Career Advice

Career Progression for Academic Administrators

Academic administration is a growing field. It has a wide range of interesting and challenging roles as well as development opportunities. In the following article, I have cherry-picked some strategies to help academic administrators quickly progress to the next level in their career.

Many people would agree that working in academic administration is varied, dynamic, challenging and at times creative. There is no shortage of development courses to attend starting from IT and data management skills to personal development and mindfulness.

Although entering the field at a junior level can be an easy move, progressing on the career ladder to more senior roles can be a real challenge. You might feel stuck in a specialised administrative role. You might be intimidated by fierce competition for more senior roles. Some applicants could have doctorate degrees whilst others apply with decades of experience in the field. You could find that the higher you aim, the fewer job openings are available.

Love your job

You need to develop a genuine and authentic love for working in academic administration. You will feel naturally enthusiastic about your role if you are detail-oriented and wholeheartedly believe in the purpose of higher education.  Academic administrators often liaise with academics and students. If you have strong rapport building skills, this could be an excellent field for you to work in. If you are keen to do well in your current role, your approach will soon get noticed. Develop a reputation for being helpful, approachable and treating everyone with respect.

Think ‘proactive’

For years, I have been curious to find out what makes some administrators quickly move up to their dream role whilst others spend decades hoping for their promotion. Fortunately, I knew a colleague called Sarah* who shot up from a junior administrative role to a senior decision-making job within a few short years and I had the opportunity to capture her recipe for success.

Sarah never waited for her line managers to create her career development plan. She never expected her supervisors to promote her because of her hard work. Sarah clearly identified the type of role she wished to be promoted to. Casting her net wide meant that she gave herself the best chance of finding the job she wanted. Sarah looked at the gaps which she needed to fill by furthering her experience, knowledge and skills. Sarah created an elaborate strategy and noted the courses she would attend and the responsibilities she would take on to fill those gaps. Sarah did not consider the possibility of being stationary in her career for long periods of time. In her heart of hearts, she believed that she could quickly transition and contribute her skills at higher levels.

Stand out

You can stand out by grabbing every possible opportunity to attend higher education conferences, talks and events. Sign up for university-wide presentations and courageously raise your hand at the end of talks when questions are welcomed. Actively take part in meetings and confidently introduce yourself to colleagues.  Why not attend some learning and development courses? They can provide you with outstanding opportunities for networking and polishing your skills. You could find a mentor to support you or attend a palette of different courses.

If you are aspiring for a new promotion, see if some of the above strategies could work for you.  However, do not be tempted to make some common mistakes when applying for vacancies. Many academic administrators narrow their search and they consider less than a handful of organisations to work for. Do not be tempted to fall into this trap. If you have been working in the same role for a number of years, why not transition sideways? You could expand the range of your professional skills, boost your CV and develop a real interest in new administrative areas.

Last but not least, here is a quick recipe for career progression:

  • Build genuine interest in academic administration
  • Wholeheartedly believe in the purpose of higher education
  • Take the initiative and go over and beyond what is expected
  • Welcome new responsibilities
  • Create your own career strategy
  • Cast your net wide when looking for vacancies
  • Grab every opportunity to network and learn
  • Believe that you can do it!

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