87 - Lizette Velazquez: Leveraging Your Experience As A School Counselor
87 - Lizette Velazquez: Leveraging Your Experience As A School Counselor

87 – Lizette Velazquez: Leveraging Your Experience As A School Counselor

TeacherCareerCoach

In this episode, I speak with former school counselor, Lizette Velazquez, about her transition out of the school system and how she leveraged her experience into a new career.

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

Leveraging Your Experience as a School Counselor – Transcript

Daphne Gomez:
Welcome to The Teacher Career Coach Podcast. I’m your host, Daphne Gomez. In this episode, I interview Lizette Velasquez. Lizette is a former high school teacher and a middle school counselor who initially actually pivoted into EdTech sales. She now works as an account manager for a staffing organization, supporting schools. Listen in to our conversation about what brought her to this new role and every step she took in between. Hi, Lizette. Thank you so much for being here today.

Lizette Velasquez:
Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure.

Daphne Gomez:
I always like to start off just asking a few basic questions about people’s roles inside of education and what is a little bit interesting about your experiences, you pivoted even inside of education first before you left altogether. Do you mind sharing a little bit about your history working inside the classroom and then also outside of the classroom, but still in a school?

Lizette Velasquez:
Yeah, absolutely. I got my start as a high school, social studies teacher. Absolutely loved it. I worked in a relatively large high school. There were a lot of opportunities for extracurriculars, stipend positions, and one of them happened to be on the intervention team and on that team were some other teachers from various departments and also school counselors. I was able to make friends and network and get my feet wet in intervention work and working with kids on a more individual basis to help them with their academics and to get them across the finish line for graduation. That was so rewarding. I think sometimes I was more happy to see them graduate than they were, because it was challenging sometimes. But that experience really led me to look into grad school for counseling. I really just loved it the more I was immersed into it and I loved my grad school experience. I got my master’s in school counseling and was able to leave the classroom at the onset of the pandemic and pivot into a school counseling role.

Daphne Gomez:
Did you find yourself when you went into that school counseling role, feeling like that was helping some with your work-life balance? I’m not sure what led you to want to leave, but that’s something that I’ve heard from a couple of my friends who have actually left their teaching positions into school counselor roles, that they felt like it was a little bit less stress on their end. Different types of stress, definitely stressful, but less day-to-day stress.

Lizette Velasquez:
Yes and no. I say yes, because I had a amazing internship experience while I actually was still teaching full-time. Looking back on it, I don’t even know how I did it all. That was so, so much fun, different type of stress, but I enjoyed it. With that said, my internship experience and my initial exposure to counseling was pre-COVID. Going into that counseling position, I will say my stressors were definitely alleviated in regard to taking a day off. No more lesson plans. Lesson plans in general, were not something that I had to do often. I did do push-in lessons a handful of times throughout the month, but much more manageable. I will say that the emotional stress was much different, because my role particularly was at a middle school level. You were not so much focused on graduation requirements and college applications and that academic career planning side, it really is a lot of social emotional support.
Those kiddos are small and dealing with big feelings. I found that the stress was very different on an emotional front and my daily stressors definitely were more intense in some ways. It was just very different, but I also think part of that was because I changed districts. I was brand new to a department, to a district. There were new administrators. We were both in the same boat of learning to navigate a new district and life post-COVID. The kiddos just had different needs at that time, and none of us really could have anticipated because it was baptism by fire. So yes and no. I hope I answered that.

Daphne Gomez:
No, you did a great job. I think that, that’s one of the things so many teachers who are struggling, who are thinking, “I want to leave teaching.” They also are still looking for, “How do I find a role where I’m a helper? How do I find something that’s really intrinsically motivating?” With that also comes, it’s hard to turn off. When I worked in a school district that had kiddos that were going through some really big, serious things, I did not have a good holiday break because my Christmas was spent heartbroken over some of the things that I’d seen and heard weeks before and just worrying about them. It is hard to turn yourself off when your full-time career is just spent helping other people. People in helping positions really have to take care of their own mental health and set some boundaries.
That is something that is really challenging and difficult to do. Even if the paperwork is different and it’s less or it’s more, the more you put yourself out there in these types of positions, the more likely it is that it could take over afterwards. I think you did a really good job of answering that and it also is why it’s sometimes so appealing to just, “What is a 9:00 to 5:00 job that I can shut off at the end of the day? I want to sell house plants and I don’t want to worry about them when I’m done at 5:00 PM. How do I get that job?” But that’s not really where our hearts are. We still want to make sure that we’re doing something that is helping other people, whether it’s people on our team and people at different companies. When did you really start looking for different types of positions and were you looking for something that was intrinsically motivating or just open to anything?

