Planning your future career and utilising your experiences | AUA Article

At the last AUA conference, I presented a session to the Ambitious Futures final year cohort to provide them with insight into planning their careers and utilising their experience. I hoped to draw on my own experience in this area gained in the twenty years I have worked within the UK Higher Education sector, across five Universities, and give them some ideas and tools to use in planning their own careers.  I was then invited to adapt this session into an article for the AUA website. 

During the course of my time within the sector, I have always been connected to AUA and found it an extremely supportive and inspiring organisation at all stages of my career to date.  Of particular note in the context of developing your career is the AUA CPD framework and applying the professional behaviours to your own context.  The framework should help you to reflect on how confident you feel now in relation to the professional behaviours and how confident you want to be.  This should assist you to identify gaps for development, but is also valuable in your decision-making process concerning the roles you might want to apply for and how you articulate your skills.  Try and take 10 mins each week (perhaps as a Friday afternoon thing) to reflect on your achievements and challenges – to give yourself a wellbeing boost but also to help you to stay focused about what you want to learn, what you have to do to enable this, and what support you might need.  You could also use this reflection as a further opportunity to assist in developing your CV and LinkedIn profile.

The HE sector is extremely diverse.  Those colleagues whom I have come into connection with who have moved into HE from another sector are thrilled to have found a sector so large that offers so many varied business and location opportunities.  My top tips to make the most of working in the sector would be as follows.

Identify your career goals, considering the following:

(1) Understanding the diverse business areas within HE:

  • Subjects (e.g. Medicine, Law, Arts, Sciences etc.)
  • The student journey (e.g. admissions, graduation, assessments, student records)
  • Others: International, marketing and communications, estates 

(2) Understanding the diversity of the HE Sector:

  • Small, Large, Traditional, Specialist

(3) Understanding the types of roles on offer (consider which aspects of your current experience have you been stimulated by):

  • Project based, student-facing, team roles, individual support, commercial

Think about the role itself, but also about the role after that; what is the trajectory and how does a potential role fit into this trajectory?

(4) Other factors:

  • Location, willingness to commute, life stage/plans?
  • Do you want to do PG and/or professional study?
  • Resilience generally, but certain jobs do not enable leave at certain times of year or have unsociable hours (e.g. Admissions and clearing, some areas of media and estates require on-call working).

Preparation for applications and then interviews:

You need to think about the articulation of your experience against the job criteria.  This is where your 10 minute reflection each week will help.  Revisit the narrative that articulates what skills and experiences you have – it might help to think of it in terms of your elevator pitch.  Include this within your application and make sure it clearly matches the shortlisting criteria (this will make it easier for the people shortlisting to see how your examples match up).   If you get invited to interview, always take the 



Andrea Bolshaw
Secretary & Registrar
Newman University, Birmingham

opportunity to speak to someone involved in the area in which the job is based; people rarely do this, but it a straightforward way to get a better insight and have an additional opportunity (perhaps above other candidates) to create an impression in advance of an interview.  View the experiences you want to talk about as instances where you have displayed characteristics and qualities that you want the interview panel to know about.  These examples should show-case your skills and experience in a really authentic way.

Write these examples over 6-12 cards (no more) and learn them really well.  Some interview questions you can pre-empt (e.g. why this role – be clear about why you want the role, describe something that went well, something that didn’t go so well – how did you cope?).  At the interview try to see things from the perspective of the panel – allow them to get into their stride too!  They will want to enable you to make the best of yourself – take these opportunities.  Don’t give all of the information from your cards too soon. 

Unfortunately, the reality is that the statistical odds of an interview are always stacked against you and  if you don’t get the role, it can be disheartening, particularly if you have put in a great deal of physical and emotional effort (felt even more acutely if you have made time sacrifices in your personal life or within your current role).  My experience is that this time is never wasted – the whole experience can benefit the next application. 

In and around applications, make the most of experience opportunities in the sector and those that AUA membership presents while still in your current role.  The sector has so many rich opportunities within a culture that enables you to take advantage of this; I have rarely come across any manager that will refuse if one of their staff members asks whether they can do a one-off project for a defined period in and around their existing role or take part in cross-university events such as clearing, open days, graduation etc.  There is also an array of advertised opportunities with the AUA such as writing blogs/articles, study visits and mentoring.  It may also be useful to look beyond the sector in terms of volunteering (see references below) and seeking out a mentor might also provide further reflection.  All of these things may require you to put in a few extra hours, but the rewards will be significant.

Enormous luck with your development endeavours!



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