Unretiring to Consulting

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Are you planning a post-retirement or unretirement career? The number of people who are considering it grows each year. The old standard of retiring at 65 is gone. Not only do more people work beyond 65, but many people retire well before 65 to an unretirement.

There is a growing trend towards shifting employment to consulting and coaching.  Harvard Business Review says that this desire to stay employed is about personal and professional fulfillment. You may be surprised that the wealthiest people were the most likely to want to keep working. 80% of retirees who work say they are doing so because they want to, rather than because they have to.

I made this move in 2013 well before my still-to-come-65th birthday. (The majority of consultant/coaches are 50+.)Like many of those in the 2016 ICF Global Coaching Study, the majority of senior professionals don’t want to “retire.” They like what they are doing, but don’t like the pace and amount of work required at a corporate job. Clearly some of the appeal is  more flexible hours, possibly higher rates, working virtually and from your own location.

But you would not be the only person to have come to this decision. Another HBR article discusses some things to consider and I agree with most of them.

One tip is to “Give yourself sufficient runway. ” They suggest 1-2 years to prepare. Circumstances pushed me to make my decision in less than a year and at the start of my unretirement I didn’t have clients waiting. You also need to be sure you can handle the financial changes that occur with going independent.

It is recommended that you give your company plenty of time for succession planning. You don’t want to burn a bridge behind you, especially since you will probably be building this new career off your experiences, reputation and possibly even your past clients. As long as it is done in a legitimate and ethical way, you want to start lining up clients early. This doesn’t mean pilfering current clients but it does mean using a network you’ve built over the years. I had many colleagues in education at all levels and I used those contacts as entry point into new clients.

I spoke with small business counselors at my bank, opened business accounts, obtained a business/vendor number (rather than using my own Social Security number) and formed an LLC.

Dorie Clark, who writes about this topic, suggests that you do a skills self- analysis to evaluate your  entrepreneurial abilities along with your subject matter expertise. She even offers a tool to do that analysis. I picked up her book Reinventing You which got me thinking a lot more about personal branding.

If you do an honest skill analysis, you may determine that this new venture requires some new skills or updating existing skills. Examples might be social media, technical communications, online training or web services, digital marketing and design skills. You may not need another degree, but many colleges offer certifications and targeted courses on these and other topics. There are also hundreds of free MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) that can sometimes serve the same goals. Some of these courses are offered by the world’s leading universities and may also offer certificates of successful completion.

I have taught, and continue to teach, in several graduate certificate programs at New Jersey Institute of Technology. The majority of my students have been people either working in a field and seeking to upgrade skills for advancement, or people hoping to shift careers. A few have been moving towards consulting, but most are still hoping to work for their employer or another company in a new capacity. Don’t feel bad if you turn out to have a skills gap, because that is very much the norm in business today.

You will need a web presence. Business cards alone won’t cut it. A website and a social media presence for you and for your company should be on your To Do list early on. You will need to market yourself and your brand. I would add to that list – but much further down – things like creating a logo.

If social media hasn’t been your thing professionally, you could begin with having a personal and company presence on LinkedIn and even using that as a “blogging” platform. It is one way to connect your professional contacts with what you are doing.

On the  upside, consulting and coaching offer flexible, interesting, and sometimes well paid opportunities for second careers for active or retired professionals. On the downside, the competition is definitely out there, so be prepared.

 

Why Teach Social Media?

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I teach social media courses. They are graduate courses in a communications program and most of the students are working in some related field (technical writing, graphic and web design). Some older friends who are not educators have expressed surprise that there are courses in social media (SM). They view social media as something “all kids know about” these days and don’t think of SM as a very serious subject.

Of course, SM is very serious business in the marketing and advertising sense. I have written earlier about what some feel is a social media skills gap. That term, “skills gap,” is itself an important one for colleges. The Chronicle of Higher Education has called it “The Idea That Launched a Thousand Strategic Plans” (the article is unfortunately for subscriber access only) because trying to fill in gaps in skills that employers say they need has become a way to build programs and therefore colleges’ plans for the future.

There are educators that question that kind of planning because it makes assumptions about the role and purpose of a college education. Is college meant to train employees in skills and job-specific areas, or is the mission something much larger?

Some social media consultants have said that 90% of workers don’t have the skills to leverage social media as a business tool, so it would seem logical that there would be a “market” and interest in higher education to fill in that gap.

Yes, more social media courses are being offered at colleges – generally in marketing and communications programs. But for just-in-time training, current employees are also looking to online courses, MOOC offerings and free on-demand resources.

Hootsuite is one of those providers, but it also offers a Student Program that provides educators and their classrooms free access to social media tools and resources. They have a Hootsuite Academy, which obviously uses their own Hootsuite dashboard which is a widely used platform for social media management. They also offer free certification for students who complete the program.

