Presenting yourself professionally, Episode 81: The Teacher Career Coach Podcast

81 – Presenting Yourself Professionally


In this episode, I’ll share my top tips for presenting yourself professionally to help you stand out in job interviews and make a great impression.

Listen to the episode in the podcast player below, or find it on Apple Podcast or Spotify.

Presenting Yourself Professionally

Professionalism can be defined in a lot of different ways. I’ve seen it described as a set of characteristics that displays your ability to be a hardworking, dependable and respectful individual in formal settings. To me, being professional is being able to articulate concerns in a respectful manner, being efficient with managing your own workload and creating solutions to problems that may arise. And also it means being able to clearly communicate your own accomplishments. I have met so many people in my career who I admire professionally. Those who have stood out in my memory demonstrate what professionalism, even in challenging or emotional situations—those who have stood out in my memory demonstrate what professionalism looks like, even in challenging or emotional situations where sometimes, honestly, I still find myself struggling. Many of these people are podcast guests that I have actually interviewed on this podcast.

There have also been people who have stood out in my memory for being highly unprofessional. And these are people that I’ve met in both my teaching experience and in roles outside of the classroom. I will never forget this time that a teacher shouted at me, interrupting me while I was doing a professional development training. For the sake of this podcast, I’m just going to call her Mrs. Salty. So Mrs. Salty shouted something around the lines of like, “I don’t want to learn this. I’m never going to use this tool and your presentation’s boring.” And it caught me completely off guard. It was the first time I was heckled at my new job outside of the classroom. And it was by a fellow teacher. It was clear in her tone that she genuinely wanted to embarrass me for some reason. And she did. I tried to ignore her and just, I continued my presentation and finished without ever even acknowledging that she said anything. And a few people actually came up to me after the training and just apologized for her behavior. And I feel like that school district was just a little bit mortified, but I don’t think that there were any repercussions for her.

Being on the receiving end of this hurt, it was super embarrassing. I was in front of about a hundred people and I was nervous and mortified that I even didn’t think of like a clever response or shut her down in some way, because I can be salty too, but I was new to the role. I was there acting as a representative of my company and I just wasn’t prepared for this type of pushback when teaching and training adults. I was not in control of forcing her to take this PD. By any means, it was not my decision. Other districts made my PDs optional and allowed teachers to choose which ones they wanted to participate in. The PDs that I actually did were completely free. It was never my decision to have her forced to feel like she had to be there.

I genuinely did like the free tool that I was training on. I really believe that it was useful for a variety of purposes. And most of the teachers that I talked to were excited to learn about how they could use it for either personal or professional use and save time and keep notes.

Now, I’ve got to acknowledge something before we get too deep into this podcast episode. The teachers that I have been close with in my own career and education, my friends at some of my past jobs, many of them are pretty unprofessional. Those are the people that I feel like I get along with the most, and I can relate to where they’re coming from and their concerns. I actually have had a lot of coworkers that have sent me text messages. I’ve had a lot of internal dialogue and threads where I’ve said pretty similar things to what she was saying in this professional development. So believe me, I get it. And I get that it is very challenging to be asked from a podcast to “practice professionalism” when you have been so severely disrespected and treated unprofessionally in this career. Admin, parents, society, they treat you like your years of experience and your credentials do not matter. And many of you in this audience sure as heck do not get paid as professionals.

Those forced PDs that are taking away from your planning time that are not necessarily relevant to what you want to learn. I remember those too. When you are pushed to your limits with stress, you can explode at any moment. So could I have seen myself being friends with Mrs. Salty if I worked at that district and I was sitting next to her? Yeah, 100%. But would I ever hire her or personally ever recommend her for a role outside of the classroom? Well, that’s a completely different story. And ultimately that is why you are here. So first, let’s talk about why it is so important to practice professionalism.

The main reason why I encourage you to practice professionalism even while you are in a teaching career that you are potentially going to leave is to set you up for success to overcome any stigma that you may face of being a transitioning teacher. Right now, there is a potential that hiring managers may see you as someone who only works with children and will struggle in a corporate environment communicating with adults. May see you as someone who struggles when leading other adults or people who are going through a lot of emotions or just someone who just will struggle to fit into a work culture due to the amount of burnout that they may bring with them from leaving this career. They also may be seeing a lot of unprofessional behaviors on LinkedIn from some of the Ms. Salty’s and the teacher transitioning crowd online, or those that they’ve met in job interviews. Maybe they’ve seen venting posts or combative behavior talking poorly about all hiring managers. And now they’re just a little bit nervous about teachers in general and looking to see who is the most professional of the audience.

