In this episode, I interview former high school and middle school Choir Director Katie Geiger, who now works as a skills consultant. We talk all about how she landed her new role and what strategies she used. Even if skills consultant doesn’t sound on the surface like a position you would be interested in, I highly recommend that you stick around for this interview.
From Middle School Choir Director to Skills Consultant
Hi, Katie. Thank you so much for being here today.
Thank you so much for having me. I’m very excited to be here.
I’d love to start off just learning a little bit about your experience in education. How long were you a teacher for and what really got you into education to begin with?
Sure. So I was in my last public school system for eight years, and prior to that I spent two years teaching college while I was in grad school. And really my whole life I had the dream of being the high school choir teacher. And so for any music teacher listeners out there, I think lots of us grew up sort of idolizing our high school music teachers and really having a lot of heavy participation in music extracurricularly.
And so that was me as a kid, and I wanted to do that for my life. I just thought it seemed like the coolest thing. So yeah.
What made you ultimately start looking for jobs outside of the classroom?
So when I finished grad school, and I’m going to rewind a little bit to the beginning of my public school teaching career because it is really all relevant. I moved to the state I’m now in, not knowing anybody, not having any family, and having gotten this amazing high school choir teaching job, it was sort of like the dream job that I expected to have to work up to for a really long time.
And I threw myself into it. I was there at 6:50 every morning and I was blessed with a school and a wonderful administration that really supported me in wanting to build the choir program. So I threw everything I had into it and I was often there until 9:00 PM, running rehearsals, trying to build the program, do the thing, all the extracurriculars with the kids, and I really, really loved it at the time.
And when Covid came around and we went fully virtual, it was really the first time that I was forced to make myself a priority because I didn’t make the choice not to be at school as much as I had been. It was forced upon me. And I absolutely, all of these wonderful things started happening to me and I, that’s always really hard to say out loud, the pandemic was good for me, and I know it was just horrible for lots of people.
But I was blessed to be in a situation where I was home with my roommate and I really just started to learn what self-care looked and felt like. And because I made myself a priority, all sorts of other wonderful things in my life and my personal life started to happen that weren’t happening when I was throwing myself into my job.
And meanwhile in the pandemic, I was in a lot of leadership positions going into the pandemic. So when that happened, I was a part of the team that rewrote the curriculum to take in-person choir to virtual choir for our whole county. And then I was also part of the team that was building all of the resources that was going to help teachers develop their skills to be able to teach virtually.
And I was thriving. I loved it. I loved the curriculum building aspect, I loved the challenge, the process improvement. I loved working on professional growth with teachers. And we have this huge problem that nobody had ever solved before, and I loved being a part of solving it.
So fast-forward to the year where we go back to in-person teaching and everyone sort of went, all done with all this stuff that you’ve been doing for the last year. We’re going to go back to the regular way. And I was like, “Huh?”
Everybody around me seemed to be relieved about going back to regular teaching and I felt so sucked dry. So during the pandemic, I had gone back to school and gotten my administrative certification, done all my coursework online. And then when we came back to school in the fall of 2021, I guess, I did my internship as an administrator and then I was doing some long-term substitute position as an assistant principal at the high school I was in.
And then that was kind of when I started listening to your podcast. And you did an episode a while ago about the five stages, I think it was five stages of grief about leaving teaching, and that was one of the first episodes that I listened to. I’m not a crier particularly about my job, and I say that because you’ll hear me say that I cried a lot in this interview.
I wept when I heard that podcast because every single part of it hit me so deeply. So at the time, I was looking into moving into an assistant principal role and really gunning it for that, but part of my heart and brain were going, “Do you want to really put more time and energy into being at school with kids and taking away time from your outside life?”
So I then left the high school that I was at to go be at a middle school because I wanted to try switching levels, switching environments, as you so aptly tell people to do. And that was a huge learning experience for me. And I want to make it clear that I never had an administration that was not supportive. I never had colleagues that were not supported. And I know that there are a lot of teachers that do, but I would promote my school system to anybody in the world who wanted to be a teacher.
But I just realized I’m ready for a new challenge. I’m ready to prioritize myself and my family. And so when this opportunity arose to take the job that I’m now in, I had to jump at it.
Katie shares how she started the process of transitioning out of the classroom
So what did the process look like when you were in the middle of the transition? Was this just the first job that was just offered to you or did you apply to a ton of jobs in between then and now?
Yeah, so I started very much by applying to jobs on the back burner early on just to see what would happen. And I got very, very few responses, if any at all, which is then when I subscribed to your course. And that was the best thing I could have done because those resources truly are what started to get me seen. You didn’t tell me to say that, so.
