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Hiring a Continuing Education Leader

Hiring a Continuing Education Leader
There are a number of traits continuing education leaders must possess in order to be successful in this industry.

How did you get hired to work in continuing education (CE)? Did you attend a four-year college for a degree in adult education, then do a master’s program in CE or leadership? Most likely not. In  an informal review of degree offerings, a limited amount of programs for prospective CE leaders were identified. So, how do we find future CE leaders? Some options include:

  1. Steal from other institutions or department staff.
  2. Promote from within our own department.
  3. Hire existing faculty as administrators.
  4. Hire staff from the outside.

I’ve seen all four methods used. I came through the second method. I’ve been offered jobs via the first method. I watched the third method be used — twice in the same institution, and both times with dismal results. There’s still a fourth option: hiring from the outside.

Yet, who do you hire? What personality traits should you look for? What are deal-breakers? What professional background? What skills? Some general aspects I look for in my new hires include, but are not limited to, the following list:

  1. Personality: Patience, kindness and a sense of humor are leading indicators of success for staff.
  2. Communication Skills: Not just being able to draft a quick email reply, but knowing what methods to use in communication with which constituents. Texting, for example, is not as common for business executives as it is for high school students looking for a summer camp.
  3. Ability to Empathize: We often have students taking a second try at college. Being empathic to the situation, story and student is helpful.
  4. Mindset to Help: We’re generally a “helping profession” in CE. We aim to help people achieve success in their careers and personal enrichment. We’re not out to get rich. Hire helpers, not takers.
  5. Initiative: Most CE units are self-supporting. Having initiative is a huge aspect of earning enough income to cover program expenses.

Some faculty I’ve watched come into administrative roles, and others that have come from the outside, that didn’t work out had the “deal-breakers” personality traits. All of these individuals lasted less than 18 months in their positions and left a mess behind for their successors. The traits that caused issues included arrogance, rudeness to staff, promising the world but not having a plan to deliver it and general laziness/sense of entitlement. These generalizations were not apparent during the interview process. In some cases, traits that are acceptable in the CE classroom might not work well in the administrative office. It’s a balance that needs to be derived for the best possible candidate to fit in the position.

There are a few employment backgrounds that have seemingly worked well for other institutions:

  1. Salespeople (they know how to sell).
  2. Entrepreneurs (failed entrepreneurs are a great choice if they understand why they failed).
  3. Military veterans (patience, rule-following and discipline).
  4. Classroom teachers (patience, empathy and instructional knowledge).

Skill sets requirements of continuing education leaders vary by institution and even by program. Some general skill sets and traits I look for include a sense of curiosity and dependability. Successful candidates for CE positions will also have maturity, perseverance, imagination and poise. They will have a healthy respect of cultural diversity and they will be enthusiastic. Most of all, a CE leader should have an abundance of common sense.

One aspect not listed anywhere above is what I consider the most important, though: a genuine belief in the mission of continuing education, one that is so strong that they themselves, as a leader, would continuingly educate themselves personally and professionally in order to improve their work and that of the CE unit.

I’d like your feedback. How have you hired CE leaders or staff in the past?

Have you found success in an area I’ve noted as failure? Do you have ideas to add to my list above? Leave your comments and keep the discussion going!

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