Provost or Assistant Director of Financial Aid job title go to your head. Your contribution to higher education shouldn’t be limited to your position. Third, never feel guilty or ashamed of switching departments. You must know a little bit of everything to have a stellar career in higher education.
7. Start looking for jobs
Find colleges nearby your place of residence. Check the careers page on their websites for open vacancies. Contact the department head advertising a job to get noticed and ask them for an informational session. Talk to your connections in different departments to see if the institution is the ideal fit for you. Read employees’ reviews. Be sure to find out a job’s salary range before you apply.
Many of us miss college and sometimes daydream about finding work on campus. However, the qualifications for a higher-education career vary from position to position. A professor’s educational requirements will be different from those of an administrator. Use these tips to land an on-campus job and kickstart your career in higher education.
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