Because I teach social media courses at a university, and I also do social media consulting, I looked into the Hootsuite Student Program as another way to integrate hands-on activities into NJIT’s online MA program and also its graduate certificate programs.

Social media is just one part of this larger gap, but the “meteoric rise” of social in U.S. over the past decade to more than 2.3 billion active social media users worldwide can’t be ignored.

Some of the materials in the Hootsuite program were topics that I have always included in my curriculum for designing social media. For example, having students conduct an online reputation audit on a real local gives students a better idea of creating a strategy for a brand versus their personal accounts. Students do research and present an analysis in order to create a strategy to improve their client’s social marketing. They research target audience, popular content channels and types, competitor social media use, and make recommendations for future social media marketing activities.

I have students create a social media campaign with objectives, target audience, and metrics. It no longer surprises me that my students often make very little sophisticated use of social media themselves, and have a very limited understanding of how organizations are using it.

One gap I have been attempting to bridge this past year is the lack of knowledge (and interest) in social media ethics and law. That gap is not only in students but in those currently working in social media.

I also see frequent mentions online about a broader “digital skills gap” with employees who don’t know how to use, or are not aware of, the technology available to them. According to a Harris poll survey in Entrepreneur, only one in 10 American workers have mastered their employers’ tools and this gap “Bleeds $1.3 Trillion a Year From US Businesses.”  I believe that this learning process in my social media courses has value beyond making students just being able to do marketing via social media. Activities like creating a social strategy through research, analysis and application, and doing it in a digital world can help bridge a number of skills gaps.

The Social Media Skills Gap

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Gap? What gap? Using social media for marketing, customer service and sales has fully arrived. eMarketer says there is 90% adoption. That’s not the gap.

The gap occurs in training and resources for employees. Some companies rely on a small team or even an individual to handle their social media. Of course, many companies outsource their SM management. There is nothing inherently wrong in that approach, but it is important for almost all employees to have a background in SM and an understanding of the organization’s strategies for using it. This is particularly true for companies that use/encourage/allow many employees to use social media for their work.

Employees have been largely ignored. Research from management consulting firm Capgemini Consulting says Some consultants have said that 90% of workers don’t have the skills to leverage social media as a business tool.

If you’re hiring, more social media courses are being offered at colleges (generally in marketing and communications programs), but there are also online courses available for current employees, including MOOC offerings and free on-demand resources from places like Hootsuite.

There Is Life After Teaching

Jeff Selingo was an editor at The Chronicle of Higher Education, but left to become a book author and columnist, still  focusing on colleges. His new book is titled There Is Life After College. The title is not a question – Is there life after college – but a clear statement that there is an afterlife. That’s the way I view my lifetime of teaching. There is an afterlife.

Diana, who does the Those Who Teach blog, asked me if I would do a guest post about how I left teaching (my multi-decade secondary school gig) but stayed in education, or about the skills teachers have that work well in other fields.

Reading some posts on her blog, I was disheartened to see one about the fact that “I hate teaching” was the most popular search term for 2015 that brought people to her site.

I don’t hate teaching. But I left teaching. I had been teaching middle and high school for 25 years. I still enjoyed it – most days. I wasn’t “burned out.” I told my wife, also a teacher, that I felt like some days I was going to school in the morning, but on too many days it felt more like going to work.

25 is a magic number for teachers in New Jersey because it means you are entitled to your full pension after age 55. (A benefit that is no longer there for new teachers, thanks to one of my former students, Governor Chris Christie.) I decided that I was going to leave the way some sitcom show stars I admired (like Mary Tyler Moore and Jerry Seinfeld) had left – while the ratings and reviews were still good.

Red, yellow and blue parachute against cloudy sky (5278205683)I had no real plan for what would come next.

One of my colleagues was incredulous. “No one leaves without knowing what comes next,” he said.

“It’s kind of like jumping out of an airplane,” I replied “Pretty exhilarating at first. I just have to hope I have a good parachute.”

My parachute was that
a) I could collect my pension if need be (early and with a penalty, but in an emergency, an option)
b) my wife was going to continue to teach and was okay with me taking some time to find something else. And, most importantly,
c) I knew I had marketable skills.

You can find posts about that last part of the parachute from others: Skills Teachers Have that Employers Want, How Teaching Prepares You to Succeed in Business and What It Takes to Find Life After Teaching.

For myself, I knew that though I wasn’t a math or science teacher with those STEM skills that could work for me,  I was a very good English teacher. I am a good writer and communicator who had also gotten a master’s degree in film and video, started and fizzled out on the doctorate, but had picked up a good amount of computer and technology skills along the way.

One key moment in believing in my skill set had occurred a few years earlier when I first considered leaving teaching. A close friend worked for AT&T and said that if I was interested in applying there, I should look at their skills list that was used to sort résumés.  The list contained a good number of skills I’d never seen before.  Platform skills? What’s that?

