Careers: How to reach the top

Jan 19, 2022 | Sector & policy

There is no single or clearly structured career path for early talent professionals, ISE offers advice on reaching the top.

Unlike some professions that have clear progression based on qualifications, the opportunity in student recruitment and development is to create your own journey.

However, it is very likely that your organisation has a framework that will explain how you can progress your career within that organisation. So, a good first step is to find out more about how career progression works in your organisation and what some logical, and more creative, steps to the top might look like.

Career development does not necessarily have to be about following a logical and linear path to the top of your department or company. The fact that there isn’t a well-established career pathway with obvious qualifications to take means that you need to be creative and align your ambitions and interests with what the organisation can provide.

While the most obvious target might be to try and become Head of Student Recruitment (or whatever title your boss has) there are also many other options. For example, there are some global graduate recruitment roles in the industry, which allow you to maintain your specialism while becoming more senior. Some of them will keep a strong connection to early career, whilst other might take you in another direction.

It’s helpful to maintain a five to 10 year horizon on your own career, keeping some agility and flexibility as you go forward.

Be responsive to, and where possible lead, the change. These opportunities increase the more senior you become, but keep your eye on the change-makers and learn from them. And keep a sense of how important this is.

The sector is part of something really big, even if your organisation never tells you that. Find the affirmation yourself – this is what your network is for. Intuitively people think they are doing a good thing working in the early talent space. The more senior you get the more you realise quite how big a difference the sector could and does make.

Increasingly we talk about ‘career management’ rather than ‘career planning’ because everyone knows that no one’s career ever goes fully to plan.

While it is a good idea to have an objective in mind, a lot of the real skill in managing your career comes from seizing opportunities when you see them and rolling with the punches when they come.

Nonetheless there are things that you can do to ensure that you are more likely to be able to make the most of the opportunities you do have:

Build your network. This becomes particularly critical when you are looking to shift up a level.

Talk to more senior people in the field. Ask them how they moved up through student recruitment and development and see what you can learn. You may even be able to get one of them to mentor you.

Build a breadth of expertise. Make sure you read up on the latest news, research and theory from the industry. This will extend your influence and expertise. ISE’s Knowledge Hub is useful for data, case studies and advice. Make yourself invaluable. You will develop gravitas within your organisation and beyond.

Engage with professional development. There is much relevant learning within the sector and taking the time to think through your key areas of interest and how they relate to your career aspirations will be time well spent. ISE runs tens of events and courses each year where you can hear from like minds, colleagues and leaders in your field.

Take a qualification. Once you have been working in the field for a while you are likely to have more ideas about where you want to specialise. Taking a post-graduate qualification in HR, marketing, management or another area can help you to up your game.

You may also have to be willing to move organisations, perhaps a number of times as you develop your career in student recruitment and development. Moving to a bigger organisation might open up more opportunities, while moving to a smaller organisation might give you more opportunity to get involved in strategy and oversee more areas.

While loyalty is valued, so too is experience from other places, so keep an eye on opportunities in your competitors. This is yet another area where your ISE membership will serve you well as it will allow you to hear about the wider industry and build a network beyond your organisation.

This is an excerpt from ISE’s Complete Guide to Student Recruitment and Development. Read more insight and know how from ISE’s Guide

Book onto an ISE course to boost your professional development

Read more content on advancing your career




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