It can be challenging to get your foot in the door to start your career in higher education, but it can also be equally challenging to advance your career once you have started. Through my five years as a higher educational administrator, I have been blessed with opportunities to learn and obtain skills and knowledge that have allowed me to continuously grow professionally and advance my career. The purpose of this article is to share four strategies to propel your career forward as a higher education professional.
Written by Woosly Calixte of Florida Atlantic University.
Embrace Opportunities to Learn
Embrace the opportunity to learn everything you can as a new professional in higher education. Be the person who volunteers to take on additional duties and projects. Also, get in the habit of doing more than what is written in your job description. For example, my first position was at Broward College as a part-time Administrative Specialist for the Dean of Students. It was not my ideal entry-level position, but I knew I had to start somewhere. Beyond doing regular clerical duties, I took the initiative to learn the functionality of the office. I was fortunate to get first-hand learning experience about the process of student conduct, disciplinary appeals, and crisis management. I also took the initiative to ask my boss to observe a few student conduct meetings and got a better sense of how to manage critical situations. This was a great way for me to learn and develop my skillset.
One of the most important things that you can do as a young professional is to intentionally build and nurture your professional network. Ask good questions of people that you interact with daily, including inquiring about the most rewarding and challenging aspects of their jobs. Be sure to ask for any advice they might be willing to share as well. Networking is not as scary when you realize that it isn’t about you – it is about learning from experienced professionals and figuring out how you can be of service to others. I have been intentional about building great relationships and have learned so much by listening to the great career advice that I have received. One of the most important pieces of advice I received was to return to school to pursue my Master’s degree in Higher Education Leadership to become qualified and prepared to move up into senior level administrative positions.
Seek out Mentors
It is important to have mentors to guide you and help you to advance your career. Golden (2016) defines mentoring as a professional activity, a trusted relationship, and a meaningful commitment. There are different types of mentors one can have: a wise leader, teacher, peer, and/or confidant. You want to have a variety of mentors with expertise in different areas of your career and life. When I stepped into an administrative role, I asked one of my supervisors, Dr. Johnson, the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, to be my mentor. He took me under his wing, invited me to join departmental meetings, and showed me the qualities and skills I would need to be a great leader. He also encouraged me to read to stay up-to-date in the field and has helped me define my career goals and aspirations.
It is important to get involved on local, state, regional, and national levels. Cherwin (2010) suggests that joining professional associations can help advance your career. It is also important to join campus committees and take on leadership opportunities whether on your campus or within a professional organization. Keep in mind that early on in your career it can be easier to get involved through state or regional levels of professional associations. I am currently involved with the Emerging Leaders Group for Broward College and Brothers en Humanidad. The Emerging Leaders Group provides opportunities for leadership development, access to college and community leadership, and opportunities for networking. Brothers en Humanidad is an organization that cultivates mentoring and leadership programs for Black and Hispanic/Latino male students to increase completion, retention, and enrollment rates. My involvement with these two initiatives has already benefitted my professional career. Through the Emerging Leaders Group, I have met and worked alongside senior administrators and Brothers en Humanidad provides me the opportunity to reach out and mentor minority male students and to help foster their educational success.
In summary, advancing your career in higher education administration is about intentionally embracing opportunities to learn, building your network, seeking mentors, and getting involved in professional organizations. Implementing these strategies can propel your career in the right direction.
Cherwin, K. (2010). Why join a professional association? Higheredjobs.com. Retrieved from
Golden, C. (2006). Cultivating careers. Boulder, CO: EDUCAUSE.