Five Skills Teachers Have That Employers Want

Teachers are some of the most hardworking, patient and reliable workers out there. I know this and other people who’ve taught know this, but if you’re a teacher looking to start over, how can you persuade employers outside education?

Hiring managers often screen out candidates with backgrounds that don’t match the job description exactly, and it’s safest to choose someone with direct experience rather than take a chance on a career changer.

Another hurdle is the “lazy teacher”/”teaching is easy” stereotype, and we’ve all heard the “must be nice to get summers off” line more times than we care to count.

So when people see “teacher” on your resume, they may think all you do is show movies while reading the newspaper in the back of the classroom; or stand at a lectern and drone like Ben Stein; or sing songs about bunnies to an adoring crowd of small children.

You must show them they’re wrong about you.

To do this, you need to take an inventory of your transferable skills from teaching.  This will help you craft stronger resumes and cover letters and prepare for job interviews with better focus. The list below is a basic one; I hope it’ll help you create a complete list of all the valuable skills you have to offer.

1. strong written and oral communication skills

Seems obvious, right? But you still need to explain how the lessons you delivered each day are good examples of your ability to make complex material engaging, understandable and persuasive to a general audience.

You should also list examples of the many types of writing you’ve tailored to different audiences: e-mails to parents, administration and support staff; individualized feedback to students; lesson plans and class materials revised for different skill levels; and so on.

Include any presentations you’ve made at professional development conferences, faculty meetings and board of education meetings as well.

Side note: As ingrained as it may be, please resist the urge to use education jargon such as “differentiated instruction,” “backwards design” and “multiple intelligences” in your resume; these terms will mean nothing to the resume reader. Plus, you’re no longer looking for a teaching job!

2. strong interpersonal skills

Again, even though it’s a no-brainer for those of us who’ve taught, you’ll need to show how experienced you are at working with all kinds of people in a complex organization.

Great examples of this: co-teaching; team-teaching; working with in-class support teachers, paraprofessionals and guidance counselors; and collaborating with teachers in your department and in other departments. Any projects that came out of this work will help strengthen your case.

You should also demonstrate how you’ve handled difficult people and situations with professionalism, tact and integrity. Go into interviews prepared with at least two anecdotes to illustrate how you defused a potentially chaotic classroom environment or changed a relationship with a student or parent for the better. You could also emphasize your experience with working in varied environments, such as middle school and high school; suburban and urban districts; teaching special education and Advanced Placement classes; or all of the above.

3. demonstrated ability to work independently

Whether it’s designing a course, a unit or even a 40-minute class, effective classroom planning demands time and discipline. So does giving students feedback, especially when you have more than 100 students, as middle school and high school teachers often do. Some teachers are so industrious, they get all their planning and grading done at school. Other teachers devote nights and weekends to schoolwork after putting in at least eight hours during the day. In most cases, there’s no one who can do the work for you, or even share responsibility for it.

So how do you demonstrate this accountability to employers? My advice is to quantify what you’ve done wherever possible — from your student load, class size, course load and even how much grading you do. On my resume, I wrote that I graded about 1,000 essays a year. Take that, lazy teacher stereotype!

4. demonstrated problem solving skills/ability to learn new things quickly

Unfortunately, the lazy teacher stereotype is hard to shake. One persistent belief is that teachers use the same tired lessons every year, or just make students do worksheets from a textbook.

The many good teachers I know always try to do better. They change lessons that didn’t work, revise their curriculum or seek professional development opportunities in the summer, and even adjust their plans in real-time as they “read” what’s going on in the classroom.

In interviews, be prepared to explain how you solved problems, faced new challenges and handled unexpected circumstances. Use your best learning experiences from teaching to demonstrate how well you can handle all the responsibilities of the position you want, and adapt smoothly to a new career and work environment.

5. demonstrated ability to work under pressure/in a fast paced, deadline-driven environment

Again, it’s helpful to quantify here to demonstrate the many competing tasks you were able to deliver on deadline.

How many different lessons did you prepare each day?

How often did you submit lesson plans?

How often did you submit progress reports and grades?

What other forms of feedback did you provide and how often?

Once you’ve gathered this information, and gotten lots of practice with sharing it, you’ll start to understand — and project — how well teaching has prepared you for your next job.


