You never know who you’ll meet when you’re networking, or how a conversation will impact you (or other people) down the road.
Several months ago I met Rae Button during a networking event for our local ATD chapter in Seattle. Several years ago I met Asha Aravindakshan during a virtual networking event hosted by my university’s alumni office. Several days ago, I connected Rae with Asha, and today’s podcast features their conversation.
Rae is a former elementary school teacher looking to pivot into a role in the learning and development field. Asha is an author whose book, Skills: The Common Denominator, has already helped countless people use their skills and life experience to transition from one career field into a different career field.
If you’re looking to get a foothold in the L&D space, this conversation between Asha and Rae may offer you some insights and/or some questions to be thinking about in your own situation.
You may also be interested in checking out Endurance Learning’s L&D Pro Academy.
Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Train Like You Listen, a podcast about all things learning and development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn, I’m the Co-founder of an instructional design company called Endurance Learning, and I’m also your host for this podcast. And today I’m joined by two people – Asha Aravindakshan, who is a fellow alumnus from one of the nation’s most prestigious universities, the George Washington University, and author of a book entitled Skills: The Common Denominator. And I’m also joined by Rae Button, a former Elementary School Teacher who has been looking to transition into the world of learning and development.
Today’s podcast is going to be a little different. Asha’s a guest from a previous podcast, and she talked about some of the concepts in her book. Today, she’ll be showing us all how some of those concepts from Skills: The Common Denominator can actually be applied when you’re making a career pivot. And in just a moment, I’m going to take a back seat and just watch the magic unfold as Asha talks with Rae about her career pivot.
But before I do, I want to let everyone know that today, we’re brought to you by Endurance Learning’s Training Activity Cookbook. This is a free downloadable eBook that offers you 63 different training activities. The activities are broken up by a specific way that they can be used in a training session. So if you put these activities together, you could actually come up with 42,000 different combinations and you can download these activities for free.
Okay, that was a mouthful. And now I’m going to take a back seat and listen as Asha and Rae have this conversation. I’ll join everyone back here in a little bit, but Asha, Rae, the floor is yours.
Asha Aravindakshan: Thanks, Brian, for the kind introduction and also for creating that cookbook. I downloaded it right away, and I was really impressed with the activities that your team has compiled in there and you know, excited to use it with the team in the future.
Transitioning from Teaching to Training
Asha Aravindakshan: So, Rae, I was excited to get to know you earlier in the week as we were preparing for our chat. I had a chance to look at your resume and also your LinkedIn profile, but I want to hear in your own words: what is it that you did in your career and what do you want to do in the future?
Rae Button: Okay. Hi, everyone. I started my career in Highline School District as an Elementary Teacher in South Seattle. I taught second grade, so I was in charge of all academic and social subjects. And then really quickly– so my first year, I ended up joining our English Language Learners Certification Program through Highline. And it’s just because we have so many students who are learning English. And that’s when I discovered I am my most engaged self when I’m learning, so it kind of changed my mindset when it came to work. So I started joining different committees and teams, and then I– so I stayed in Highline for five years and then I moved up to Shoreline School District in Elementary as well and continued teaching. But during that time I took on a lot more leadership roles.
So I was the math lead, our STEM lead– so science, technology, engineering, art, and math. And then I realized I was really interested in social-emotional learning, so I started taking a lot of courses and classes through my district and became the lead of that as well. And then eventually our union rep joined our leadership academy. I don’t know. All those things on top of teaching.
Tips for Highlighting Skills on a LinkedIn Profile
Asha Aravindakshan: Thank you for sharing your story with us. For our global listeners, Rae is calling in from Seattle and she had worked previously in school districts in the Seattle Metro area. And so when I was listening to that story, what I heard were a lot of elements of the growth mindset. She was never just satisfied with just teaching in the classroom. She wanted to progress and to learn other elements of teaching and to grow her knowledge to better serve her students. I also loved hearing about the social-emotional learning piece – that just shows that she’s very in tune with her own emotional intelligence and that of her students.
