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Career Advancement for IT Professionals in Higher Education: To Move or Not to Move?

| August 15, 2023

by Vijay Menta

Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Vijay Menta, Vice President and Chief Information Officer of Worcester Polytechnic Institute.  Vijay may be reached at [email protected] or via LinkedIn.

One of the proudest accomplishments of my professional career to date has been mentoring numerous early professionals. I have been fortunate to have amazing mentors, coaches, colleagues, and supervisors who took a chance on my career advancement and provided me with growth opportunities. I am forever grateful for their support. Now, I pay it forward by volunteering my time to assist aspiring professionals in advancing their careers. Having spent the majority of my professional career in higher education, I have found that IT professionals working in this sector typically love their institutions and stay in place for a long time, but many struggle not knowing how to advance their careers.  The most common questions I have heard in my mentoring sessions have been about their career advancement either at their home institution or elsewhere.  These questions have inspired me to write this week’s reading.

Let’s dive into the two most commonly heard questions, and analyze the actions one should take when at a career crossroads.  

I am geographically bound, and I love working for my institution. However, I am not finding any opportunities to grow. Can you help?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a deep commitment to your institution and enjoying your work there, especially if it feels like a second home after many years. However, when you feel like your career advancement has hit a wall and every day feels repetitive, consider the following actions:

  1. Pursue an advanced degree to develop new skills. Even after a 15-year gap following my first Master’s degree in Civil Engineering, pursuing an MBA made me feel like I was starting from scratch. Though it was challenging, it proved to be the most rewarding experience that unlocked areas where I needed to grow.
  2. Seek out new responsibilities, such as leading projects, collaborating with other departments, stepping out of your comfort zone, or helping colleagues facing resource constraints. Taking on lateral or slightly lower-grade positions can be advantageous if your intention is to grow and diversify your experience. Although these moves may not be financially attractive in the short run, gaining experience and broadening your portfolio will prove invaluable in the long run, strengthening your resume for potential new opportunities.
  3. Invest in a 360-degree feedback survey to identify blind spots and areas for improvement. Focus on the feedback itself rather than trying to determine who provided it. This feedback could unlock the reasons holding you back from growth.
  4. Find a trusted colleague who can provide constructive feedback to help your career advancement.

Now, let’s address the second most commonly heard question:

I am ready for a move but am not sure how to take the next step or be available.  How do I know when is the right time to move to my next chapter?

There are various reasons why one may consider changing jobs or moving out of their current institution, such as low job satisfaction, inadequate salary, lack of work-life balance, limited growth opportunities, and unclear career advancement pathways.  While it may be initially scary to consider moving elsewhere, remember that you will thrive where you feel wanted more than where you are not. Ultimately, the decision to move to a new job should be driven by your long-term career goals. If you want to pursue a different career path or work in a different industry, it may be time to explore new opportunities. Here are some actions you can take when seeking a new job and transitioning from your current institution:

  1. Reach out to your network, including mentors and colleagues who can offer support and guidance as you navigate your career path. Mentors can provide valuable advice on developing new skills, exploring opportunities, and making informed decisions. LinkedIn, EDUCAUSE, HR programs within your institution, and regional C-suite executives who volunteer as mentors are excellent resources.
  2. Contact recruitment firms to get an assessment and determine your strengths and areas that require additional work.
  3. Understand that you may face more failures than successes in your job search. Remember that you are searching for the one opportunity that is a good fit for you and the institution that welcomes you. Do not let a few failures discourage you. Many others are also seeking that perfect next job. Be patient and persevere.
  4. Do not wait for opportunities to come to you; actively seek them out. Be prepared for the personal sacrifices and the steep learning curve that comes with leaving a place you have called home for so long. In the first six months to a year, understand the culture of the new place and assimilate into your new surroundings.
  5. When you land that perfect job, fully commit to it. Be proactive and engaged rather than sitting on the sidelines. Mistakes and missteps are inevitable, but learn from them, acknowledge them, and move forward.

The decision to move to a new job can be challenging for IT professionals in higher education. However, by considering factors such as job satisfaction, salary and benefits, growth opportunities, and long-term career goals, you can make informed decisions about your career path. Building a strong network of mentors and colleagues will provide the support and guidance you need to succeed. Do not hesitate to reach out and leverage the resources available to you. Invest in yourself, as taking care of your own well-being is crucial. When you are happy with your choices, it will show in the workplace, and your team and colleagues will thrive alongside you. Remember, happiness is contagious, so keep spreading it!

Two weeks ago we asked to consider influence vs. manipulation and how often do you feel you experience manipulation.

  • 3% said very often
  • 5% said often
  • 37% said sometimes
  • 31% said infrequently
  • 24% said never or almost never

The distribution of answers this week is much less spread out than prior surveys, with only 8% of us experiencing manipulation often or very often.  This is an excellent, healthy sign of our organizations, culture, and relationships collectively, including roughly 1 in 4 of us who have pretty much never experienced it.  Congratulations!  However, for the 8% of us who have, it is a big deal.  A very big deal.  If it’s something that can’t seem to resolve no matter how much work you put into it, we hope this week’s piece about moving on may be something to consider.