Field Notes: Advice on career development for young professionals

August 20, 2018
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"Field Notes" is a regular Connect column covering practical and philosophical issues facing admissions and registrar professionals. The columns are authored by various AACRAO members. If you have an idea for a column and would like to contribute, please send an email to the editor at connect@aacrao.org.

by Rachel Tritsch, Student Systems Analyst, Temple University

This year, I received the opportunity to attend the AACRAO Annual Meeting for the first time. As a first-time attendee, a recent graduate, and a novice in the field of education, I felt overwhelmed and underprepared. While wandering the exhibition halls, attending sessions, and conversing with others, I noted the high level of professional experience among so many participants. They were cognizant of their own personal interests and occupational objectives. Many were equipped with twenty or more years of relevant work experience. Attending the annual meeting was a familiar affair, and an opportunity to advance further along their well-established career paths.

I felt awkward amidst the crowd of management-level professionals and experienced attendees. My career began two years ago, when I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, changed direction, and moved to China to explore other professions. It was teaching English abroad that first prompted me to consider education as a long-term occupation. After concluding one year of teaching, I returned to Temple University, my alma mater, where I’m now employed and seeking a master’s degree in higher education.

With little experience or formal studies in the field, I realized at the annual meeting that it was a sense of focus that I lacked, compared to other attendees. I hadn’t seriously contemplated my career objectives, my target; conversely, I had only just stepped into the higher education sector. My aims in attending the meeting were unclear. There was so much information available, with countless sessions to hear and peers to meet, but without a destination, I had no notion of the tools I needed to get there.

Despite my lack of direction, however, there was one bit of guidance in particular that resonated with me even after the conference concluded. This advice encouraged me to increase my participation in AACRAO, and in the education field. At the introductory session for first-time attendees, a participant relayed her own story of progression as an AACRAO member. Her role in the association began as the conference attendee who sat closest to the door at sessions, avoided conversation, and left without establishing connections. She later realized that this was not a practical use of time or resources, so she resolved to play a more active role in the association. Her first step was to author an article for AACRAO. Following that, she authored more publications and joined a committee.Today, she serves on AACRAO’s Board of Directors. This was her advice to first-time attendees: take the first step. Write an article. Join a committee. Present a session. Make the conference worthwhile and urge yourself to contribute. It was that conversation that inspired me to author this article.

The advice I have to offer as a young professional originates from my work with colleagues, superiors, and scholars from whom I have been fortunate to learn. The suggestions I provide below have proven useful for me as I pursue career advancement. Based on my experiences thus far, I recognize three tasks as the most critical for those in the early stages of career development: seeking leadership opportunities, expanding one’s knowledge and skill set, and cultivating one’s interests. I share suggestions for accomplishing each of these tasks in hopes that they may assist other young professionals seeking career development.

Seek Leadership Opportunities

Seeking leadership experience is necessary for several reasons: it demonstrates your abilities, forms a habit of proactivity, and accustoms you to asking for greater responsibility. Furthermore, by accepting duties that exceed the scope of others’ expectations, you can build the credibility necessary for advancing in your career.

  • Volunteer to manage an upcoming team project or task.
  • Initiate a conversation with colleagues to share a project idea you’ve been thinking about. If the project has potential, facilitate discussions regarding its implementation.
  • When your boss offers an opportunity to take on a new responsibility within your department, accept it.
  • Identify the skills and resources you’ve acquired from former jobs, conferences, research projects, or completed coursework, and utilize them to lead a project that you can own.

Expand Your Knowledge and Skill Set
If you want to advance in your career, whether that means advancing vertically, to a higher position in the same line of work, or horizontally, to a different sector entirely, you’ll likely need to expand your knowledge and skill set.

  • Inquire about the professional development opportunities offered by your company or institution.
  • Take an online or in-person course that relates to your field. Take advantage of sites like Coursera, Lynda, and edX.
  • Attend a conference or workshop that relates to your line of work.
  • Participate in meetings to learn more about an unfamiliar project or administrative area in your department.
  • Join a work group.
  • If you’re curious about the role of another functional area at your workplace, join a team project that involves that area.


Cultivate Your Interests
I learned through firsthand experience that completing a degree does not define your passion, nor does it guarantee your profession. (It was during my year in China, not four years of undergraduate education, that I realized what career I wanted to pursue.) If your current job does not align precisely with your long-term professional interests, consider dedicating additional time outside of your work specifically to your interests. Using means beyond the scope of your job functions, you can establish a presence and gain experience in your ideal career field.

  • Consider the role you want to have in three to five years and research the qualifications needed to fulfill that role. What work experience and educational background does a qualified person in that position typically have? Are there any required certifications? Which professional associations are dedicated to that field?
  • Connect with people on social media who can provide advice and share their own experiences regarding the line of work you are interested in.
  • Join a professional organization that relates to your area of interest.
  • Research and write an article.
  • Present your research findings at a conference.
  • Get to know colleagues at your company or institution who have expertise in the field. Ask questions and learn from them.
  • Find volunteer opportunities that can provide you with experience in your ideal profession.