But what I’m not seeing on her resume and her LinkedIn is a reflection of the leadership that she’s taken in these activities that she’s pursued. Now, I could see it in the titles as far as like lead, but– and teacher leader- but your objective on your resume or the “About” section on your LinkedIn profile should really show how you progressed in each of these endeavors that you took on and that shows a lot of initiative and also people recognizing your leadership skill to provide you with that opportunity. And so I’d love to see you incorporate some of that language into those two places.
Rae Button: No, that’s a great idea.
Tips for Highlighting Skills on a Resume
Asha Aravindakshan: And so one thing I also want to talk about with your resume, which I loved, was you are trying to pivot careers and you’re trying to pivot out of teaching. And so instead of just listing all your teaching experiences in a normal chronological resume, you’ve taken the move to make page one more of a functional resume. And so you’ve kind of broken out being an educator versus a trainer, and then your community-building experience and the related bullets there. And then, you know, kind of corralled the chronological teaching experience to the second page so people still get their questions answered as far as like, where are you been working and what you’ve been doing. And so I think that’s a really great idea.
I work in tech and I similarly had a background that was not in tech before taking the role, and so my page one is that tech company experience organized by functional area, and the second page is that chronological non-tech experience. So it was nice to see that you have organized information that way and just something as people are listening to this, they know that they can do also.
Rae Button: Yeah, that was a big aha moment for me during this journey was learning to alter my resume that way. I also learned that educators, we do our resumes completely different than the outside world, so it was a crash course in resume writing. And then I found that having “educator” up front right away ended up holding people up from reviewing my resume further and seeing the skills I had. So this was a way to showcase what I can do without having people get hung up on that word “teacher.”
Updating a Teacher’s Resume with L&D Language
Asha Aravindakshan: Oh, that’s great. And I think that’s a lot, you know– people have a lot of preconceived notions when they see certain terms on a resume, and so they may not realize that you’re trying to pivot out of what you were doing and into something new and attach themselves to like the first word that’s on the page. You had mentioned that you had referenced an ATD resource that helped you with the language and the terminology of updating your resume. Can you talk a little more about that?
Rae Button: Yeah. It was through ATD. I was networking and I found another teacher who’d successfully transitioned out of teaching and into the corporate world and landing in the L&D environment. And she is the one who handed me that resource that she’d been given by another ATD teacher who had gotten out, so it’s now gone through the grapevine. And it was this wonderful document that took our terminology as educators and then moved it into the corporate world, so I could just change the verbiage throughout my resume. And it was saying the exact same thing, it was just not in our teacher jargon anymore.
Asha Aravindakshan: And that’s all important because every industry has its own jargon, and so to get your resume in a place where it’s not using the jargon, not using the industry-specific acronyms, right?
Rae Button: Yep.
Asha Aravindakshan: It just makes it easier for those people outside of the industry, and the potential industry you want to work for, understand what you bring to the table. And so you’ve made all these changes to your resume, then you know, did you circulate it amongst other educators and friends to review it for you? Like how’d you know that you got it to a better place?
Rae Button: Yes, I did circulate. I actually skipped the educator friends because we use the same jargon and I don’t even realize what words are not common outside of teaching anymore. So I spread it amongst my non-educator friends, and they were able to look through it and give me feedback. The one thing I did find– so let’s say like my brother and I worked on my resume. Within an hour, he no longer could– he started recognizing my jargon because we talked about it so much. So he couldn’t identify it as well. So then I had to move to another person to look at it, and then not communicate with them so they could edit it. But yeah, I have found a lot of success in sharing it with other non-educators.
Asha Aravindakshan: Oh, I think that’s great. I think that’s fantastic tactic to use, especially when you’re trying to break away and do something different. So let’s dig into the what you want to do.
Rae Button: Okay.
Asha Aravindakshan: And so you want to, you know, head into the private sector, you want to leverage your teaching skills, and I know we talked about going into ed tech, you know, perhaps into a facilitation role. That’s a few different pivots and I want to recognize that. Changing industries, changing organizations, and changing roles, it’s not easy.
Rae Button: No.
Finding the Right Time to Pivot into an L&D Career
Asha Aravindakshan: How did you determine that this was the right time to pursue this change in this career path?