Lizette Velasquez:
I think June of that first year that I was done. I pivoted in September with the start of the school year, had some questions about it in December, but I think that, that’s normal, to be brand new in a position. I think that I started to question it, because I also was tenured in my previous role. I loved my district. I had great administrators. I had a great schedule and a phenomenal co-teacher, and so I started to second guess why I left that behind. That could have just been new jitters. I came back after that winter break, put those feelings to rest, but when they started to resurface again late May, June, after my first year, I really got serious that summer. I realized that I’d spent enough time in education. I was coming up on a decade, that those feelings were resurfacing and it was causing a little turmoil for me at home.
I really needed to consider what my life could look like outside of education. I knew my heart was in it, but was it the best fit for me? Was it going to be the best fit for me long-term as I looked to start a family of my own? I really had to sit and do a lot of soul-searching and reflecting. I’d say that summer, so honestly, July 2021, I really committed, was on LinkedIn. I made a brain dump of all of the platforms and topics and whatnot that I was exposed to as a counselor, but not a teacher. I really started getting strategic. I wanted to think about what is it that would make me marketable. That’s when I started following different companies that I’d only known as a counselor, one platform in particular that allowed us to check up on our kiddos on what they were writing and a screening tool.
I started following their CEO on LinkedIn and saw the resources that were put out, started seeing online career fairs and really got serious, July, August 2021. Got a few bites, had something, made it to the final round early on in the school year, but it didn’t really go my favor. It’s a blessing in disguise and just really stuck with it, narrowed my focus on in terms of what roles I was really most interested in. As soon as I really got clear on that and gave myself a self-imposed duty, I kept saying, “By January, 1st, I will have put my resignation in.” I think I willed it into existence because by early December, I was walking to administrator whom I loved dearly and was so nervous to tell them that in my hand was not student paperwork, that it was my resignation letter. But I was very, very supported in that decision, which I’m grateful for.

Daphne Gomez:
Your first role was a sales role in a EdTech company, correct?

Lizette Velasquez:
Yes.

Daphne Gomez:
You had landed in the realm of sales, what was your actual official title for that role?

Lizette Velasquez:
I was a business development representative.

Daphne Gomez:
Okay, so BDR. Usually, the BDRs and SDRs and account managers all work together, depending on how the company’s set up. Can you explain a little bit about what your role was as a BDR at that company?

Lizette Velasquez:
Yeah, absolutely. The primary role, or I should say primary task was a lot of outbounding, especially specific to my territory, just a lot of research and practicing best sales practices and really just getting acclimated with the role. It was very much entry-level, which was very cool. I got to learn a lot about solutions, focus, sales, being more consultative than anything, really listening to folks. It was nice because it wasn’t focused on making someone fit into a square peg, if that’s not the shape that was there. It really was just so neat to be able to talk to educators from other parts of the country that I would’ve otherwise not met and really connect with people. I loved that part, it being client facing, but really I mean, it was to connect with folks, see if there was a need and if there was, try and help them out.

87 - Lizette Velazquez: Leveraging Your Experience As A School Counselor

Daphne Gomez:
There are always going to be different companies with different cultures and different sales strategies. But I love what you just said right there about not trying to fit a peg where it doesn’t fit. That’s one of the reasons why I think that so many teachers are amazing sales people. It is a scary job to jump into without doing some homework on what it means. I feel like most people just are naturally resistant to the word sales, but it’s a lot of active listening and just figuring out what they need and how you can show them if what you are selling is a good fit for them. Kind of like a little presentation and just marketing whatever it is, but to differentiate whatever their specific need is. What characteristics do you think that you have personally that made you a good salesperson and made you actually marketable for this specific position when you’re applying?

