Published on 2013/05/07

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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Readers Comments

Curtis Keller 2013/05/07 at 10:48 am

I haven’t had personal experiences with hiring CE leaders or staff, but it would seem to me that it might be helpful to have certain staff that are “shared” between the CE unit and the rest of campus. I believe these two areas of an institution have a lot to learn from each other, but at present, they do not collaborate enough. Thus, these “shared” staff could act as an important linkage between the two.

    John DeLalla 2013/05/07 at 4:09 pm

    I like your idea of a ‘joint hire’ – good thinking! Questions arise about the ‘home department’ and ‘department loyalty’ – but those are all issues that can be worked through just like the payroll split, hours/office location, etc.
    Keep the good ideas coming!

Peter Laramie 2013/05/07 at 11:01 am

I had the opportunity several years back to be part of a search committee for a CE administrator. The committee ended up selecting someone from within the CE department. I wouldn’t say this applies to all CE units, but we found that those from within who were interviewed were better able to speak to the needs and realities of continuing education. Now, this seems to be so obvious a point that it’s rendered almost useless to say, but I found that they understood the ever-changing, fast-paced culture of CE better than anyone else we considered.

    Lisa C 2013/05/07 at 4:40 pm

    Our institution took quite a different approach than yours. We brought in someone from the outside, whom we felt was skilled at reading trends and responding quickly to identified needs. I think there are certain portfolios that would be better handled by someone from the outside.

    In this case, our external hire was responsible for enrollment/recruitment. His experience in the private sector helped him to apply what were essentially headhunting techniques to grow our student population — something he’s done quite successfully. I would add that one challenge we had with recruiting externally was that there are different levels of compensation between the public and private sectors.

    It took a bit of research to come up with a compensation package we felt was comparable to what we found in the private sector — I think being able to achieve this could be a challenge for most public institutions

      John DeLalla 2013/05/07 at 6:01 pm

      Great comment! Yes, pay is an issue. Hence why the ‘belief in the value of CE’ is a huge area I mentioned above. Few people go into education to get rich, rather we work in education to help others. Of course a large paycheck is nice, but the flexibility of schedules, discounted tuition for a degree, relaxed summers, etc – those are all perks a program can tangle in addition to the emotional benefits of our quasi-helping profession role. Thanks for sharing about your external hiring experience!

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