At the CAACURH conference this past fall I presented a program session for entry-level housing professionals who are considering the move to mid-level. After the conference I received several emails asking to talk more about the concepts I presented in the session. I decided to turn that conference program into a blog post in order to reach a broader audience and continue the career progression discussion. In the last five years the mid-level job search has changed dramatically. The old adage of “3 and up”—meaning a person could be in an entry-level job for three years and then obtain a mid-level position is not the norm anymore. This idea has shifted for several reasons including the trend of eliminating some mid-level positions due to budget cuts, the extended stay of some mid-level managers to obtain a terminal degree and the recognition of some senior housing officers that the level of complexity needed in managing and supervising entry-level staff requires more than three years post-Masters experience.
When constructing this presentation I consulted 15 other mid-level managers to discuss what skills are imperative for success after entry-level. Based on the feedback I developed a list of nine skills that are critical to the success of mid-level managers.
Next, I developed a list of experiences that entry-level staff should seek to obtain before moving to the next level. Within each experience I selected the skills that were enhanced by having that practical experience. While I developed this session primarily for housing officers, many of the concepts are applicable to several areas of Student Affairs and I hope you may find them useful as you consider the next steps of your own professional journey!
No candidate will have mastered all of these by the time they get to mid-level—I’m still working on several of these areas! But this list is a good evaluative tool to measure your skills and experiences.
List of skills for success in Mid-Level:
- Supervision: The ability to successfully manage multiple employees. Holding staff accountable, recognizing when appropriate and serving as an available, consistent resource to staff.
- Budget Management: Being a good steward of departmental resources. Have a basic understanding of fixed costs and the division of money within the department.
- Collaboration/Networking abilities: Consistently work with others outside of your department. Develop new resources that are mutually beneficial to a variety of university constituents.
- Technology skills: Enhance your technology skills by staying up-to-date with new processes and software that can enhance the productivity of your department.
- Political savvy: Understand departmental and divisional history and understand the institutional culture. Who are the gatekeepers? Who are decision-makers?
- Strong administrative skills: Keep good records and ensure that paperwork/reports reflect quality and timeliness.
- Have a long-term planning perspective: Think in terms of how decisions and programs will affect the department and future students 3, 5 or even 10 years from now. Think larger than just the current year.
- Know best practices and national trends: Stay up to date on national trends and new, innovative approaches in the field.
- Learn the departmental and divisional perspective and goals: The ability to make mature and departmentally-supported decisions while being mindful of the larger divisional goals.
Each of these skills are areas that may be important in the daily work of a mid-level manager, depending on the scope of their position and role within the divisional hierarchy.
In order to develop these skills, there are a series of experiences that entry-level professionals should seek in preparation for their next position. I will connect each experience with one or more of the skills listed above.
1) Be a part of a mid-level search committee: This allows entry-level candidates to review mid-level resumes, experience the types of questions asked in the interview process and work with others in the division on the search committee.
Skills learned: Political savvy, collaboration.
2) Join a university/divisional committee: By joining a committee outside of your department you will serve as the departmental representative to this group. It allows you to work with others, learn more about the divisional and/or institutional goals and think about how other institutions approach student issues.
Skills learned: Political savvy, divisional perspective, collaboration, know best practices.
3) Gain an understanding of how your departmental budget works: As you move up you may gain additional budgetary responsibilities. Especially in tough economic times savvy managers are learning how to do more with less. This requires a keen understanding of how your department is funded and how it fits into the larger university budget.
Skills learned: Budget management, divisional perspective.
4) Join a national or regional committee: Find a professional association “home” and determine how you will contribute to it. The knowledge development, networking opportunities and ability to work collaboratively with regional and national colleagues will help you to gain a broader perspective of our field and the variety of student issues we face in our roles as housing practitioners.
Skills learned: Collaboration, know best practices and networking abilities.
5) Be responsible for a departmental process: At mid-level we often specialize in certain areas—programming, conduct and selection/training to name a few. By leading a departmental process you are getting hands-on experience that will prepare you for the next level. Consider leading a strategic planning goal for your department or planning RA training. Any process that requires long-term planning and/or budget management will assist in your leadership development
Skills learned: Administrative skills, budget management, know best practices.
6) Take a class/workshop regarding an area of technology: Use those newly acquired skills in your work. I will be the first to admit that technology is not my friend. However I have taken a few of the free technology workshops at my institution in the hopes of developing these skills. These skills can help you with several of the aforementioned experience such as budget management and being responsible for a departmental process.
Skills learned: Technology skills
7) Present a program at a regional or national conference: When I encourage entry-level staff to present they often say “I just started my career—what would I present on?” I know that entry-level staff are the closest connection to student staff and student issues on our campuses and therefore they have terrific insight on the changing needs of our students. Share your experiences with a broader audience!
Skills learned: Technology skills, know best practices.
8) Get critical feedback regarding your supervision skills: The most challenging and time-consuming part of my job is also the most rewarding—supervision. Entry-level staff need strong supervisors—we often learn how to be a supervisor based off of our own experiences with supervisors. Get critical feedback from your student staff and learn how you can become a stronger supervisor.
Skills learned: Supervision
9) Write for publication: Entry-level staff recently completed a degree and have a wealth of academic resources from their graduate experiences. Each day they are utilizing theory-to-practice models when working with students whether they recognize it or not! Consider sharing your experiences with a local or regional journal or publication.
Skills learned: Administrative skills, know best practices
10) Leave your mark—create something new for your department: What will you contribute to your department that will endure long after you leave the institution? Will you create a new website function for your department? Develop a new model of working with repeat offenders in the conduct process? Create a new model for the room selection?
Skills learned: Administrative skills, best practices and several others, depending on your initiative/project.
In conclusion, start thinking about your mid-level search and how you can get as many experiences as possible to prepare you for the next level. When we enhance our own skills we are adding to our own professional toolkit which ultimately benefits the students we serve!
What other skills and experiences would you add to this list? I look forward to hearing from you.