Rae Button: I decided at the end of last school year, it was time. So I had actually– in 2017, I had tried to transition out of teaching and I had hit similar walls and I just– I fell back into the classroom. It was easy. And then I did another five years and I realized I really– it’s time for this change. So I made sure to get all– give away all my teaching stuff so I couldn’t go back to it. And that was kind of the big driving force. But the very first thing I did was just start networking with my immediate network – people I knew. And then it grew and they sent me to other people, and I ended up talking to an old high school friend who was a teacher who got out, and he told me, he said, “The best thing you can do is join ATD.” And so I joined that night and then I think the next day we had a networking meeting and I just hopped in. And that really revolutionized my network because now I’m meeting all these people I don’t have connections to. So now I have– I think they’re called like your weak links.
Asha Aravindakshan: Weak ties, yes.
Rae Button: So that really grew it and that helped me. But at the very beginning, I felt pretty lost. I didn’t know what skillset I had and what teachers could do. And so just– I was in the phase of meeting everyone I knew and talking about their job. Like what do you do?
Asha Aravindakshan: Okay.
Rae Button: And thinking that’s something I’m interested in. And then really thinking about what is this skillset teaching has given me. And that’s how I landed in the L&D world is that my skillset aligns so well with that, that I can pursue certifications in continued education, but I don’t have to go to grad school or something for this pivot. So it’s how I’ve landed in there. But I guess because– so listening to your book, one of the people talked about how when you’re young, you should be trying lots of jobs so you can figure out what you’re good at and what you’re interested in. And when I was young, I hopped into the classroom and teaching. You’re so focused in that world. I never had the opportunity to try on all those other jobs. So now I’m kind of doing that as a much older adult. So I am going into this with “I will try training and facilitation and figure out what I like about that, and then I’ll use that to leverage my next step, you know, just doing it a little later in life.”
Asha Aravindakshan: No, I think that’s totally fine. I think the point of a career pivot is it doesn’t have to be limited to early career or as a young professional. It could happen at any time and you need to be ready for it.
Rae Button: Yes.
Asha Aravindakshan: And so you had been almost planting the seeds for six years that you are going to do this and you are going to be ready for it. And sometimes it does take that long once you set an intention, maybe some people need to save money before they can make a change. But once you set that intention, it’ll happen. I’ve seen it over and over again. And like you mentioned the book, you know those stories had that similar theme throughout them. And so one, you know– going back to what you mentioned, there are like so many things I’d love to unpack.
You know, you mentioned networking, you mentioned reconnecting with somebody from high school who introduced you to this organization called ATD and that just opened a lot of doors, not only to other people who are making similar changes or had made that change, but also set up conversations with other people in their networks. Can you talk about the networking and maybe how uncomfortable it was to do that?
Networking for a Job in the Field of L&D
Rae Button: Oh, I can definitely talk about that. I have to give credit to my brother. He really pushed me to just cold call people on LinkedIn and showed me how to vet through them to see like, “oh, we went to the same university,” or “we have this connection” and it’s so uncomfortable. But it’s like a muscle – the more you do it, the better you get at it. I started, you know– I have my little Google Doc of my really quick texts that I send to people, so I don’t even have to type it out. And of course, I change it to make it personal.
And then you kind of realize most people in the world want to help. Like if someone asks me for help, most of the time I’m going to say yes unless I have a real reason why I can’t. And it instantly made the job search and the job hunt and this moment where I felt really lost and uncomfortable – it made it not lonely and it made– and I kept being reassured by people. Like, it’ll happen, it’ll happen. Just wait, just wait. And, you know, they would tell me their story about when they were in my shoes, and it made it a lot better. And then networking got better. And at this point, it’s almost– I accidentally network., I’ll be somewhere, start a conversation with someone, and next thing I know they’re like, “Let’s meet up and have like– let’s talk about work.” I’m like, “I didn’t even mean to network with you, but here we are.” So it–
Asha Aravindakshan: Can, you know, 2017 Rae imagine 2023 Rae would be striking up conversations with strangers?
Rae Button: Yeah. Oh, I mean, literally two days ago I ended up talking to this guy from Microsoft, and we’re meeting next week because he is like, let me tell you how to get in the tech industry. And I was like, “Okay!”
Asha Aravindakshan: Yes, please.
Rae Button: Yeah!