Lizette Velasquez:
That’s a great question. I think in part it’s me as a human and my nature, but also my training in counseling. There, I tried to read as many sales books and listen to podcasts before I even started interviewing. Something that came up in numerous books that I read was the concept of mirroring. Matching someone’s tone and just basic ways in which you can interact with a person to build rapport. A lot of those things looked very similar, if not were word for word, what was in my counseling textbook, because a lot of counseling is active listening, questioning. I can’t tell you how many times a kiddo would come in my office and have an objection about a class or a complaint. You just switch that word complaint with pain point for a customer in sales and whatever the kiddo told me the first time, usually it wasn’t really what they were upset about.
That’s often the same thing that happens in sales. You get an objection, but that might not really be the true objection, so ask clarifying questions, keep listening and engage in the conversation. Oftentimes, you’ll be able to uncover what the real pain point is, not even what the knee-jerk reaction, where that first gut objection is of the customer. That was very similar to working with kids. The more that I learned about sales techniques and best practices, the more it really aligned with things that counselors do or social workers or school psychologists, really that whole umbrella of student support services, it was just really in line with that.

Daphne Gomez:
I think another thing that happens in sales that also happens in education roles and probably as a counselor, I’ve never been a counselor, but I’m assuming that you had to keep a lot of very accurate and detailed notes. In sales positions, usually one of the strengths of a good sales person is they’re able to keep really well-documented notes in Salesforce or another kind of tracking system. Was that something that you felt like you saw in your own personal role outside of the classroom?

Lizette Velasquez:
Yes, absolutely very much so. I think keeping detailed notes, whether it’s in your classroom or as counselor in your SIS, it is just like you’re saying, very similar to maintaining the information in your CRM. The other thing that came in really handy was my background in research. That made me naturally interested in prospecting and pretty good at it. It was one of the things that my manager complimented me on. I was also able to internalize the new information that was given to me to create job aids for myself and job aids that ended up being shared out with my teammates and eventually used as part of the onboarding process for new folks. That was really neat too, to still see that some of my teacher skills were coming in handy, where it was just putting information to paper to try and make my day a little easier and make that new knowledge actionable.

Daphne Gomez:
Did you ever find yourself competitive when it came to heading your own goals and your own quota? Competitive with yourself?

Lizette Velasquez:
Oh, very much so. I mean, I grew up being an athlete. I played sport in college. I am by nature, just a smidge competitive. I’m a little overly ambitious. If I could stay in grad school forever, I would. Since completing my master’s, I’ve gone back twice, most recently for a post baccalaureate certificate in adult learning and instructional design. I usually give myself about six to eight months to decompress before setting some new goal. Currently, I’m working toward preparing for a 10 miler in November. So…

Daphne Gomez:
That was something that you knew about yourself. It wasn’t a surprise. You got into this role and you’re like, “Oh, I’m competitive with myself.” You knew that going in probably?

Lizette Velasquez:
Very much so. It was something that was chatted about a bit in my interviews. I’m also very humble though. I’m very self-aware to know where I fall short, when I need to ask for help. That is something that I really lead with. If I’m good at something, I will be open about that, but not from a boisterous perspective. It’s, “I’m just throwing it out there. This is something I can help with if you’d like, open door policy.” Like I said, if it’s something I’m not good at, I’m going to be very transparent about that as well. But also I think that, that is an opportunity to attempt to be even an ounce better.

Daphne Gomez:
One thing I have to go back, I know you mentioned this a couple minutes ago and I have to address it. You said entry-level, so I’m just going to assume that means you took this huge pay cut to leave a position and take an entry-level position. Is that accurate?

Lizette Velasquez:
No. In fact, I got a substantial pay increase and the benefits even on top of that were beyond better than what I was receiving public ed.

Daphne Gomez:
That’s going to differ from state to state. Whatever state you’re working at, if you’re in a higher paying district, there’s a chance that entry-level positions… and honestly, there’s probably many positions that you’re applying for that once you get into that interview, does end up giving you a number that is not above your pay rate. I don’t want to say blindly, every position is going to pay that much more, but a lot of times we see that label, this entry-level position, and especially those roles that don’t have salaries listed on the actual job description and we assume the worst, and then go in and are actually pleasantly surprised sometimes. Do you remember, was the salary actually on the job when you were applying for this one?

Lizette Velasquez:
It was not.

Daphne Gomez:
It wasn’t?

