Schools vs Higher Ed: work, life, and professional choices

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I left higher ed to work for independent schools, and it’s been a great choice for me. It wasn’t part of my “plan” in terms of mapping out my career and goals, it was just the right thing for me to do at the right time. People often ask me about my experiences regarding the transition; here are a few of my quick observations.

1) Shallow hierarchy

I have more direct access to the head of school than I ever did to the university president, or even the VP of my department. This has several positive outcomes, not the least of which is feeling involved in higher levels of decision making.

2) Nimble work environment

There are fewer hoops to jump though, less bureaucracy. If we come up with a great idea, we can test and implement it quickly – not wait weeks, or even months.

3) Student matters

We’re working with children under 18, which is different than working with adult university students and alumni. This means more concerns around privacy and protection. It also means working with parents quite a bit. You end up building relationships with both students and parents, which is great! This type of cross-level interaction is much more rare in a university environment.

4) Fewer internal moves…

Moving up within an independent school is more difficult than within a major university: there simply aren’t as many places you can “go.” There aren’t departments and divisions to hop between – you can’t move from a communications position within the business school to one in the med school, for example.

5) …but lots of room to grow

Many independent schools, especially international schools, are growing their advancement and communications efforts. It’s a great time to be working in this field.

Have you made the move from HE to schools? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Photo by Flickr user Carl Wycoff

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Rest of World

“Rest of World” is the term we use around the office when sorting mail for direct mail appeals. There’s local mail (UK), mail to continental Europe (a different postage charge, but not quite as much as an international rate) and then “rest of world”—the mail going out to every other country outside of those described above: the US, Singapore, Brazil, India and so on.

While these categories might work for sorting out postage, they don’t work when developing a strategy for international alumni. Lumping graduates who live overseas into one big group overlooks their needs as individuals. An alumnus living and working in Berlin may have next to nothing in common with an alumna in Beijing. Different languages, time zones, professional goals and communications channels all play a role in effective engagement.

As John Arboleda stated in “Find the Right Fit,” his article in Currents, “…institutions adopt a one-size-fits-all strategy for engaging international alumni… your alumni relations strategy should reflect the needs and realities of graduates who live in different countries and often experience different cultures and dynamics.”

While John is applying these principles to alumni events, programs and services on the whole, they also apply to social media strategy for international engagement.

Tailoring content for international audiences is key. For example, as explained in William Foreman, University of Michigan’s global communications manager, “‘we learned that if our content wasn’t in perfect Chinese, then people wouldn’t want to read it,'” Foreman says. “‘Getting the language right is so important if you want to be credible.'” Currents, The China Connection” by Becca Ramspott.

And on Lund University’s international recruitment Facebook page, all questions are asked and answered in English – not Swedish – to reach the largest possible international audience. There’s also a human touch: the page’s administrators, Megan Grindlay and Maria Lindblad, individually respond to each question posted on the wall and sign it with their name and title.

While “rest of world” might be easy in terms of categorization, it isn’t an effective engagement strategy. Care and attention to cultural details will go a long way toward effectively communicating with international audiences.

This piece is cross-posted on the CASE Blog.

Changes and Other Perspectives

Living in a new place and taking on a new role means that things have changed for me both personally and professionally; changes that will likely be reflected in this space.

I’m no longer managing school-wide communications campaigns, BUT that doesn’t mean I’ve lost interest in social media and outreach tools. Far from it in fact.

It does mean, however, that I will likely start injecting other aspects of communications, engagement, outreach and relationship management into my posts here. Heck, you might even get a few, “here’s what I’ve learned about living abroad” tidbits too.

In the spirit of all that, here is one of those tidbits: when you move to a new place, you have the opportunity to meet a lot of new people. This is your big chance to stick your hand out and say, “Hi, I’m new here.” It’s networking, that thing we all talk about doing online. Making those connections up front will help you in the long run, professionally and personally. Thanks to my new friends and colleagues, I learned how to get my home internet set up quickly. I learned where I can find root beer. I even avoided certain disaster by purchasing and utilizing dishwasher salt.

Sure, those things are somewhat silly and trivial (not the internet one, though – that was vital). But those people, their knowledge and their connections will help me out in the short and long terms. And hopefully my connections and knowledge will help them as well.