Career self-development for free! | AUA Blog

Dr. Andrew West

Strategic Adviser to the AUA

Formerly University Secretary at University of Sheffield

Over more than a quarter of a century working in HE administration and management, I’ve often been asked to help colleagues get that next job, prepare better for the promotion they’re looking for, or to help build their CV with a wider range of more comprehensive experience. Of course there are many and varied tools and techniques to support career development, not least the AUA CPD Framework which can very effectively be used as a personal career planning tool when put in your own job context. Professional career coaching is also a good option for some.  In this blog I am simply offering four very practical suggestions – none involving consultants, courses or money – and I hope there is something useful here for everyone.


A straightforward way to learn more about professional areas beyond your current role. As an AUA member you receive a regular issue of Perspectives. When this next arrives on your desk, why not seek out the article which is least relevant to your current role. Who knows where it might spark an interest and lead you in career terms?

Use the web 

HE sector organisations publish plenty of free material on their websites. Yes some publications are hidden behind firewalls or in member-only areas, but plenty isn’t. For a free weekly email about all things policy-related in the sector, you can sign up for the Monday Morning WonkHE mailing. If you want to keep in touch with what heads of university administration are thinking, have a look at the regular blogs posted on the public area of the AHUA website.

The topic list is very broad – recent blogs cover freedom of speech, organisational change, and student funding.  For a truly sector-wide view, sign up for UUK’s regular e-newsletter. All these are quick-read sources which will leave you better – and more strategically – informed when it comes to the next appraisal session or job interview.

Ask a colleague 

If you are interested in moving in a particular career direction, find someone in your institution currently working in that area and ask them to share with you some of the key features in their role. Many people enjoy an opportunity to talk about themselves and their own career journey, and informal conversations like this will help you identify your own transferable skills, and also those specialist areas where you might need to develop further to get the future role you want.

Seek a mentor

Whether or not your employer runs a formalised mentoring scheme for professional services staff, if you have identified someone from whom you think you could learn – perhaps someone currently filling a role you aspire to; or someone working in an area where you have an interest but no direct experience, ask them if they will help you. Over the years I have offered informal mentoring to many colleagues, including internationally by Skype, and in turn I have hugely valued the support I have received from more experienced professionals in the sector. Of course there are some ground rules to establish in any effective mentoring relationship, but happily in general our profession is positive and open about collaboration, so don’t let the absence of a formal scheme hold you back from this really easy route to learning and broadening your experience.