by Julie Billings
This month marks my first anniversary working in student affairs—an exciting milestone for me. As I reflect upon my career path, I recognize that I have come a long way from when I graduated from college. I owe much of my success to the transferable skills I have gained from my varied experience, and my ability to market these skills.
I graduated from college in 2011, when the economy was just starting to recover from the Great Recession. During my commencement ceremony, a Dean from my university dismally projected that only fifty percent of my graduating class would land a job in the next year. Although I would have liked to hear a more optimistic graduation speech, I found that she was correct—and I was one of the fifty percent who did not find a job right away.
My job search as a recent college graduate was a difficult endeavor, despite my strong qualifications. My goal was to attain a job in higher education in a college or university in the Boston area. I applied to dozens of positions each month, and even though I had two Bachelor’s degrees, a high GPA, and internship experience, I received very few interview requests. After some self-reassessment, I decided to pursue work through a temporary staffing agency to gain more office skills. This was a good choice, because I gained valuable transferable skills, which are skills that you can take from one job to another. After gaining more experience, I began to receive plenty of phone screening and interview requests for higher education jobs. Now I am working in an admissions and financial aid office at Boston University, and I am very happy here.
I have had jobs in industries unrelated to higher education, but all of them have given me transferable skills that helped to build my career in this industry. I served as counter staff in a coffee shop, intern in a university’s publishing house, call center representative in a health insurance industry, and I had various temporary and volunteer positions. These customer-centered roles gave me interpersonal and problem-solving skills that I implement every day in my student affairs career.
In addition, my academic experience has given me important transferable skills. As an undergraduate student, I studied English and Italian Studies. These majors entailed heavy coursework (especially essays!), so I gained strong writing, analytical, and organizational skills. In higher education, all of these skills are crucial and I use them every day in my current position.
I discovered during my job search that a huge part of job hunting is knowing how to market yourself. It is important to identify your relevant skills, and highlight them in your job search. In the job description for my current position, customer service skills was listed as one of the required skills. Thus, during my job interviews, I focused on my experience as a call center representative. In that role, I was the first point of contact in a fast-paced call center, receiving 60-80 calls each day. Now, in my current job, I am the first point of contact for prospective students, and I am able to use the transferable skills I gained.
Looking back on my job search allows me to fully appreciate where I am now. When I gained professional experience, and learned how to market myself, I was able to break into the field of higher education. Sometimes, landing an interview is a matter of timing. Job searching is tough, but it is important not to be discouraged.
Have you ever made a career change? What are your transferable skills, and how will they help you in your student affairs career?