If you are still in the classroom, acting professionally is not to get a reference from your current administrator. For most jobs you are applying to outside a classroom, you are not going to get asked for letters of reference at all. I always recommend that you do not burn any bridges when possible. And that way you can always depend on having teaching as a plan B, you may have coworkers and colleagues that may be able to refer you to their new place of employment, and they would have to feel comfortable doing so as their reputation is on the line when they are also making a reference.

And I also have some bad news from you from the other side of teaching. Professional developments that are not great uses of your time will likely continue in your next role. I have sat in at least 50 different professional developments in my five years working for two large education technology companies and not all of them are made equal. I was far happier in my new roles outside of the classroom, but there’s always going to be something that’s a little bit annoying about your new job that you potentially want to be able to gripe about.

So another reason to practice professionalism is there’s going to be a lot more risk associated with people who are unprofessional outside of the teaching profession, because you do not have tenure. And yes, I have seen many people let go in roles due to their poor behavior with responding to customers, managers, or fellow colleagues. So if Ms Salty heckles the workplace harassment or cyber security trainer who is brought into the company, there is a likeliness that she will not last long in her new environment. And I know you listening to this, you’re not as extreme as Mrs. Salty. You’re not going to shout out in the middle of a professional development at your new job, but practicing professionalism is going to alleviate any concerns that hiring managers may have. And it makes it clear to them that you will thrive in your new environment.

So in this episode, I’m going to share my top five tips to practicing professionalism, to help you stand out in job interviews and beyond to make a great impression. These are going to be vital to your job search, but also be helpful in helping you land promotions and leadership roles even after you’ve left the classroom as well.

Tip number one is stay professional online. And I have to start it here because I am constantly seeing so many teachers who are red flagging themselves with their LinkedIn presence due to it being a new platform for them. The rest of my tips are always going to circle back to this concept of staying professional online. You have to watch how you communicate and what you put out there. LinkedIn is not like Facebook or other social media sites. Your comments and your posts are on your profile for hiring managers to see, and there is an expectation that posts on LinkedIn are professional in nature. You do not need to post every day on LinkedIn about everything that happens in your day to day of your job hunt or venting about your job hunt. And I’m unsure of where the advice is coming from to post every day, but I see a lot of teachers who are struggling with knowing what to post at all. Honestly, if you don’t know what you’re about to post, you probably don’t need to post at all. Less is more when it comes to LinkedIn.

If you have not gone back to listen to my best tips on starting… If you have not gone back to my podcast episode, where I talk about getting started with LinkedIn, I would go there immediately. I have seen people with very big and real emotions on LinkedIn go viral. And I know how good it can feel and validating to have so many people saying that they’re struggling with the exact same things, but when it comes to those venting posts and those posts that may make you look like you’re not a good culture fit for specific types of industries, what you are not going to see is how many doors are potentially closed due to that one post. It may feel like the norm, but you want to check out what other people in your preferred industry look like, what their profiles look like, and see are they posting every day? What types of things they’re posting with and what they’re interacting with. And that may help you understand how much people actually use LinkedIn and what they use it for.

Tip number two is redevelop your work ethic, focusing on the job that you want. Like I mentioned before, after years of being disrespected and treated unprofessionally, I get it if you are a little bit chucked out from time to time. There are even areas just when I was a new teacher where I realized that the teacher training is just completely lacking. When it came to time management, efficiency, communicating my accomplishments, these are all areas where I felt like I really had zero idea of how to do so well when I went into the classroom. It’s so important for you to really focus on these areas and maintain this focus and your drive to help you pursue the job that you want using your teaching job. Because the most important thing that you’re going to have to be able to relay is your previous experience and what you did in your job interviews.

So starting with time management, teachers juggle so many hats that it’s easy to assume that we’re all naturally really wonderful with our time management skills. But the truth of it is many of us get told exactly what we need to do and we have so many things and subjects and lessons and classes filling up each day that we never really get time to look at if we are doing things efficiently. So with remote positions, your employer may tell you that you have to have a big project done by a very specific date. And then all of these reoccurring tasks done daily or weekly at your discretion. Multitasking is not a big deal for teachers. We do it all the time. So this may sound silly, but I have heard from so many teachers who have landed their new roles outside of the classroom, that they feel really overwhelmed by not having a clear schedule that is being overseen.

Multitasking is not a big deal for teachers. We do it all the time. So this might sound silly, but I have heard it from so many teachers who landed their new roles, that they actually feel overwhelmed by not having a very clear schedule set for them. Once you get into a new role, you’re going to have far more choice about how you spend your days if you’re in a remote position. And some teachers really do struggle with this adjustment.

Managing your own schedule efficiently is another skill entirely. And if you’re applying for roles where you are in charge of your own schedule, or if you’re in charge of managing other people’s schedules, providing clear evidence of your work and making improvements to your own personal productivity and efficiency is going to help you stand out in interviews. I always recommend that you keep track of your time and identify where you’re spending time that may not be moving the needle forward on your objectives and help you identify and avoid distractions that you may have during your productive blocks.