Ten Action Verbs That Will Make Your Post-Teaching Resume Pop

Instagram It: How to Tailor Your Career Change Resume in Three Steps

A Kaleidoscope of Career Alternatives for Teachers (Cleveland State University)

Transferable Skills Checklist (University of Toledo)


67 thoughts on “Five Skills Teachers Have That Employers Want

  1. I am so glad to have found this blog!

    I have been teaching for five years and I have decided that this will be my last year in the job. I gave my notice in last week.

    It is really encouraging to read through the experiences of people who have left the profession,and thrived 🙂

    • Thanks for stopping by, and congratulations on making a very brave choice!

      The next five months are filled with opportunity — to enjoy your final months at school, to explore new possible careers, and to meet new people who could lead you to your next career. I know you will find your own fulfilling Life After Teaching!

      • I commented on this blog a long time ago. Since then, I have changed from secondary to FE and am finding this much more suitable. I also work on a fractional rate (0.8) which means I have 3 days off per week instead of 2, so more of a work life balance. Good luck with whatever you decide to do.

      • Hi Josh,
        It’s great that you’ve found an arrangement that suits you — thanks for sharing!

        Would you mind sharing what “FE” means for those of us in the States and elsewhere?

  2. Thank you for this blog posting! A colleague asked me to write her a letter of recommendation for a non-teaching position and I was having difficulty wording what we do so that it would be attractive to prospective employers outside of education. This will greatly help me craft the letter.

  3. Thank you for such a useful page. I am a 15 year teacher who is seeking a career change. I do have some other work experience in the business world that I hope to fall back on. I am 49 however and fear that my age will work against me when I go on interviews. Do you have any suggestions on how I can use my age as an advantage to show how employers I can offer as much if not more as a younger person? The classroom environment has changed so much and I feel I need to make a change.

    • Hi Rob,

      Most job applicants have some kind of handicap — for me, it was that I *didn’t* have much experience in the business world. But you only need to find one person who is willing to give you a chance.

      I think the key is to take stock of what you’ve accomplished in 15+ years, and use specific examples to persuade interviewers that you can offer so much more than a recent college grad.

      Richard N. Bolles, the author of the job search manual What Color is Your Parachute?, also says that employers are looking for energy and enthusiasm from older applicants. What excites you about working in (insert career field here) and about beginning a new phase in your life? Practice your answer to this question for interviews.

      Finally, if you haven’t done so already, conduct informational interviews. Here’s my post on the subject:

      Hope this helps and best of luck!

  4. I’m so glad I found your blog. Thanks so much for sharing your experience and advice. I have found this post particularly valuable, as I often have difficulty articulating all that goes into teaching and how it has prepared me to handle pretty much anything that comes my way! I made a career change into full time teaching (university) from working as a professional musician. Now I’m considering making another change! I really do love teaching, but I’m rapidly getting sick of the lack of work-life balance combined with the low wages. (I don’t teach music, BTW. Went back to school for a second masters degree to change my focus completely.) You post about informational interviews has inspired me to go out and get more first-hand info. Thanks again.

    • Hooray for informational interviews! I can’t recommend them enough. Be sure to ask your interviewees about their work-life balance since it’s one of your main concerns (it was one of mine, too).

      Thanks for your kind words and best of luck to you!

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  6. Thank you for this informative post. After teaching for 8 years and dealing with a toxic environment where there is minimal support or appreciation for what we do, I am trying to make a career transition. What I have found is making a list of likes vs dislikes will help me plan for a new career. Although I have a degree in Biology and MA in special ed, both of these field are not suited to my personality. I enjoy working one on one with student, researching, and need a calm and serene environment in which to work. In the past a corporate desk job nearly sucked all of the life out of me and stole my spirit. Finding another career which will pay the bills, provide adequate insurance benefits, and allow me some freedom is daunting. How many others have had to return to school for an additional degree in something else?

    • Joy,

      Your self-assessment of working preferences is an important step in your career change. Conducting informational interviews helped me figure out my preferences *and* change careers without needing to go back to school:

      Check out my post on the topic:

      Good luck!