I come by it honestly. But I started to spend a lot of time rewriting my resume and it was the same stuff. It was all stuff that I really had done, but I needed to write it and frame it in a different way. So your resources were wildly helpful.
My fiance happens to consult about resumes, so he was helpful in that process as well. My suggestion to anybody would be get lots of pairs of eyes on your resume. And I started then applying to jobs. I was getting some interviews, some feedback, not a lot. And then somebody that I know forwarded me a position that they thought sounded like something that I was interested in.
And so I ended up applying, went through a number of series of interviews, and ultimately was offered the job. It was a really hard decision because I really did not want to leave midyear, so I left a month before school was over, which was the last way I wanted to do it. I knew that an opportunity this was not going to come again or I was worried that it wouldn’t, so I made the leap.
And I know that we have talked about that you were in the course, obviously you just said it, but I want to go back a second because it sounds like you got this role through networking and there are full videos inside of the course of what networking is and what it really isn’t.
As far as efficiency goes, I feel like people start to add a ton of strangers on LinkedIn, and a lot of times their gut is like, “Oh, I’m just going to add transitioning teachers because it’s easy. They’re saying yes,” but if you add 400 absolute strangers that are also job hunting, all 399 look the same, you’re not going to be able to actually ask for a reference most likely in that bucket. What was your strategy with networking?
Katie explains how she approached the networking piece of her job search
Yeah, so I’ll be honest that I was one of those people that at first just started adding people on LinkedIn because I was like, “I think this is how I have to network.” I never had a singular moment where I felt like, okay, this is it. I am leaving the classroom. It was a really wishy-washy, hard, lots of tears decision, and I felt wildly guilty and really embarrassed about the idea of leaving teaching.
So I kind of started trying to network in this backdoor, totally ineffective way where I wasn’t fully telling the circle of people around me that I already know that I was planning to leave teaching because I thought they would be disappointed in me or it would change their opinion of me. And I started networking with random people that I didn’t know and it wasn’t helpful.
When I finally started to say out loud to my friends, to my family, “I don’t want to be in education anymore,” or, “I don’t want to be in the classroom anymore,” or, “I don’t want to be a,” whatever it was, and this is why, the reason around it. And not just, “Oh, these are the things that I don’t like,” but, “These are the things that I do like about the job.” Because then people can connect and think, oh, I know a job that does those things that you do. Let me help you out with this.
That was when I started to talk to people who I was already friends with and they had ideas about things that I should say in the interview or ways that I could fix my resume. People were checking out my LinkedIn and writing recommendations. People can, I don’t know what it’s called on LinkedIn, when they. . .
I believe recommendations.
They’re reviewing you. Yeah. And so I had people who were doing that for me and ultimately that’s how I was referred for the job that I got was by truly just catching up with a friend, being honest about where I was with my position, and she said, “Actually, we have this job in my company. I had no idea you were looking, but sounds like what you like.” And that’s how I got the job.
That is exactly what we say is one, people aren’t going to know unless you put it out there. And then also they’re not going to want to make an inference that you would take a customer success job unless you tell them, “Hey, I’m interested in customer success,” or, “Hey, I’m interested in marketing.”
No one’s going to make that assumption because it is something that’s really personal and sometimes can offend people of, “Hey, would you take this job?” And it’s like, “No, of course not. Why would you think that?” So people aren’t just going to jump to these conclusions. You have to be proactive with it.
I know that it’s hard to tell, there’s no way you could really know this, but do you feel like networking alone, just getting your foot in the door with a friend, would have gotten you the job? Or do you feel like redoing your resume and understanding how to articulate your strengths in your interview was what sealed the deal?
Yeah, definitely the latter. I think that networking gets you in the door. What gets you to the finish line is not only the resume writing, but the ability to honestly speak about your experiences in a way that makes sense for the interviewers in front of you.
Yeah, I agree. And I think that it’s something that so many people, when they hear networking right off the bat, they’re like, “Well, that person just got a job from a friend. They were lucky.” Which absolutely, networking is, it’s lucky to get your foot in the door. Usually if you do get a job just because you have a friend and you don’t have years of experience in that role, it’s because no one else, zero other people have applied for that role and that is very, very rare.
So you will still have to beat out the competition, but they’re taking a chance on you as a career transitioner because someone’s saying, “I can vouch for that person’s ability to learn, their ability to do this job and that they’ll match the company culture.” And then you have to seal the deal once you get in.
