Path from classroom to office is a journey of self-discovery

Dear Joan:
I have always enjoyed reading your article in the paper each week. Recently, I have decided to leave teaching (elementary) after 20 years. I do not have any specific direction I want to go in, but know that it is time for a change. I do not know if this is in your area, but are there any suggestions you can give me? Are there areas of the job market that teachers tend to go into, or whose skills are sought after by certain types of employers? How would I market my skills and experiences?

I realize the business world is very different from education. Do you know of any other sources of help or suggestions that I could turn to (books, agencies, companies, individuals, etc.) that would be especially helpful for a teacher leaving the profession? Thank you for any help, advice or suggestions.

Years ago, I made a career change from education to business. I had taught elementary school for five years and was a middle-school counselor for four years. As much as I loved working with young people, I decided that I wanted to try my hand at working in the private sector. Perhaps my journey will provide you with some insight into your next steps.

I didn’t know a thing about the business world when I started my search. If fact, I thought I needed a business degree to get a job in business. I soon learned that the specific degree I had wasn’t as important as the kind of transferable skills I had. In certain jobs, such as accounting, you need an accounting degree, but for many jobs the requirements aren’t that strict.

The next thing I discovered was that there wasn’t an agency or a special book that would give teachers a list of careers they could step into. Instead, I learned that career changers are expected to create their own journey.

The first step was self-discovery. I decided that I needed to figure out what field I wanted first, and then figure out which job I would be qualified for within that field. The problem was that I had been so isolated in education, I didn’t know what was out there. I started by asking relatives, friends, and neighbors what they did in their jobs.

The next step was critical. I needed to figure out what I was good at, what I was interested in and what skills I already had. Without this information, no one could help me get to the next step. A number of contacts I met were very helpful at this point. They helped me to break down the things I did every day into transferable skills. For example, as a counselor I had developed skills in conflict resolution, I had facilitation skills, I had organized a number of large events, and I understood group dynamics and organizational behavior. In addition, as a teacher I was skilled at designing curriculum and presentation skills.

People asked me to consider what I did in my volunteer work, to give me clues about what my deepest interests were. They also asked me what parts of my former jobs gave me the most satisfaction. By the end of this phase in my journey, I had settled on three fields to find out more about: sales, human resources and training and development. It had taken me several months and many contacts to get this far.

Next, I started doing targeted informational interviews in all three fields. I asked everyone I knew if they could give me a name of someone who did one of those three jobs. As I met and learned more about each field, I discovered that I was most interested in training and development. Your discovery may take you in a very different direction. The key is to find out which strengths and interests can carry over into other jobs.

The next lesson came when I began to apply to jobs for which I thought I was qualified. When I submitted my resume, I didn’t get a single interview. I took a step back and decided that I needed to network with people in the field and ask them why. I showed trainers my resume and they said it was a resume of a teacher and counselor, not that of a trainer. I asked them for some of their old trade journals so I could figure out the language I needed to describe my past experiences in business terms. I found words such as "instructional design" and "experiential learning" and used them instead of educational language such as "IEP" and "M-Team".

In one interview, I was told that I didn’t have any experience teaching adults, so he was reluctant to hire me. At first I was frustrated. How was I ever going to get any experience if no one would hire me? Then I decided I was going to create my own experience. I contacted some community colleges with evening seminars for business people. I developed two courses: one on listening skills and the other on stress management. I was comfortable with the topics but I was scared to death to present to a business audience. When it was over, not only did I have great evaluations, which I included as results on my resume, I had a new confidence that I could do it. With actual results to talk about, my networking soon lead to my first job in training and development.

Other sources of information: My book, The Career Decisions Planner-When to Move, When to Stay and When to Go Out on Your Own, (Wiley, ‘92), Shifting Gears, Carol Hyatt (Simon and Schuster, 1990), In Transition by Burton and Wedemeyer (Harper ‘91).

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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