Lizette Velasquez:
No.

Daphne Gomez:
Did you assume that you were going to take a pay decrease when you were applying for it or you had no idea?

Lizette Velasquez:
Honestly, I don’t know that I did. I mean, I knew it was a possibility. I didn’t go in with a definitive feeling.

Daphne Gomez:
How long were you actually in this tech sales position before you started looking for something even different?

Lizette Velasquez:
Three months.

Daphne Gomez:
You realized within three months that you probably were looking to use that as a stepping stone?

Lizette Velasquez:
Yes. Part of that also was just some of the information that had been shared out during the interview process in the earliest days of onboarding, seemed to be trending in a different direction, or it just seemed that maybe business needs were changing. It wasn’t really aligning to what I thought it was going to be and what was initially discussed. I knew that I needed to be open to being somewhere that was really going to put me where I wanted to be within the timeframe that I wanted to be therein.

Daphne Gomez:
You started applying for other roles within three months. Did you find yourself getting interviews more easily after you had different types of experience on your resume?

Lizette Velasquez:
Absolutely. Even within the first two weeks of changing my LinkedIn and being in [inaudible 00:19:04] at that EdTech company, the amount of recruiters that were in my inbox, it was completely different than what I had experienced even six months prior. Six months prior, I’d had a couple good leads with recruiters, and one of them actually led to a job offer that was really great and actually really made it hard to decide between two offers. I was really grateful to even be in that position and to be able to have choices leaving public ed, because I was nervous that no one was going to take a chance [inaudible 00:19:37]. One of the big reasons I was super nervous was because in my particular state, there’s a 60 day hold. You resigned, but you have 60 days to fulfill before you’re free from your contract.
I didn’t know if I was going to be able to find a corporate position that would wait for me, that liked me enough, felt like I was the right fit. That really just was eye-opening and gave me a lot of confidence because I think that was the thing that was really causing me a lot of anxiety. But for sure, as soon as I pivoted, lots of opportunities opened up. In fact, one job offer that I had after that EdTech company, I didn’t end up accepting, but it was communicated to me that I even was given that opportunity to interview and put my best foot forward and land that job offer because I’d already been in the EdTech space, even if it was brief. That was communicated by a handful of different hiring managers that I’d interviewed with, and that was just really interesting to learn and experience.

Daphne Gomez:
I felt like the same thing really happened to me. I know 2017 when I left is a completely different time than it is now. Now, my resume shows that I have five years of working in really well-known EdTech companies, but they’re really looking for someone who has broken into an industry. That is hard because you want to break into an industry, but you need the experience to break into it, to break into it. Getting these entry-level positions is usually the best way if you know that it’s something that is a long-term goal to help you start looking for other positions. Ideally, the first role that you get into is the one that you want to stay in.
That’s a dream situation, but that’s not the way that many people work in their career. Anyone who’s happy in their career in other industries are still looking for other jobs if other jobs are paying better. It’s just something that I think is really foreign to teachers and kudos to you for knowing that within the first few months of finding your new role, that maybe that wasn’t a good fit for you. The next role that you were in was an account manager position. Do you mind sharing a little bit about what your job duties were there and what the job title was?

Lizette Velasquez:
Yes, absolutely. The official title was account manager and I was supporting a very specific school district. This was a completely different industry. It was staffing and it was a lot of fun because it got me back into school buildings. I was able to be boots on the ground again, but not as a public educator, I was the vendor. I was coming in and really offering support to the administrators and really hearing how we could help ensure there’s proper staffing and help with training of folks. That was just really cool because it was a nice blend of some HR and also some sales, really my primary purpose of being there was making sure that all of the aspects of the contract were being executed in the sense that we were fulfilling the services that we said we were going to. It was just really neat, because it had some sales components or customer success components when you’re thinking about preparing for business reviews and looking at the data and meeting with your clients and also building that rapport to avoid churn when that initial contract timeframe is up.
That was really cool in that regard and then being exposed to HR because I was able to learn some HR platforms and help with onboarding and actually helping with even payroll and learning just platforms and things that I otherwise would’ve never been exposed to. That also gave me some insight into whether or not maybe down the road I want to pursue something in HR or it gave me the opportunity to reflect on did I really enjoy training the staff members. Just really opened my eyes up to even more things that I could do at some point. Honestly, I also had some of the greatest co-workers and my managers were the nicest people in the world. In fact, my direct manager was also a former educator, really down to earth, just a kind human. It was a very enjoyable experience.