Asha Aravindakshan: I love that. And so when you’re setting up these– I love that you have like these scripted blurbs that you’re just grabbing and putting into LinkedIn as you’re shooting off messages to new people that you want to connect with. It makes it easy, it makes it simple to manage. What about when you actually have these conversations? Are you structuring them in any particular way?
How to Have Conversations with New Connections
Rae Button: Kind of. So I always want to start by hearing their journey just because you can glean so much information from someone that way. And then I let them guide the conversation a little bit. Like I explain– I have my elevator speech of who I am and what I hope to do. And the number one thing I always do is I end the conversation with, “Do you know of someone else you can connect me with or someone else who could help me on this journey?” Because that’s how you expand your networking and it’s led me to meet a lot of really amazing people and it’s also led me– like there’s a company in Seattle called PitchBook Data and I know something like 20 different people who work there now. And I’m like, “Okay, so if I want a job there, I now have 20 connections that I’ve met with every single one of them.” And it makes you realize that– and I met them all through different connections.
Asha Aravindakshan: Wow. Very impressive. And so you– when we met earlier, mentioned a book that really helped you like kind of work on your networking. Do you want to drop the name of that book here?
Rae Button: It’s Influence Is Your Superpower by Zoe Chance. She– it really helped me frame how I would network with people. The whole idea is how do we set up a situation where both people can walk away with something successful, and how do you frame things in a way that’s receivable by both people?
Asha Aravindakshan: I love that.
Top Advice for Transitioning into the Field of L&D
Rae Button: But the biggest thing I’ve taken away from all my readings on job hunting and everything is take that chance, which is kind of like with the networking. Just ask people for help, ask people for advice, ask people to meet, and most of the time it’ll be a positive yes. And even if it feels uncomfortable, just keep doing it. And I’ve started to preach that to my friends who are also doing job hunts and transitions, and it’s worked. Like I have one friend who applied at the Gates Foundation and she missed the application date just by like a day. And I was like, “Hey, here’s my connection – reach out and ask if she’ll slide in your resume.” And then she did. I was like, “Worst case, you don’t get the job. But best case, like they slide your resume in.”
Asha Aravindakshan: At least it got in, right?
Rae Button: Yeah.
Asha Aravindakshan: And so I love that, you know, you’re talking about this networking as a muscle. You have to like take the chance, you have to build it, and the repetition helps you so that you become comfortable just talking to people that you meet in random places. But there’s also this element of networking, the resume – there’s a three-legged stool here in this job search, and the third aspect of that is the LinkedIn profile. And so I imagine that as a teacher, you probably didn’t have one. You wouldn’t have needed one. Like they– you’re in a school, your contract’s renewed every year. What was it like to create a LinkedIn profile from scratch? Was that something that you were not comfortable with?
Basics for Creating a LinkedIn Profile
Rae Button: Oh, I was so uncomfortable. It turns out I made one when I was 19.
Asha Aravindakshan: Wow!
Rae Button: And I didn’t touch it since.
Asha Aravindakshan: Ok.
Rae Button: There Was like this awkward photo of me. It was really uncomfortable, especially someone who doesn’t have any social media – because this is a form of social media – to get over that.
Asha Aravindakshan: Yes.
Rae Button: And then my first round, I basically just cut and pasted my resume. And luckily I have one friend who was like, “Absolutely not. Don’t do that. That looks terrible.” I was like, “Okay.” And someone along the line sent me a podcast from– it’s like Teacher Career Coach I think. And she does a whole podcast on what you should do to prepare for it. So then I start researching how do I make a LinkedIn profile? What are the important parts? But with that, I will say I still should work on it and improve it. It is definitely the thing I put on my back burner the most because I think it’s my most uncomfortable area. And I– one little thing I’m being super stubborn about- I want my profile picture to represent me and I do not want to have a professional– I don’t want to take a professional photo or do a photo shoot, which, you know, maybe that’ll be a bad move later, but I don’t know. I’m being stubborn.
Asha Aravindakshan: It’s funny, when I looked at your LinkedIn profile, I thought the photo was fine. It’s a picture of you in nature. But the picture, it’s not zoomed in. And so my recommendation to you is just to zoom in a bit so we could see who you are. And I know that you’re the person who shows up in the interview, right? Think of it from a hiring manager’s perspective.
Rae Button: Okay. I can do that. I’ll accept that.