  7. Sigh. This post (and related links) just made my day – thank you!

    I’m a teacher struggling to be certified in a different state, where we have moved due to my husband’s job. The absence of reciprocity and/or common licensure standards between states is maddening, and in my case, potentially career-ending. I love teaching, but am now at a juncture where I have to decide it it’s even worth going back for a third degree, just to teach in this state (it seems my BA, M.Ed, and 10 years of experience aren’t enough).

    Sometimes I think that it would be somewhat freeing and – dare I say – ENJOYABLE to go to work each day at a place where I wasn’t wrangling 30 adolescents, grading incessant amounts of essays, and keeping helicopter parents at bay under the pressure of ever-changing standardized testing expectations. But there is a real fear of finding a job outside of the classroom, and I worry that I’ll end up working for minimum wage somewhere, mourning a career lost and an education deemed irrelevant.

    In many ways, being a teacher has been my identity, my sense of self. Perhaps it is time to change that. Your post gives me hope, and resources. I’m so glad to have stumbled upon it!

    • SBL,

      Thanks for reading and sharing!

      A year ago, I too, was afraid I would never find a job outside of teaching or end up working for minimum wage. But a few months later, I was offered a job and now I can say it really can get better.

      To change careers, you need to find out what kind of jobs you want, and be able to explain why your experience in education is an asset — and believe it!

      Check out my interview with Marie Ardito. She changed careers after 31 years in education and has a lot of good advice to share:

  8. Thank you for these articles. I have been teaching for 18 years without a break. I am looking for a job outside the walls of the classroom. In fact, leaving the classroom has been gnawing at me for the past 5 years. I have had a fabulous teaching experience and work for a wonderful district and I STILL feel this way. No one really discusses that when you are teaching in Elementary Education there is a lack of encouragement to expand your career into other fields or areas…you find the SAME teachers in the SAME school for 20+ years at this level. Historically, the only reason teachers would leave Elementary Education is if they got married and/or had to move or did not get tenure. Yes, there is administration to aspire to but there continues to be an almost unwritten philosophy about primary school teachers–they stay put! It is refreshing to hear that there is “life” outside the classroom and it is positive. Many thanks for your wisdom!

    • Thanks for adding your voice to the conversation. You’ve helped me appreciate how even happy teachers can get burned out, and understand how teaching at the elementary level can be limiting. I hope you find a new career that challenges you and sustains you. Good luck!

      • Question: How did you deal with the not so supportive feedback? I find that any time I say I am wanting to switch careers I keep getting a lot of negative feedback: “are you crazy, you have job security” “you won’t have your summers off” “not a good idea in this economy” This is the dilemma I have been vacillating on (for 5 years)…The truth is the education field is NOT what is was 20 years ago when I started….I have had a great run teaching and because I work in the suburbs make a good salary….I am ready to be outside the classroom…but “fear” is stopping me….I have applied to at least 10 companies and spoke to 5 people in the business world who made the switch from teaching to business. Not one said they missed the classroom. They miss the actual teaching part but not the day to day “stuff” that goes along with education. Again, it is UNHEARD of in Elementary Education to leave a teaching position to switch careers to business. Many people are trying to get into an Elementary School setting in a high performing school district. Would love to hear from any other elementary school teachers and any advice from those who made the switch?

      • I actually did not experience negative feedback when I told people I wanted to leave. But I have heard the comment, “We should all just feel lucky to have jobs,” from a fellow union member during contract negotiations. It’s hard, but you have to remember that you don’t need to justify your desires to anyone but yourself, and the hardest part is overcoming the fear you mentioned. Instead of just feeling “lucky” to have a job, you need to give yourself permission to not be miserable at a job, and to find a better job! When I spoke to former teachers, none of them said they wanted to go back to teaching, either! That helped me realize that Life After Teaching is possible, and that I might be capable of other things, too. On the logistics end, you need to be willing to apply to many jobs and talk to many people who have jobs that interest you. Check out the other posts on my job search, and read my interview with Marie Ardito, an elementary teacher who switched careers after retirement.