Yeah, absolutely. So much of it had to, I went through a lot of interviews with a lot of different people to end up with this job. And if I could not confidently speak about the experiences that I had, but not with education jargon, with the jargon that you have talked about on this podcast and in the resources on your course, there’s no way, no way they would’ve been able to see that I could fit into this role.
Let’s talk a little bit about the role itself. So what is your official title?
Sure. So it has come in and out of a few things because it’s a brand new role, started as interpersonal skills consultant and is now really taking on the title of just skills consultant. But essentially I work on the leadership and career development team within HR at my company.
And my job is to help people upskill. So we work with associates across the firm to help them improve their skills to be good at their job. So those can be more interpersonal skills, communicating effectively, leading people, leading change, anything like that. But it can also be very hard technical skills like data analysis, change management, project management, things like that.
And so it’s sort of two part. One, I work with leads across the firm to identify what their core technical skills are for different jobs and define those skills, identify resources that associates need to grow those skills, and then build the learning plans that go along with those technical skills.
And then conversely, we have opportunity for building learning plans for associates regarding those softer skills that we talked about. And then if there are situations where people need some one-on-one coaching, I can provide that as well.
How did you feel when you first started this role? Were you, “Wow, I’m completely equipped to do all these things,” or did you feel intimidated by any of it? Because it sounds like a perfect fit for a teacher, but you said some big words that I understand. But even I would say, “Oh crap, do I know how to help with training on project management? Do I have to learn everything about project management?”
So I laughed because I felt like such a crazy person when I started this job. I felt like, oh my gosh, they’re going to be so disappointed that they chose me. I have no idea what I’m doing. They’re going to fire me after a week because I won’t know how to do my job successfully.
And that was anything but the case. I will say that part of my interview process, they did ask me to build a learning plan, not on the spot, but they gave me a couple days and told me what the requirements were and then I had to build a learning plan. So they knew coming into the job that I knew what good sequencing looked like, which come on, all teachers do. So that worked in my favor.
But then once I got into the job, corporate company culture is so much more understanding in the onboarding process. In teaching, you student teach and that’s sort of, your experience is entirely dependent on where you student teach. And then you’re just thrown into the classroom. All of a sudden you have a classroom that is yours with kids that are yours and you have to run it and there’s nobody helping you in the room and you learn on the job.
My experience in corporate America has not been that. The first week was very much, it felt like drinking from a fire hose in terms of information. But my team is amazing about saying, they have a 30, 60, 90 day plan in terms of onboarding. There are clear expectations for where you should be versus where they understand you start. And I thought that I was going to have to go into this job sort of being quiet about my education background, like, ugh, public school teacher, no, but everybody’s going to think I don’t know what I’m doing.
No, I mean, people love the fact that I have an education background and they know that I don’t come from corporate America. And so my team has been amazing about helping me. They’re patient. And the reality is, as a teacher or an administrator in public school, when something has to get done, it’s got to get done immediately. And you feel like, or I did anyway, I felt like I was sprinting all the time and I could never get ahead of anything.
So I treated the first couple weeks in my job like that. Like, okay, here we go, I have to do everything. And my team and my managers were like, “You work very, very fast. We’re amazed by how quickly you’re learning.” And I was like, “Oh, I feel like I’m slow.” So I certainly did not feel equipped to do this job successfully at the beginning, but I’m now 60 days in and I’m getting nothing but positive feedback and I’m enjoying every day.
That’s amazing. And that’s something that I hear so many teachers say is, once they get this 30 day, 60 day, 90 plan, the first week or two is completely overwhelmed. There’s acronyms that the company uses. There’s all these different new things to learn. In addition to learning your job, you have to understand what all the other departments do or else you feel a little bit silly because you’re like, “I don’t even know what that person . . . What does it mean that they do?”
Well, you put all this pressure on yourself. And then after a little bit, people start reaching out and telling us, “Okay, by day 30 I was exceeding the plan by so much that I felt guilty, like I wasn’t doing enough even though this was the plan that they had given me.”
And that’s also because teachers are used to having to do everything on their free time. And this is expecting someone to potentially have additional questions or not know how to take control of their own learning experiences. And with you, you’re able to do close reads really quick on all the different materials and say, “Okay, these are the words that I need to understand.” And teachers are just more naturally equipped to train themselves in these new positions. And most companies do have a really structured onboarding process.
I know that you are working in the HR space, but also it’s the finance industry. So did you feel like you had to learn a lot about the financial sector before you even went into the job interview, or was that something that you were able to just focus on adult pedagogy?