Daphne Gomez:
For both of these roles, did you find any difference in your work-life balance from leaving education and then going into both the sales role and this account manager role? Was there a change in your work-life balance?

Lizette Velasquez:
Absolutely. I think I had culture shock the first two to three weeks, especially in counseling, you are privy to some of the hiccups and challenges that teachers don’t see, and that was eye-opening for me. I think I came away from that experience almost overstimulated and all the time and everything became urgent because I was dealing with some pretty heavy things on a daily basis. Within that first couple weeks, talking to grownups more than children was a culture shock. The pace of things being so much slower was an absolute culture shock. I felt almost guilty for having even a smidge of idle time, but the work-life balance was phenomenal. I got to just close my laptop. When I got to take my PTO, it really was just an email out of office message. It was mind-blowing, the quality of life that I was able to obtain, that alone solidified that I’d made the right choice.

Daphne Gomez:
During this time as either the sales role or the account manager role, it sounds like there was a fair amount of travel at least included in that account manager position. You probably were going onsite. Was the rest of your duties done remotely, or did you have an office position?

Lizette Velasquez:
EdTech position was fully remote. When I moved into the account manager role, that was slated to be fully onsite. In the beginning though, just based on time of year and the need, I was able to work remotely and also hybrid because when I wasn’t on the district land property, whatever you want to call it, when I wasn’t actually at the school sites, we had a local office that I could work out of. That was really nice. But I will say, even though it was slated to the onsite, there was flexibility even within that, because if the school building is closed for winter break, I wasn’t going to be at the school site. I could work from the office or chat with my manager. They were very human about it. There was still some flexibility within that. That was the best of both worlds and it was pretty local. A 15 minute commute wasn’t hurting anything. It was nice to have a little bit change of a scenery, but it was definitely manageable.

Daphne Gomez:
For me, I have been working remotely for a little bit over four years with a one year of going in office and then some onsite positions. I personally, mentally feel better if I leave the house and have to go to an office or have to go onsite somewhere. I know everybody’s different, but there are so many people who are using remote work as their non-negotiable and I think that as teachers, we have so much human connection in our career, that we don’t realize what remote is going to feel like and that, that is going to be an adjustment and lonely because we’re missing out on that human connection when we do go remote.

Lizette Velasquez:
Absolutely. I think that’s also what drew me to being open to being back in a position that was onsite. The remote role that I’d been in, they did a really great job of building community, allowing us to network with each other, encouraging us to work with our teammates. I have one friend in particular, who also happened to be my sorority sister and we found that out when we became co-workers. We were able to use each other as a support and hop on a Zoom call and do call blocks and really support each other. But I think that does vary from place to place. But I would say I also too, could echo, I felt rejuvenated to be able to chat with people, be in-person and really have that time.

Daphne Gomez:
I think you’re going to be the official queen of the stepping-stone career, because as we were chatting before we started, you have some exciting news that you have landed a brand new position. Do you mind sharing a little bit more about what both of these roles have led you to ultimately being now?

Lizette Velasquez:
Yeah, absolutely. I really loved my account management role. I’ll never say never, when I tell you I worked with and for some amazing people. It wouldn’t surprise me if I end up in some pivot down the road, working right back with those folks, they were really great. In part, the reason I left that position in the account management role was just some changes in personal circumstance, specifically around my health. I realized that at this point in my life being client facing might not be the best thing for me. I need to be a little bit more selfish and that was really hard for me, because I really am the type of person that really wants to do for others and enjoys being of service. I had decided to step back from that position and really focus on my health and just decompress from all of the things I’ve experienced in the past couple months and lo and behold, a new opportunity presented itself and I’m loving it.
It’s allowing me to use some of my teacher brain in terms of learning design and being creative again. But I am also not client facing. I am in a place of being a corporate trainer, where I am servicing a very specific department. It’s really cool too, because it’s in an industry that I have not yet been in. It is not public ed. It is not EdTech and it is not staffing and recruiting. This is completely different and also scary. But I can say I had to take an exam to prove that I am acclimating to this information and this new space. I was over the moon to be able to report and ping my manager that I got 100 on an industry exam. That was really exciting. But in this specific role, I’m really focused on onboarding, ongoing training, helping folks acclimate, just really helping streamline the department and improving processes, and I love that. I love that I get to be the welcoming committee and just of service again. It’s probably the best parts of everything I’ve done so far.