  9. Thank you thank you thank you! I am in my 8th year of teaching and this is it. I’m a single mom of 2 and I just can’t make it. I love working with the kids in my urban school. I love the families and for the most part of love working with the staff. But I’m tired of working in a field that is not respected by the media, the school board, the administration and my local government. I am in my mid-forties and left the corporate world for teaching 10yrs ago. I was feeling so lost and without direction and defeated before I had even begun. But now that I have read your many blogs on the subject, I feel a surge of hope that I can make this change. I now know I do have something to offer outside of education. My skills will transfer to the corporate world. I can’t wait to start recruiting for informational interviews. I know there is more out there and I am going after it. I may not be able to leave this year, but I will move forward on this plan. My kids and I deserve more than summers off.

    • Lilliandukes, I’m so glad that you are pursuing, and starting to really believe in, your own Life After Teaching. It must be so exhausting to balance teaching with being a single mom — and yet you’ve found the strength to fight for something better.

      Remember: you’re not starting from square one. Your experience in the corporate world can help employers see that you are capable of succeeding in that environment, and help you translate your accomplishments from the last eight years to the jobs you want.

      And I can’t sing the praises of informational interviews enough. I know they will help you clarify your goals, and bring you closer to your next opportunity.

      Thank you for reading and sharing! I wish you all the best.

  10. Thank you for your articles. I can’t tell you how they have given me the encouragement to allow myself the possibility of thinking that there might be a future for me outside of school. This is my 21st year in education and I think I’m done after this year. I spent 19 years in the classroom before moving into administration as an assistant principal. This job is sucking the life out of me and like someone wrote earlier… education just isn’t what it was 20 years ago. The unfunded mandates, the new more involved teacher evaluation system, the nonstop testing and constant data analysis to determine what we should be teaching. Thank you again….. I”m going to use this school year to figure out how to move forward.

    • Thank you for reading and commenting, Gina! I’m so glad you find the blog helpful.

      Your experience in both teaching and administration will help you succeed in whatever your next career may be. Be sure to let potential employers know about the strong leadership skills you bring to the table. Thanks again and best of luck to you!

  11. Thank you for writing this blog. I have recently started a new teaching job much closer to home. There seems to be endless paperwork, too many needy kids, lack of support from parents, and no time during the 40 hours to do the lesson plans, write IEPs, and grade countless papers. This is my 10th year, I think I’m done teaching and feel ready to jump out a window. I have been burned too many times by horrible principals, sick of the workload, student behaviors, and lack of age appropriate materials at these schools. Of course the current war against teachers isn’t helping either. I really want to make a difference to a child but, without losing my sanity and my weekends.

    • Thank you for reading and sharing, Michael!

      First of all, kudos to you for making it to your 10th year. What kept me from jumping out the window (and I only taught 7 years!) was researching life after teaching. You say you want to make a difference to children, but being in the classroom isn’t the only way to do that. Think about all the non-instructional staff in your school who work with kids but don’t have to grade papers or lesson plan. Could you see yourself doing any of those jobs? If so, find out how to get certified for those jobs and talk to people (not necessarily at your school) who have those jobs. If you haven’t yet, check out my post on informational interviewing. Hang in there! 🙂

  12. I enjoyed reading your blog, especially how to market my “teacher skillset” in the real world. i have 15 years of experience and find that teaching is no longer enjoyable. I also want to stretch my wings. Currently, I am working on transitioning into the world of Instructional Design and it is proving daunting. I get the interviews, but can’t seem to close the deal. I have engaged a career coach to help me prep and focus on the interview process.

    It is rather sad to see so many Teachers wanting to get out of an honorable profession.

    • Hi Monica,

      Thanks for reading and commenting! Instructional Design sounds like a natural transition from traditional classroom teaching, and it’s great that you’re getting help from a career coach. You may also want to conduct informational interviews with people in instructional design — they could give you helpful interview tips.

      It also makes me sad that so many teachers want to leave, but at the same time, I’m excited that some who thought they could only teach are “stretching their wings”!

  13. I’ve made a conscious decision to leave teaching in Adult Learning. I have been a sessional tutor for 2 years and I’m yet to get a permanent contract. I am poorly paid, with no sick pay, or holiday pay and they’ve been times where I don’t get paid on time. I never financially survive during the summer months. I’m so glad I came across this blog. I feel there is hope for me and I can leave this situation when I find a new job.