Yeah, I was really able to focus on adult learning in my interview. All of my interviews were behavioral-based and they were looking for that STAR method of answering questions, and I knew that going into it. So I felt like if I had a handle on my experiences as a leader and a teacher, that was really enough for me.
Now I will say I did enough reading about the company that I’m at, that I had a basic understanding of, of course, their mission and values as well as what services they offer. And I would think that would be true of any job that you were interviewing for. Those are things that you would want to know, but certainly me and the stock market are not BFFs. So that was not troublesome for me in the interview at all.
Okay. You can go back and listen to my interview with the personal finance club CEO about investing 101 because he is really good at teaching it for reals.
Well, I will say now I’ve learned so much because there is so much time in my job to do my own learning and development. And so I am sitting on their investment 101 courses, what can I learn? And it’s awesome. At our quarterly meetings, we have the quarter breakdown of earnings and all that, and I’m eating it up. I mean, it’s great.
Katie talks about what it is like to be a skills consultant
It’s so interesting to hear different former teachers talk about the industries that they’re in now and how much they enjoy learning about the different things. And the reason why I say this is before you signed up, do you feel like you would’ve had any interest in getting into the financial sector? I hear this all the time with people saying, “That job sounds boring.” Like, “Oh, skills consultant in the financial sector. I think I’m just going to stay in teaching because judging a book by its cover sounds boring, like something I wouldn’t enjoy.”
Not only did I think that it sounded incredibly boring and dry, but I felt guilty. Only mean people work in financial services or people that don’t want to help other people. Those are just the people who want to get ahead and they don’t want to help people.
And that has been anything but my experience. My whole job is about helping people learn and making the career pathway transparent for all associates regardless of their background, regardless of their education experiences, offering opportunities to people so that they can move up in their profession.
It’s not boring and it’s certainly not a selfish job, but I come from a family of public servants and I thought, oh my gosh, I have to give back to the young children of America. And if I’m not doing it in public education, then I can’t give back to people.
It’s not true. I would highly encourage anybody who’s thinking about getting out of education or just moving jobs generally, think about the things that you really love in your job. Ignore the title, ignore the company. I mean, obviously make sure that there are values that you line up with, but go for the, it’s the skills. Skills are the currency. And if you enjoy doing the skills that are listed, give it a go.
There are good people in large companies. There are going to be people that you get along with and that you really enjoy. And I know it’s hard to see it when you’re an outsider, but I was surprised when I went into, I was working for a Fortune 500 company and I was working with the salespeople who were doing multi-million dollar deals that I was in charge of training or doing presentations for multi-million dollar deals, and they’re the people who are in charge of the schmoozing a little bit.
They were the nicest, most ethical people I have ever met. Genuinely kind, amazing people that I continue to think about just how much I appreciated learning from them and how they were doing something that was high stakes that they got really big commissions off of, but I never had a yucky feeling about them.
But teacher Daphne would’ve been like “Salespeople, big salespeople in their rich fancy cars.” And it’s capitalism and it’s not something that you feel good saying that you’re a part of when you come from a intrinsically motivated career.
But good people are good people wherever they are. They’re going to have that heart wherever they go. As long as the company matches their ethics, their values, you’re not going to go in and work for a company that is just doing something that you do not believe in. And if you do find yourself in that position, you’ll quickly leave because you are a good person.
So I am so happy that you brought that up. I’d love to ask a really quick kind of random question about your role as a skills consultant. It sounds very similar to just corporate trainer, learning and development manager. There’s just so many job titles that this could also be, but are there any specific acronyms or key concepts that you would recommend teachers who are looking to transition into something similar look up or study up on? And you don’t have to define them, you can just rapid fire them.
That’s a great question. Yeah. I think anything around like L and D, LCD, CD, leadership, career development, learning and development, that kind of stuff, all of those little acronyms were so new to me.
Also, if you’re planning to work for a company, understanding what a BU is, a business unit, that kind of stuff was really new to me. And those were the things that I found myself most having to go back in meetings and say, “I’m so sorry. You said this. Could you define that?” Those were the big ones.
Yeah. Like ROI, return on investment, is something that I hear is, and that’s something that can come up in instructional design or when it comes to training. People want to make sure that you are doing a training that they can prove is going to be effective and not a waste of someone’s time. So what’s the return on time investment here? Is it making someone more profitable? Is it making something more efficient? But even that term is like, “What’s an ROI?” to some people.
So I’m glad that you said that because, KPI is another one. I will say, a lot of those things I learned before I went into the job because when I started to get really miserable in my teaching job, I came home almost every single day and got on my computer and took courses. So that upskilling piece that you’ve talked about before is so, so, so key. Because then I did go into the job knowing some of those terms.