Asha Aravindakshan: Okay, great. We got that modified. And with the LinkedIn profile, I know in the book, I have a couple chapters related to LinkedIn. And I do recommend, like when you’re first creating one, you can just cut and paste the bullets from your resume onto your LinkedIn profile because the text will help with the search engine optimization and people finding your profile.
Rae Button: Okay.
Asha Aravindakshan: And then over time, as you get comfortable taking away– telling your story and taking away feedback from other people who are reacting to that story, you may want to go from bullets to a narrative under each description. It’s a little more work. And so that just takes time. And so if LinkedIn is not as important to you as the networking and as getting your resume updated, that’s fine, right? Leave it as your resume bullets and you can always come back to it. So one other thing I want to talk about is, through all this networking, I understand that you secured a contractor role as a facilitator in an ed tech company. Congrats!
Rae Button: I did. Thank you.
Negotiating Contract Work in the Field of L&D
Asha Aravindakshan: And so given that this is your first role, first contract role outside of teaching, how did you determine what that contract should look like and what rate you should charge?
Rae Button: I had to do a lot of learning once again because in education, at least in Washington, we’re paid on an index. So I’ve never had to negotiate any aspect of my job. It’s always been handed to me and there’s no room to change it. So there was a lot of work on my end. I was a little– I was even caught off guard when they told me it was a contract. I learned a lesson. If benefits aren’t posted in the job posting, assume it’s a contract. I just reached out to my immediate network, so my close friends who have worked contract jobs to figure out what they negotiated, what’s important for them, and then I have one friend who works in HR and I’ve met with her a couple of times. But honestly, Asha, when we met, when you gave me that equation, I wrote that down in bold and I was like, “Here it is!”
Asha Aravindakshan: So the equation, and I’ll share that so everybody can benefit from this. You want to figure out your hourly rate. So let’s pretend you’re making $20,000 a year. You divide that by 2000 hours, that’s $10 an hour. And then you would gross that $10 up by 30% to account for benefit expenses that you’d have to pay for out of pocket. Rae had also mentioned in this process, she had to purchase tools to support herself in this role because the company was so small and didn’t offer those tools. So you would want to include the cost of those tools, either in the hourly rate or as a separate expense line item so that the company understands that you are providing a service and it’s a holistic service of just– of your hours with these tools to bring the best results.
Rae Button: Yep. And it is– I’m still– that’s another muscle I’m building. I’m still getting used to negotiating for pay. I hope I get more confident in it. And–
Asha Aravindakshan: You will, I trust that you will, and you’ll see as you start to see more of your educator friends entering the market and going through this and having these conversations and understanding the little tips and tricks that they’re doing with their contracts, it’ll get better. And then hopefully, you know, this will turn into a full-time role, right? This is almost like an internship, an adult internship that you’re taking on to experience this and the company’s testing you out also.
Rae Button: Yeah, that’s– and I’m excited about that, especially when I’m still in the exploring phase because I’m also testing it out myself. Is this really what I want? Is this the company I want? So it’s nice. It’s a two-way test out or testing. But I did appreciate– I was– earlier in our discussion on Monday, I said, “Oh, should I take a pay cut? Should I just take any job to get my foot in the door?” And I remember you were just shaking your head no, and I’m very lucky. I’ve had a lot of people in my network say the same thing and I almost need that reassurance all the time because it’s so easy to be like, “I just need to take a job. I need to get my foot in the door. And I’ve had a lot of people say– tell me to say no, which has led me to say no to at least one job Because the pay was pretty low. And to be like, “Okay, I’ll just be patient. Let’s just keep waiting.” And it did pay off, so.
Asha Aravindakshan: No, and I think that’s a really important lesson because some people may feel like they can’t say no, and you need to understand your worth and your value and the skills that you’re bringing to the table, and that you should be paid what you’re worth. And so I thank your friends for encouraging you to say no and for you taking that step because you’re right, it did turn into something better. And again, if you set that intention that you want to do, you know, something with your life and you want to make a change, I promise you it’ll happen. You just have to be patient. So with that, you know, I loved, Rae, hearing your story of how you’ve pivoted. You’ve pivoted out of teaching. Like, let’s recognize that right now, like you have made that successful pivot out of teaching. And you have done it by updating your resume, creating a LinkedIn profile, and developing a really strong network and network of networks that’s going to help you for the rest of your life. And so with that Brian, I’d love to turn it back to you to wrap us up.
