Changing Functional Areas
Moving around in student affairs is one aspect that comes from working in the field. Few professionals find themselves in one place for their whole career. This article reviews changing functional areas in student affairs. We will cover the process leading up to your move to another functional area including actionable steps.
Connecting to Other Functional Areas
You don’t have to spend your entire career (or your life) working in just one part of the field. That means that even if all of your experience is JUST in one area (like residential life) then you don’t have to stay there. Working in student affairs makes you both an expert and a generalist in the changing landscape of roles.
That means that you can take your skills and abilities from one area and apply them to other areas. This includes how your applicable experiences and skills apply in new roles. Understanding how your skills apply to a different job is difficult. However, the challenge always begins with the job seeker. It begins with YOUR ability to effectively market your experience.
Skills and Responsibilities
One of the biggest assets to working in student affairs is how big, varied, and diverse the field is. This means that all professionals should look for their next position based on title and responsibilities.
This means that you should make your strongest argument for the new role in both your cover letter and first round interview. Remember: student affairs demands a wide variety of skills. This sets yourself up to be a professional with transferable skills.
Working with Your Manager
First, you’ll need to evaluate your relationship with your current manager. Your relationship will inform the next steps you can take in your career trajectory.
Do you have a good relationship? If so, then reach out to them about your desire to move to a different functional area. It’s okay to be nervous talking about this. You can alleviate this feeling by stating how this change will help you grow and develop your career.
It’s okay if your supervisor reacts negatively. This is often a reactionary first measure. It’s okay if your current manager feels like this is an inopportune time or a bad idea. Rest assured that you shouldn’t be discouraged if they think so.
Reviewing the Move
Let’s review the logistics of the move in depth. One of the first things to consider is determining if this is a vertical move (i.e. to a more senior or a less senior position) or a more horizontal move (i.e. with about the same amount and type of responsibilities) in the new role.
I don’t recommend taking on a less senior role during a transfer. That’s why it’s important to determine if there is room to move up if you will be relocating. Room for growth means that you’ll be in a position to learn new skills and take on new responsibilities: both of which make you a marketable professional.
This transition will not be easy. It requires foresight, planning, and a concerted effort to evaluate where you are in order to help you determine how you will get to the next step. That’s why it’s important to have a goal in mind for where you want to be next.
Create this goal by examining, connecting, and interviewing other people in the field working in other functional areas. The next step is to get some functional experience in that area. It helps to join committees or projects that are occurring in that field. You can do this now by asking a professional for any available opportunities. Likewise, you can also work with a professional organization like NASPA’s Knowledge Communities where you can connect to others working in different functional areas.
These activities help you develop applicable and experiential knowledge based on your work. Now it’s time to create a transition plan. Where do you want to go next and what do you want to do there? Think about if/when/how you want to share this information with your current supervisor.
It is very easy to doubt yourself during these challenging stages. It’s okay. New things are scary. Planning, taking small steps, and expanding your network are all small things that you can start doing right now to help with the eventual transition. Doing this work now means that you’ll be ready when the time comes to make the move.
This article reviewed changing functional areas in student affairs. We covered the process leading up to your move to another functional area including actionable steps in detail.
If you found this helpful and need some additional tips on navigating the student affairs job search, then check out the free eBook Getting Started in your Student Affairs Job Search available here.
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