Did I have to? Absolutely not. Did it make me feel more comfortable that I did? Yes. So that learning and that upskilling before you are fully in transition mode, I would highly recommend to anybody. And it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. There’s so many free trials for things. There’s so many free resources online to just start corporate America learning. I did my project management certification through Google Coursera for very, very little money. So that kind of stuff was really helpful to me, A, to have it on my resume, and B, to have the lingo around it going into the job.
It also alleviates hiring managers’ concerns because it shows you are passionate about this as a long-term choice. Because regardless of how enthusiastic you seem in an interview, they are behind the scenes nervous that you’re going to get into the role in three months and say, “You know what? Teaching’s for me, bye.” Even if they loved you, you have to kind of prove to them, “No, I’ve studied this. I am sure that I want to take this path.”
Because taking a risk on someone who’s in a transition is a costly risk on their behalf. So showing, “Hey, I’ve studied this. I understand what the role is and I’m capable to do it,” really alleviates some of those concerns.
And you hit the nail on the head in so many of your other podcasts when you said, “Be prepared to answer why you are leaving teaching.” It did not matter if I had interviewed with the same person again and again. They asked me that every single time and it had to be a positive answer. And I used that answer to demonstrate that I was already doing the job that they wanted me to do just in a different setting.
Yeah, absolutely. And I think I cannot go into a tangent right now, but please go back and listen to why a career hunt is like dating or some of our best practices on LinkedIn. Because so many teachers are getting baited into these venting “why I’m leaving teaching” threads on LinkedIn, which is showing up on your LinkedIn profile when you are getting ready to apply to jobs and it’s showing you in a negative light.
Even though hiring managers, they’re not silly people. They know why you’re leaving. They just need to hear it in a positive, professional way. Once you’re in the role and comfortable, you can be a human and be like, “By the way, that was a dumpster fire. That’s why I left.” But saying it on LinkedIn is not proving that you’re going to have company culture that they’d like to bring into their company.
So please go back, listen to those episodes. Katie, this has been such a great interview. I’ve been so happy to just learn about your role and learn more about you. You are very impressive.
Katie shares what she learned about herself through the transition process
I have two questions, but my first question is, this is a very challenging process. What did you learn about yourself throughout the transition?
I learned that my job does not define me. My view of myself and who I was as a person was so wrapped up in being a teacher for so long that I couldn’t imagine letting go of that. And I thought that when I let go of that, all of the people around me would let go of me because I was losing my identity, when in fact, all the people around me just wanted me to be happy.
And no one else was creating this bar of perfect teacher for me except for me. And I’ve now stepped away from being a classroom educator and the best version of myself that I’ve been in a long time. I’m a better musician than I’ve been in a long time, and I’m enjoying so many things in my life that I really never, well, I haven’t since I was like a kid.
And that leads me to my next follow-up question, and I’m putting you on the spot here so we can edit this out if you do not want me to bring it up. But you are now singing professionally, which you probably have a lot more time for. Is there somewhere that the audience can find some of you singing online?
Well, I don’t have any solo gigs to share at the moment, but I will share with you, I am a part of a new professional choir that just launched. It is out of the Delaware Academy of Vocal Arts, and the group is called Elevate.
And so you can follow Elevate Vocal Arts on Instagram. We are releasing an album in the middle of July, and there’s lots of wonderful videos on there.
Thank you so much, Katie. This has been great. So everyone, if you are interested in seeing what she’s able to do with her newfound extra time and passion and dedication towards music, go check her out. Thank you so much, Katie. This has been such a pleasure.
Daphne, thank you so much for having me. And thank you for everything that you are doing for all of the people who need you and these resources.
I want to give a huge thank you to Katie for coming on and sharing her advice and her story with this audience.
Now, Katie was a member of the Teacher Career Coach course, and if you have not yet checked out our resources, you need to hop over to www.teachercareercoach.com/course just to learn all about the program that has helped tens of thousands of teachers through their transition outside of the classroom.
Mentioned in the episode:
- Teacher Career Coach Podcast episodes: 88 with Daphne on the grief of leaving education, 110 with Personal Finance Club CEO, Jeremy Schneider, 61 with Daphne on why a career hunt is like dating, and 63 with Daphne on LinkedIn best practices
- Our career path quiz at www.teachercareercoach.com/quiz
- Explore the course that has helped thousands of teachers successfully transition out of the classroom and into new careers: The Teacher Career Coach Course (If you are a Teacher Career Coach Course member, you can also sign up for our one-on-one Career Clarity calls.)