Daphne Gomez:
I’ve told so many teachers that are looking to become a corporate trainer that sometimes you need experience inside corporate life before you can start working and being in charge of onboarding and training people internally. For those corporate trainer positions, one of the ones that I’ve seen so commonly is sales enablement training. Is that really what you’re doing right now?

Lizette Velasquez:
No. I’m actually in banking, which is not anything that was ever on my radar. I couldn’t have predicted this. If anyone had told me this six months ago, a year, I’d be like, “Nope, I do not think you’re correct.” But it’s interesting where you end up landing. But funny you say that, because whether it was sales trainer, in charge of onboarding, or sales enablement, those were things that I was really interested in. Those were things that in part led me to that BDR role in the beginning, because I wanted to be able to learn that space. I liked the idea of that being the goal, but I didn’t feel like you could run before you crawled or walked. I needed to know what it was like to be in the trenches to know that position. Still something that’s in the back of my brain.
I think the thing I’ve come to realize about myself is that I don’t have a dream job at all, because some of the most rewarding positions or even extracurriculars I did as a teacher, were not things that were ever on my radar. I played soccer lacrosse. I ran winter track. Those were the things in my wheelhouse and I ended up coaching cheer, and it was amazing. It pushed me outside of my comfort zone and really helped me grow as a person and I learned so much. I’m a big proponent of just seeing where I go, seeing how my skill sets can best benefit the business needs and really just staying open-minded.

Daphne Gomez:
I feel like it’s something that I’ve mentioned before, which is getting your hands dirty is the only way to really know if you like something. Because if you’re hearing all these academic vocabulary words about jobs you’ve never actually tried, it’s easy to say, “I would like this and I would hate that.” But actually trying it. I know that’s easier said than done. “Well, how am I going to actually try it?” Well, see if there are volunteering opportunities for you to try it. If you’re not wanting to actually apply and get these types of positions, see if there’s somewhere where you can volunteer for a couple of months and do it on the weekends, just to see if it’s something that brings you joy, that you find yourself competitive with.
I usually end the podcast episodes with, what did you learn about yourself in the process, but I think that you actually just summed that up perfectly. But I want to thank you so much for coming on and sharing because you have done a huge service to this audience for sharing your story. I feel like you have really shown what being open to new opportunities can look like and not being afraid to take chances and take risks to better your life, how that can actually turn into a success story as well. Thank you so much for coming on and just sharing your story. I’m so happy that I got to meet you and talk to you for a little while.

Lizette Velasquez:
Thanks so much. It’s my pleasure. I owe you lots of thank yous because many moons ago when the thought of leaving crept in my mind, I didn’t know where to begin. I felt alone in that, and I didn’t, once I stumbled upon your Instagram page and your resources, and I listened to your podcast religiously, I encouraged everyone who even remotely hinted at wanting to leave and was like, “I’m not saying you have to, but I’m just saying, listen to this.” There are things out here, you’re not alone in this. Just, thank you.

Daphne Gomez:
It’s wild to see the success stories come full circle, but I’m just so grateful for the opportunity. Thank you so much.

Lizette Velasquez:
Thanks. Take care.

Daphne Gomez:
I want to give a huge thank you to Lizette for coming on and sharing her story with this audience. Now, for any of you who are just starting to listen to The Teacher Career Coach Podcast, my first piece of advice would be, make sure that you are subscribed. Click the button to subscribe so that you do not miss any future episodes. But in this episode, we actually talked a lot about stepping-stone jobs and sales in general. I would go back and make sure that you’ve listened to some of our past episodes that do deeper dives into these subjects. Episode 76 is all about stepping-stone jobs and episode 57 does a really deep dive into all the different types of sales positions that you may be looking into and who would be a great candidate for a sales role from education. Thank you for being a listener and for continuing to share this resource with others looking for this type of support, and we’ll see you on the very next episode of The Teacher Career Coach Podcast.

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