Do some serious longterm planning and set some goals for yourself and not just school duties, but set upskilling projects and see how you’re actually meeting these goals. Give yourself a very specific timeline, like one month to create an e-learning course to add to your portfolio and keep track of specific data such as how many hours you spent on upskilling, just to learn one technology tool. And you can actually use these in your interviews. Contributing to meetings is also an area where you want to continue to grow and push yourself professionally. Contributing to meetings is another area where you want to continue to grow and even push yourself professionally. Even when voicing concerns, there is a way to do this.

I found myself in meetings at a startup where there was a very huge decision to make, and they were looking for my direct input and they wanted me to strongly debate my stance moving forward. I knew that sharing my opinion would actually hurt someone’s feelings. So it was a really delicate situation for me to be in and I had no experience being put in the middle of these types of conversations. I know that in teaching, many of the times the big decisions are outside of your control, but this is your opportunity to contribute to meetings and to try. Be a problem solver and it’s a great skill… Being a problem solver is a great skill to bring to a new environment. And when you are passionate and you have a deep understanding of the problems you’re facing, like in education, this is a great opportunity to level up on how you articulate yourself and to try and make a change and get your feet wet in an area that can be really intimidating for many.

Presenting yourself professionally, Episode 81: The Teacher Career Coach Podcast

If you are also a little checked out mentally, I don’t blame you. Your gut may always be to just say no to any extra work, but this is the time to consider saying yes to volunteer responsibilities if they align with your career goals and something that you would like to see displayed on your resume and something that you can talk about in interviews. For example, if you want to be able to say that you trained adults, or you built a website, or you led a team, this upcoming year may be the year to volunteer for those extra duties so that you can have the true experience and practice what you are actually learning while you are upskilling.

My last tip for while you were in the classroom that relates to this is to keep track of all of your accomplishments, using a journal as you work on all of your goals. Anytime you’ve met a goal, earned an award, finished a project, created a new system that increased your productivity, make sure to write it all down with as many details as possible. We actually have it included a printable booklet of everything that you would want to track in The Teacher Career Coach course, and the translations of how you can reword all of these accomplishments into corporate language to help save you some time. And if you are interested in learning more, you can always find that at teachercareercoach.com/course.

Tip number three is to maintain a positive attitude about your experience. I hate being the one to say this just as much as you probably hate hearing it about maintaining a positive attitude about this, but this is really important. You see a thread of salty teachers on LinkedIn talking poorly about their positions, you should ignore it. You need to try to get yourself to the mindset that you did not hate teaching. You are just ready for your next big thing. Yes, you heard me. Even if you honestly hated teaching, you have to stay professional with how you describe it on LinkedIn and on interviews. Make a list about what you love or loved about teaching, what opportunities it gave you and what parts of the experience you were really truly grateful for.

This step is really hard because you are likely feeling that what you loved about teaching has been very little of your job for years, but hiring managers do not need to know all of your grievances about the career that you’re leaving behind. They don’t need to know how hard or impossible teaching was. They can make that inference if you are there in front of them looking for a new job. And during your job hunt is not the time or the place to educate them on how unsustainable profession it is. A hiring manager’s biggest fear is hiring someone who will hate the job in front of them. And so you have to do everything you can to fight to prove to them that you will love the job in front of them. That means you have to be able to talk about what you loved in your previous work experience. What excited you and motivated you and how those experiences relate to this role. If you have nothing nice to say, and you have not practiced it, it’s going to shine through. So practice.

Even maintaining a positive attitude about the job hunt process is important. I have seen posts that say something around the lines of like, “If you ask me to upload a resume, then you ask me to type out my previous work experience. I am not going to apply for your job.” So these types of posts and these extra steps that are griping about these extra… So these types of posts, griping about these extra steps are usually falling on deaf areas… Oh no. So these types of posts, griping about these extra steps are usually talking about something that’s truly outside of a hiring manager’s ability to change. And if this is the hill that you are willing to die on, I don’t want to stop you, but posts like these are just really demonstrating that you are the type of potential job seeker that is going to be vocal about even the smallest inconveniences once you get into a position as well. I recommend that you go back and listen to episode 61 on how a career hunt is like dating if you haven’t already. And it can help you understand why this part is so important.

Tip number four is to demonstrate humility. There is a difference between being proud and having what’s perceived as a unprofessional ego. You should be so proud of the work that you have done as a teacher. You are accomplished and experienced, and you did a whole lot of really amazing things. You changed a lot of students’ lives in your career, and that is something to be proud about. You worked hard, you wore many hats, but sometimes our pride makes it difficult for us to also practice self-awareness, which is something that many professionals have.