    • Afrobeat,
      Glad that you are feeling more optimistic about your future and that you’ve made a conscious decision to move on. Your current employer has treated you so poorly that it can only get better! Thanks for reading and best of luck with the next step.

  14. Thank you so much for this blog. I am beginning my search after 18 years in teaching – never a break. It is overwhelming for sure. I especially appreciated learning about skills that teachers have that employers want. This is where I have been stuck. With a BA in Early Childhood and MA in Special Ed, knowing what to do next is daunting. I have begun the interview process and also networking with former teachers who are in the “real world” now. That has been helpful too in making connections.

    Thanks for encouraging those of us who are finding ourselves in this unchartered territory!

    • Hi Noelle,

      It’s great that you’re getting interviews and being proactive about making connections. I also found networking useful — so useful, in fact, that I devoted a post to it.

      Anyhow, you are making steady progress towards life after teaching and it sounds like you’ll be there before long.

      Thanks for sharing your experience, and thank you for your kind words!

  15. This website has been not only helpful, but so inspirational and motivating for me. I taught for six years before leaving to stay home with my daughter. Now that she is ready for school, I am looking to go back to work, but I have known for quite a while that teaching is not where I see myself in the future. I really want to branch out, and I have found a few positions that I would love to try if given the opportunity. At this point, the main issue holding me back is my own insecurities about not having experience or not being “trained” for a job outside of education. I feel that all I need is someone to give me a chance to prove that I can do it. But before that can happen, I need to actually take the first step and submit my resume. This leads me to my question for you. Can you share an example of a good resume from a teacher who decided to branch out into a different career? Or point me in the direction of some good resources to help with revising my resume? I’ve only ever written a resume for teaching positions and feel a little unsure as to a good format, etc. Thank you!

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  18. Thank you for this great blog. I am considering leaving teaching after 2 years in the profession and felt like everything I had to write about sounded stupid in the professional world outside of education. It is very hard to write a CV again when you are used to writing personal statements for a teaching role. This was very helpful, thanks again.

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  22. Hey I just wanted to say thank you! This was really helpful in crafting good resume bullets and solid interview responses.

    I’ve taught for only 2 years and had many good experiences, but I can tell it’s just not for me for many of the reasons I’ve read in the comments here (there’s such a big difference between the ideal of Teaching and the reality of teaching). I just feel I need to get out before I’m in too deep.

    I think it is in another article on this site, but the ability to explain complex ideas by breaking them into simple, organized, easier to understand chunks is very useful in any type of service business. I also bring up that in private school, parents are essentially customers.

    This site has given me so much great advice and hope for the future (I actually just passed a phone screening with a woman who was also a former teacher), and I just wanted to say thanks!

    • Hi Warren,

      Thanks for reading and sharing. I’m glad your phone screening went well and glad to know this post helped you prepare! It sounds like you’ve got a strong sense of how your two years in the classroom have set you up for success in other fields.

      Best of luck to you. I hope you’ll consider sharing where you land — I know your story will help encourage other readers.

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  25. Agreed! Organization, determination, speaking in front of large crowds who may not appreciate what you’re saying… endless possibilities really.

    I’m enjoying your blog!

    • Glad you’re enjoying the blog!

      Yes, there are endless possibilities for those who’ve taught. The hard part, for many of us, is believing in these possibilities and developing the courage to pursue them!

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  27. Hello,

    I am so grateful to have found this article, I have been struggling with the decision to transition out of teaching and into a new career and have found it to be frightening and confusing. Reading this article and seeing all the responses are giving me hope that it is possible and that others feel the same way. I have also received a lot of negative responses from people such as “Just try a different school,” or “Don’t waste all of your education switching careers,” as I have been considering this change, so it is good to know many others have found success after teaching.

    The part I am struggling with the most right now is creating a cover letter that demonstrates all of the knowledge and transferrable skills I have gained from teaching. Do you have any examples of cover letters or an idea of where I can find one to help me begin the process? I would greatly appreciate it.

    Thank you.

  28. Reblogged this on Jasmine L. Jackson and commented:
    I am desperately trying to revamp my cover letter and resume so I can switch careers and leave the classroom. I want to stay in the education and non-profit world but it’s so hard to break past barriers with close minded HR admin and recruiters.

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