Common Searches

Listen to Jim Tolbert, CEO of Vista College, provide advice on how millennials can transition into a new career. Jim speaks from personal experience after making several changes in his career. Listen to the audio clip below or read through the transcript.

If you’re looking to change careers, check out the degree programs we offer here at Vista College. We want to help you find your own successful and rewarding career. Your future is waiting at Vista College.


And so I like to ensure that one of the things that our audience gets a chance to hear, practice even, but even for people like yourself as a CEO, is learning that or being able to know that there are people who do appreciate the accomplishments, the things that you’ve seen, what you’ve built and brought to the workforce here in America or whether it’s even abroad. And obviously, yourself being someone who is heavily invested in education, you’ve built a college that not only helps people who are retooling but also creates a non-traditional track for a lot of folks as well. And so I’m curious to know, when you look back as you mentioned, if you could talk to your 18-year-old self, it’ll be a very different conversation, but when you look back at your path, when you were working, starting in your first career, and changing companies, and moving to different places, what would you say has probably been the most important thing that helped you sustain through a lot of different transitions? Because I think one of the things that millennials can gain from baby boomers is learning how to transition well and learning how to make change and do it with some sort of energy that allows you to stay focused on the goals. So I’m sure, as you mentioned in the beginning of this podcast– I mean, you’ve made a lot of different changes throughout your career before you ended up with Vista. What advice would you give a millennial when it comes to transitioning in a career? What types of thing would you want to leave with them?


Well, I think there’s two things that I would suggest, and it’s sort of the point I made earlier about having a plan for your career. And that doesn’t mean that plan can’t change, and as you pointed out, my plan has changed a lot over the course of my career. But at least, I thought I knew where I was going the next two or three years. And not, “What am I going to do tomorrow?” but, “What am I going to do two to three years from now?” And again, circumstances change, opportunities present themselves. Things don’t work out always the way you want, and you have to adjust to that, but at least to have a direction that you’re going in. And again, I can’t sort of paint a broad brush against today’s millennials. But a lot of young people, when you go, “Where do you want to be two or three years from now?” you kind of get shrugs, or blank stares, or, “I don’t know. Never really thought about it.” Well, think about it. With all the caveats of, “Life happens,” and, “Things change,” think about what that plan is. And then I guess the other thing too is, if you do have a plan, more often than not, there’s a sacrifice you have to make in order to achieve that plan, whether it’s an explicit sacrifice of, “I need to go to graduate school,” “I need to take two years out of the workforce and invest a lot in that,” or if it is, “You know what? This isn’t the greatest job in world, but it’s a means to an ends, and it will allow me to create the skill set that I need to get to the next level.” Whatever it is, do appreciate. Life isn’t always wonderful, and perfect, and a bed of roses, and really, there are times you’re going to have to reach your point earlier, put your head down, and get it done.

“And that doesn’t mean that plan can’t change, and as you pointed out, my plan has changed a lot over the course of my career. But at least, I thought I knew where I was going the next two or three years. And not, ‘What am I going to do tomorrow?’ but, ‘What am I going to do two to three years from now?’ ” – Jim Tolbert, CEO of Vista College


It’s such an important thing to discuss in today’s world of speed. Right [laughter]? Speed is sometimes the name of the game. And I think that speed is great as long as you know how to handle it. And as long as you’re willing to make some measurements and tough decisions sometimes, based on what you need to do. One other concept that I think is also important as well is the idea of willing to be mobile. Depending on maybe the region in which you grew up in or your family background, I think, sometimes, what may hinder us in our growth of a career, of our skill set, is sometimes our inability to be willing to, like you mentioned in transition, I would even say to move, if you need to make that decision. Have you found the ability to be able to say, “Yes, I’m going to pick up and move to here so I can invest in my career for these couple of years,” have you found that to be something that’s also vital to a career path?


Absolutely, Chris, and this is actually a very important point you brought up because I can speak both from my personal experience as well as conversations I’ve had with people at our company. Over the course of my career, I’ve lived in New York, London, Chicago, LA, Birmingham, Alabama, and now Dallas, Texas. And I always felt that I was able to pursue what I was able to pursue because of that geographic flexibility. I would also say I have to thank my family, and my wife in particular, for having the flexibility to move with me. But there’s a lot of things that I think people hold themselves back on. Sometimes there are real reasons you can’t move, and I get that, and that is what it is. But I think, often, people sort of create their dramas in their head or their own barriers as to why they won’t pursue opportunities outside of their geography because it is uncomfortable, and it is scary, and it is difficult to do, but you have to take the consequences. If you’re not willing to move, then you have that issue. So the conversation we’ve had a lot within our company is, we continue to open up new campuses, and we are desperately looking for people who want to be promoted and want to go to the next level. But what we tell them is, you have got to have some geographic flexibility because if we have an opening and a campus, or we’re going to open a campus, and you want to be that next level in your job, great. We’ll help you move but you got to move. And not everybody is willing to make that investment. So again, speaking as someone who has made multiple moves in my life, has never regretted a single one of those moves, and has always allowed me to help me achieve my goals, I would absolutely say to young people, “You got to put that as part of your portfolio.”

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