Getting a Job in Ed-Tech
Practical advice for anyone looking to work in the education technology industry
Since the Covid-19 pandemic hit and schools and universities around the world were forced to close overnight, all eyes have been on the growing education technology industry.
The latest estimates value the U.S. K-12 ed-tech sector alone at $35.8b in 2020.
Whether it’s because of an unfortunate and unplanned pandemic-related job loss, increased media attention on the industry, or experiencing first-hand the challenge of teaching or learning remotely, there is a growing interest in working for and/or investing in an impactful ed-tech company.
I’ve spoken with at least a dozen people recently (some current teachers, some working in the non-profit space, others unemployed), who wanted to pick my brain about transitioning to the ed-tech industry.
Given the lucrative and fulfilling opportunities in this space, I wanted to share this advice more broadly with anyone who might be interested in exploring a career in ed-tech.
Five Tips to Transition to Ed-Tech
1. Get Clear on *Why*
Why do you want to work in ed-tech? You’d be amazed how many people I’ve interviewed over the years who didn’t have clear answers to this question.
I have a few reasons why I’m passionate about the education technology industry.
First, when I worked in the non-profit world, whether it was in food security or mental health or child and family services, I saw clearly the role that early interventions (ie education) could make on proactively addressing any issues.
Second, I wanted to work at scale, to be able to impact as many people as possible as efficiently as possible.
Third, given my experiences growing up, I am extremely passionate about closing the opportunity gap and believe that all youth deserve access to skilled teachers, mentors, high quality learning environments, and exposure to different careers.
Understanding your why can also help you narrow down your job search in this very large industry.
Are you more interested in early childhood education? College and career readiness? Up-skilling employees? Supporting teachers? The options are exciting and endless, so it’s important to focus on what motivates you most.
Most ed-tech companies have mission driven founders and employees, so having a clear and compelling reason why you want to work in this space will be one of the biggest things you can do to have a leg up in networking and applying for jobs.
2. Network with People *Who* Will Help
I have worked with nearly a dozen companies in this space, and every single job I got was through networking. In other words, not a single opportunity I’ve had in ed-tech has been from submitting a resume to an online job opening. Not one!
So many jobs, no matter the industry, are never posted. Or, applicants with inside connections, for better or worse, are the only ones that get interviewed.
If there’s one piece of advice you remember, it’s that you should network, network, network.
It takes time to build connections that are willing to make introductions for you or put in a good word, which is why it’s important to start meeting people already working at companies in the ed-tech space now.
Don’t know where to start? I love Lunchclub as a platform to meet people. By setting up your profile with the right keywords and goals, you can get matched with people who align with your interests.
Once you’ve started meeting with folks in this world, keep in touch with them! Follow the regular best practices of networking: offer help whenever you can, prepare in advance of any meetings, ask for advice, share relevant articles etc.
I also suggest you let everyone in your existing network know exactly what you’re looking for (see Get Clear on Why and Get Clear on What).
During my last job search, during my MBA, I started by telling people who asked that I was interested in working for a social enterprise. I soon realized that this was way too broad for anyone to help me with.
As soon as I started articulating that I wanted to work in ed-tech, people were able to help me.
I thought I’d met as many people at as many ed-tech companies as I possibly could, when one classmate offered to introduce me to his good friend who invested in ed-tech companies.
I wasn’t especially enthusiastic about making yet another connection that probably wouldn’t lead me anywhere useful.
Thankfully he insisted, because that one email introduction, followed by a half hour call, led to an introduction to an ed-tech founder who ended up being a springboard for my career.
3. Figure out *what* role you can play
Understand what function in a typical ed-tech company your experience best aligns with.
No matter the product/target market (whether K12 administrators, parents, adult learners, pre-school students or teachers), the most common job openings are:
- Sales (also known as Account Executives, Sales Development Reps, Partnerships Manager etc): These are probably the most common openings in ed-tech and a great way to get a foot in the industry’s door if you are lacking experience. In these roles, you’d be in charge of nurturing leads and growing revenue within a specific territory or vertical
- Account Management (also known as Customer Success Managers, Customer Support Specialists etc.): These are the second most common openings in ed-tech and often a great fit for people who don’t have a lot of direct experience but do have a track record of supporting partners, projects, teachers, or students. In these roles, you’d be in charge of a variety of customer related tasks such as training/providing professional development, implementation support/troubleshooting tech problems, up-selling/renewing customers and generally maintaining the satisfaction of users.
- Engineering: the good news is, you can work in tech without being super tech-y. I can’t even begin to tell you what people in engineering roles do, though over the years I have tried to get a basic understanding of entry-level coding languages. Don’t worry if you don’t have the slightest sense what the difference between a front-end and back-end developer is. You can always learn! As long as you’re comfortable with navigating Google and its tools, you probably have enough technical proficiency to work in tech!
- Marketing: in a marketing role, you’d likely be in charge of activities that drive “top of the funnel” interest/awareness of the company (social media, SEO, websites, blog posts/content marketing, newsletters, email marketing, conference support etc).
- Other: unfortunately, product management, curriculum/content, operations/strategy/project management and talent/recruiting/human resources roles are highly sought after and relatively hard to come by.
If you don’t think any of your experience actually aligns with any of the above, it never hurts to start doing the work on your own.
For example, you could create a sample lesson plan, social media post, newsletter article, or outreach email to send as a follow-up after an interview or networking meeting, or to just link to on your website/LinkedIn profile/website as a work sample.
4. Refine *where* you want to be
Eventually, you’ll get a good sense of the companies that interest you and align with your *why*. Create a target list of companies you’d like to work for. Is there a common thread? STEM? SEL? Edutainment? Teacher tools? If so, note this and keep an eye out for other companies in the space that could also be a good match.
Don’t just focus on the major players! Early stage start-ups that most people have never heard of are more likely to give someone without direct experience in the industry/function a shot at a job!
I hate to burst your bubble, but even with the best answer to ‘why ed-tech, a strong network, and a clear understanding of how your experience translates to a given function, your resume is likely to get lost if you apply for a Product Manager job at Masterclass or Khan Academy unless you already have a lot of experience in this space (which, I’m assuming those reading this post, don’t have).
You should also set Google alerts for any companies on your target list, and as much as you can, try to meet people, however entry level their current role, at your target companies as you continue networking.
As I mentioned already, don’t just limit yourself to specific companies though — you never know who might introduce you to someone helpful. I haven’t worked at Coursera, Teachers Pay Teachers, or Newsela for example, but I know people who do.
Keep putting in consistent effort to get to know companies and employees in this space and eventually, you’ll start to see opportunities come through.
5. Know *when* you should start
I suggest starting now!
It’s never too early to put your job search and networking wheels in motion.
Even if you think you don’t want (or aren’t ready) to switch jobs just yet, you will learn so much by doing your research on various problems and solutions in the education landscape, reading about the industry, filling in any gaps in your experience, putting feelers out there, and having conversations with people already working in ed-tech.
Your transition, especially if it’s to both a new function and industry, could take upwards of a year.
Be patient. Even if it doesn’t feel like you’re making progress, if you’re learning about the space and continuing to meet new people, you probably are.
So long as you’re clear on your why, who, what, and where, the when will fall into place.
Finally, if I can be of any help, please feel free to reach out!
Brooklyn based Start-Up Advisor, Impact Investor, Filmmaker, Writer, and Leadership Coach. I focus my time on the future of learning and the future of work.