Why is Higher Ed Different? is a multi-part series where we’ll be exploring the unique needs and requirements of Higher Ed IT. We’re passionate about Higher Ed and feel that it’s unlike any other industry out there. Whether you’re a newcomer or an industry veteran, it can be easy to get caught up in the hustle-and-bustle and forget to really take note of these idiosyncrasies. Paying attention to them, however, will make a world of difference in your projects.
Are you looking to break into Higher Ed IT or know someone who is? Our Why is Higher Ed Different? series is coming to a close, and there’s no better topic to wrap it up with than the university IT staffing process. It can be difficult to transition from another IT field to Higher Ed and get the experience that most universities look for, but hopefully, this article and the rest of this series will give you the edge you need to land your new job.
Experience & Qualifications
A large part of working in Higher Ed is being familiar with the culture and community that surrounds it.
Universities look for qualified experts with experience in the field when they hire new team members for an IT implementation. It isn’t just about technical skills, however; a large part of working in Higher Ed is being familiar with the culture and community that surrounds it. If you have experience working with Learning Management Systems or with large-scale security implementations, you will be more qualified to work on those types of projects. However, the reality is that having prior experience within Higher Ed IT is still very important to getting hired.
Luckily, there are many ways to familiarize yourself with the Higher Ed IT work environment, the products that IT teams implement, and the structure of Higher Ed project teams, even if you don’t have the specific experience that universities are looking for. Since an understanding of the culture of working in Higher Ed is so vital, getting acquainted with your new environment should be your first priority. The quickest way by far is to immerse yourself in the community: you could volunteer to teach at a local community college, mentor a university student interested in IT, or become a guest speaker at your alma mater. You could even be more direct than that and contact your alumni department to see if any IT project teams would be interested in taking on professional volunteers. Getting involved with the alumni committee could also help, as a way to keep your ear to the ground for any IT projects in need of assistance. No matter how you do it, your main goal should be getting back into the college atmosphere and acclimate to your new work environment.
You’ll need a thorough understanding of the unique types of end users for university IT projects.
Any Higher Ed professional will attest that the needs of students, faculty, and staff are paramount to the success of an IT systems implementation. This means that you’ll need a thorough understanding of the unique types of end users for university IT projects, the types of systems they interact with, and how they use those systems day-to-day. Students, in particular, pose a special challenge for Higher Ed IT; while most corporate projects need to be careful with their security against hackers or identity thieves, Higher Ed projects need to protect their systems from their own users. Tech-savvy college students are often at the cutting edge of modern technology, and it’s important to stay a step ahead to protect your institution from any unwanted tinkering. Some IT implementations also require specific care be taken in regards to meeting any related legal standards for storing user information and for protecting the intellectual property rights of students and faculty. While working with these issues firsthand is the best way to prepare, getting reacquainted with the Higher Ed IT environment will help you increase your odds of success.
A Special Approach to HR
The Human Resource officer is deeply embedded in the Higher Ed IT process.
Higher Ed IT departments often have their own Human Resource offices, unlike many businesses or corporations. An IT HR department acts as the gatekeeper for all new candidates, employees, and consultants for projects at their university. If a position needs to be filled, a manager submits a request to the IT department’s HR, the request is sent to upper management for approval, and then it moves back to HR so that they can begin the search for applicants. The Human Resource officer is deeply embedded in the Higher Ed IT process, conversing with project team members daily and keeping in tune with the needs of the department. While it does add more steps to the staffing procedure, having an IT-specific HR office helps increase the likelihood of a new hire being the right fit for the job.
The university environment is focused on learning and collaborating for the greater good, and the Higher Ed IT staffing process reflects this philosophy. For example, colleges often hire students to fill junior project roles for IT implementations. This mutually beneficial process helps fill positions on project teams while also giving students the experience they may need to jumpstart their careers after graduation. This may be great for students, but it does mean added competition for roles in Higher Ed. To compensate, you’ll need to prove that you’re a better fit for the job, by showcasing your knowledge of the specific university, IT department, and development processes.
Inclusive & Friendly
Despite preferring experts with prior experience in the field, Higher Ed IT can be a very inclusive and friendly working environment, where professionals and students collaborate towards improving their institutions. If you share this commitment and have a thorough understanding of the specific requirements of university IT, you’ll feel right at home.
We hope this series has been helpful, but if you have any further questions, please feel free to contact us in the comments, through one of our social media accounts, or by email at [email protected].
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