Platform skills, I discovered, is the name for presentation behaviors that a trainer uses to transmit content effectively. They are a blend of skills you need to do training and make effective presentations.

“You have no problem getting up in front of a group on a platform and talking. Most of us are not comfortable with that,” my friend told me.

He  is correct. Many surveys show that speaking in front of a group is the number one fear of most people. As Jerry Seinfeld liked to point out, fear of death is number two.

Platform skills are more than just being able to get up in front of a group to speak. How many of these dozen skill questions can you answer in the affirmative?

  • Can you be in front of a group of 5, 50 or 500 and be calm and professional?
  • Can you clearly communicates the session’s topic, goal, and relevance to the participants at the beginning of the session?
  • Can you use humor, analogies, examples, metaphors, stories, and delivery methods other than lecture or PowerPoint to engage an audience?
  • Can you facilitate large and small group discussions?
  • Can you give constructive oral and written feedback?
  • Can you plan and deliver presentations that convey complex information in a clear, accessible way?
  • Can you use an appropriate variety of audio-visual technologies to present information?
  • Can you establish and implement grading evaluation criteria?
  • Can you respond to student and supervisor feedback in a timely fashion?
  • Can you work independently without supervision?
  • Can you write documents tailored for specific audiences?
  • Can you set and meet weekly, monthly, and yearly goals?

If you answered “No” to more than one of these, I wonder how effective you were as a teacher. Every good teacher I know has those skills. Sure, some of us have more of some skills and less than others, but we’re not missing any of them. Those twelve platform skills are a very good starting place for building a résumé and preparing for an interview.

Moving from teaching to training is no great leap. It is a fairly natural one. I know several teachers who went that direction or became involved in jobs related to education, like academic publishing.  But those skills also work for human resources and other business applications.

When I left teaching, I decided to take the summer off and not really look seriously for a job until the fall. I spent the summer working on a new résumé and sifting through the boxes of plans and lessons that I had taken from from my classroom “just in case I needed them one day.”

That August, I saw an ad for a position as a director of instructional technology at a nearby university. After I did some searching on what that actually meant, I realized that I had some experience with all the requirements, though no experience in higher education. I applied, interviewed and was in my new job before the summer was even over.

I have worked for that university, NJIT, in different capacities ever since.  Twenty-five years teaching in a public school system had prepared me well for ever-changing priorities, new programs and having to learn new skills while I was doing using them in my job.

Besides supervising staff and student workers, I helped design courses, ran faculty training in both tech tools and pedagogy, chaired committees, and even started teaching a few classes a year.

I also picked up new skills in web design, coding, audio and video production, social media and grant-writing. I was offered a job managing a large grant at another college and took it for five years. I started my own consulting LLC in order to do training for other colleges, and took on web and social media clients.

This year, I think of myself as semi-retired (or, as my wife describes it, “someone with poor retirement skills”). I’m no longer looking for any full-time gig. I have my pension and benefits and a new 401K from my higher ed years, and new projects keep finding me. They keep me busy and add some income, but I turn down as many offers as I accept.

I still teach a course or two each year. Often, those courses are graduate courses that are online, but I still get energized getting in front of a class or group face-to-face. That’s why it saddens me to read reports that a strong majority of teachers surveyed about the profession say they are “unlikely” or “very unlikely” to encourage graduates to become teachers. That means they are in a job that they wouldn’t even recommend to others.

If it’s the case that you aren’t as passionate, idealistic or excited about teaching as you once were, I think you should change professions. Of course, I would say the same thing if you worked as an accountant, landscaper or pharmacist.

I had a former student who had worked for three years on Wall Street visit me. He said he had loved my class, loved literature and writing, and was not happy in his work. “Is a love of literature and writing a good enough reason to become an English teacher?” he asked me.

Well, I love those things too, but I had to tell him No. That’s not enough to be a teacher, because teaching is, for better and worse, a lot more than just a love and knowledge of subject matter. Though knowledge and passion for a subject matters more and more as you move up the grades and into high school and beyond, all levels of teaching require so  many other skills, and much of your time will be spent doing things other than actually teaching your subject.

Maybe to a ninth grade teacher, college seems like an easier gig. Only a few classes per day. Self-motivated learners. High-powered content. But that’s as much of a misconception as the idea that a high school teacher is done with work at 2:30 pm, has lots of vacations and summers off, and can teach the same lessons a few times a day for only 45 minutes.  Teaching isn’t easy at any level or in any subject.

If you’re thinking that academia is making you miserable and you want to “escape”as if it was some gulag where you were being held against your free will, give notice as soon as possible. You can leave. You should leave. And there are other jobs that you are qualified to do. Prepare your parachute and jump.