Higher Ed Advancement Leadership: Career Tips for Unrealistic Times

By Zachary A. Smith, Ph.D.

Zachary Smith

Zachary Smith

Higher education faces an uncertain future and thus a challenging present. Times are especially demanding for those in advancement, who must deal with issues from shrinking funding to initiatives to rein in tuition costs. Expectations for what advancement leadership can achieve, in fact, are often unrealistic.

What are advancement professionals to do? I discuss this issue and suggest tips in a recent article for eCampus News – “4 Ways to Navigate Unrealistic Expectations Placed on Advancement Leaders.” Allow me to offer a brief summary:

  1. Prioritize cultural fit. Go with your gut on this one. If you cannot passionately support the mission and goals of an institution, it most likely will not be a good environment to support your career.
  1. Focus on leadership competencies. Know your strengths and leadership style, and communicate them during interviews for new positions. It is essential that a hiring manager or search committee understands exactly what you bring to a position, to ensure there are no surprises later on.
  1. Understand viable career paths. Better benefits and/or a higher salary are enticing, especially in a market favoring job seekers. However, carefully consider where the next position will lead you. Think about the “position after this position.” Is this a strategic stepping stone? If not, it may be best to pass on the opportunity.
  1. Be ready to push back. If expectations are unrealistic for someone in your position, tread cautiously but take steps to address the situation, such as having an honest conversation with your superior.

Careers in advancement always have their challenges, but even more so today. Making strategic, pragmatic career decisions will, in the long run, pay off and head off outsized expectations.

Zach Smith is a consultant in Witt/Kieffer’s Education practice. He is based in Irvine, CA.

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