First, you have to admit your own mistakes. Write down what you’ve learned in past roles and where you can improve. Be ready to talk about this in your interviews, because they may ask you, and it makes a really good segue sometimes into the growth and the progress that you have made as a professional. We have all made mistakes in our careers and hiring managers are looking for those who display this personality trait. Accept advice from knowledgeable professionals if they offer you any sort of support or even criticism. I have seen a lot of LinkedIn debates. A lot of times it’s teachers versus other professionals. And the attitudes that I have seen from teachers being rejected from some of the other career choices has been a little bit concerning.

I talk to hiring managers and recruiters weekly for teacher career coach. Many hiring managers see the value in teachers, they see the value in you, but there is always going to be this like level of risk with any career changer that there is a learning curve. So your attitude addressing these concerns is going to play a huge part into whether or not you actually get hired. If you don’t think someone with five years of corporate training experience would know everything that there is about teaching third graders, you’re going to want to use that same kind of sense when describing your own transferable skills and experience.

There’s going to be a huge difference between saying something like, “I know everything that there is to know about instructional design, because I’ve been a teacher for X years.” Or, “I completely understand your reservations about hiring someone in a career pivot. I’m grateful for this opportunity to display not only how my skills translate into instructional design, but also how fast I can learn and how passionate I am about this new path.” Using LinkedIn to participate in threads insulting hiring managers, opinions, or concerns might make you a lot of new friends who are also very stressed out in job hunting, but they are sure as heck not going to open any doors for you in your job hunt.

Hiring managers are not going to expect you to be perfect in your new role, especially if you’ve never formally held that position. They’re going to be super impressed by how much you’ve learned while you’re learning about that position. But you need to keep yourself in check that you are not displaying overconfidence, that you know everything about everything of a job that you’ve never really accurately held, whether this is something that you are displaying in interviews or on LinkedIn, because this can be perceived as unprofessional.

And when you’re finished with your interviews, another area where I see many teachers struggling is just do two very big feelings when you are getting actual feedback. It’s time to reflect on feedback to help you learn and grow. And if someone’s going to offer you feedback, it may sting, but try to open it up and accept constructive criticism, because this is definitely part of the process of learning new things and growing in a new direction.

My last tip, tip number five is to leave teaching on good terms when possible. This is both how you plan to resign and how you actually announce you’ll leave on social media. When you do plan to leave, don’t burn bridges when possible. Now, if you are contemplating leaving midyear, make sure to go back to Episode 52 of this podcast, to listen to my advice on how to leave big career, how to write your letter of resignation, and everything that you may need to consider as you make this really personal decision. I know that not burning bridges is not always possible, depending on your own unique situations. You may someday want an internal referral from a former colleague or someday you may actually want to return to teaching. So if you can leave on a diplomatic note, I always recommend it, but I do know that some situations are more extreme where you are just not able to do that.

When you do start to announce that you’ll leave, remember all of my other advice on maintaining professionalism and a positive attitude about your previous employment on LinkedIn and in interviews. It’s really common for people on LinkedIn to say something around the lines of, “When I joined this company or when I joined this profession, my goal was to make an impact in these very specific areas. I’ve always been really passionate about my time doing this, and I’ve loved the company or this role’s mission to do X and Y. That being said, I am now open to opportunities where I can continue to grow and with my passion for X, Y, and Z. And if you or anyone else that you know is looking for someone who fits that description, I would love to connect.

With so many new former teachers on LinkedIn, I see posts with the sentiment, “I finally left teaching after years of hating it,” kinds of posts. And while these are your honest feelings, you really don’t see these types of venting posts commonly with other people leaving their careers on LinkedIn. And this is something that can be perceived as someone who is unprofessional and does not know how to use LinkedIn or professional platforms. Someone who is struggling with a lot of burnout or someone who just may be unhappy in whatever position they do after teaching. And that’s not something that you want for yourself.

When following other people on social platforms, I encourage you to look for those that demonstrate these types of qualities and appropriate behaviors. Unfollow those who are distracting and potentially leading you to act unprofessionally. Assess how you maintain professionalism in the workplace and during your search, even when you are feeling these really big emotions. I always want to remind you that your emotions through this entire process are so valid. You have every single right to have these really big feelings, especially after all that you have been through and the stress of a career change on top of it. So needing to leave a profession that has totally broken you while pretending you are not totally broken is not an easy ask. And I know that, but it is really important to your success. You’re going to have to learn to manage your emotions and identify where it is a safe and a productive place to let the emotions out.

If you feel like you have issues managing these emotions positively and productively, this may be an area of focus for the next few months for personal development, potentially reaching out and trying to find a therapist if possible. There are also so many private communities like The Teacher Career Coach community, where you can connect with others and share your true feelings where it is not as front and center as it will be if it is on LinkedIn. You will find your fit and you will find the company that values your experience. I will be here rooting you along the entire way of your journey.

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