Brian Washburn: I do believe that we have one more element of the podcast that we haven’t actually done in a while, but when you and I were on, Asha, we did it. And so I think that you should put Rae to the test through a series of speed-round questions.
Get to Know Rae Button
Rae Button: Oh, okay!
Asha Aravindakshan: Okay, Rae, I’m going to try to make this up as we go along here. I think, okay, the first question, Seattle or Atlanta?
Rae Button: Seattle.
Asha Aravindakshan: Reading a book or listening to a book?
Ooh, that’s hard. I love reading books, but when I work out, I listen to books. So both.
Okay. Both. That’s fair. I’ll take it. LinkedIn or coffee shop meeting?
Rae Button: Coffee shop meeting. Okay.
Asha Aravindakshan: What’s a piece of advice that you have learned in this journey that you can’t live without?
Rae Button: Ask. Just ask. Ask for what you want, what you need, ask for help. And ask everyone, and it will be a positive, I promise it’ll be positive. There might be some negatives, but mostly positive.
Asha Aravindakshan: Okay, great. And then I know you mentioned the Influence book already, but is there any other books that you’d recommend people be reading?
A Book Recommendation for Those Considering a Career Pivot
Rae Button: I mean, I’ve really enjoyed your book, so it– well, it’s been nice because you display a lot of different journeys and people in a lot of different fields, so I get to learn a lot. There’s one chapter, I think it was 12, about customer success that resonated with me because that’s an area I’m thinking about.
Asha Aravindakshan: That’s great. And that’s a great example of a story of someone who was a management consultant who was doing strategy around customer experience, but wanted to pivot into implementing these customer success techniques that she had learned. But you as a teacher have neither been a management consultant or worked in customer success, but you– it resonated with you. And that’s what I hope people will gain. From the stories in the book that you’ll see yourself in one of the 30 characters in one of their, you know– they have an average of six pivots each or in the skills that I’ve highlighted, you know, through their story. So that’s really encouraging. Thank you.
Rae Button: Yeah.
Asha Aravindakshan: I’ll take this opportunity to do a shameless plug about the book. You can buy Skills – it’s available on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Nobles, and please do leave a review. It helps other readers to find the book.
Brian Washburn: Yeah. And there is both A copy that you can read, but also an audio version, correct?
Asha Aravindakshan: That’s right. I recorded and released the audio version myself last year.
Brian Washburn: Fantastic.
Rae Button: That’s what I’ve been listening to as I work out.
Brian Washburn: Well, thank you both, Asha and Rae, for being willing to do this and letting me kind of take a back seat and just kind of watching this conversation unfold because it was really, really impressive. Just kind of how you kind of crafted the coaching questions, Asha, but also just listening to everything, Rae, that you’ve done and you know, I think there’s a lot of people who are listening that are in the process of– whether through their own choice or because of economic conditions and they’ve lost their job but need to rethink where they want to be.
And my biggest takeaway just by listening to this, Rae, I was writing down all of the different things that you’ve been doing. You’ve been doing networking, you’ve been reading or you’ve been listening to books, you’ve gotten on social media, especially LinkedIn, you’ve listened to podcasts. You mentioned taking risks and putting yourself out there, having friends actually help you and especially friends who are not in the industry that you’ve been in for your whole life. And then doing things for other people is something else that you mentioned – the instance of somebody applying for the job at the Gates Foundation. So all of those things, it’s not like the pivot just happens successfully. You’re making your own luck and that was really cool to listen to.
So thank you both of you for being willing to do that. And thank you everyone else for listening to another episode of Train Like You Listen. As Asha mentioned, if this conversation was helpful for you and you are making a career pivot on your own, please do go to Amazon and pick up your own copy of Skills: The Common Denominator. You can either read it or listen to Asha’s dulcet tones as she reads it to you. If you are interested in hearing more podcasts like this, go ahead and subscribe here. As Asha said, feel free to rate it or drop a comment, share it with other people. That’s how people find out about it.
And until next time, happy training everyone.