It’s safe to say that we all emerged from 2020 with new professional skills and tools in our ever-growing toolkits. School leaders in particular dove deep into learning the ins and outs of virtual admissions, virtual classrooms, a plethora of new technologies, all while developing new expertise and strengths.

In this post, we’re sharing some of the highlights from our recent webinar with John Farber, Managing Director at Resource Group 175. Together we discussed how school professionals can use their new skills and leverage them into a title bump, pay raise, or new position. Read on for some of the biggest takeaways, or watch the recording for the full conversation.

Setting the Stage

Q: How do I know if I’m a good candidate to move up in position? 

John Farber: First of all, it’s important no matter where you are that you have a solid rapport with your supervisor. Ideally, your supervisor will provide you with mentoring and honest, direct, and positive feedback so that you know where you stand. Particularly if you’ve been with your supervisor for a while, it’s good to engage them in a discussion about your future. The more open and honest you can be with your supervisors the better. You’re going to find that most of them will be extremely helpful and supportive to help you achieve those goals.

Q: As an admissions director, how do I know if I’m ready to be in a head of school position?

John Farber: You have to have great interpersonal skills. You have to be able to write effectively, speak effectively, and host events. As an admissions director, you likely do almost everything the head of school does except make higher-level decisions. You manage a staff, put together publications, and represent your school all over your area or city. If you’re working in a boarding school, you’re representing your school around the world. That’s tremendous experience to transfer to the next level.

“I’m a personal believer that admissions is a great launching pad for a head of school position. Here’s why: if you’re an effective admissions professional, you know your school better than anybody.”

John Farber, Managing Director, Resource Group 175

As an admissions director, you can see the whole picture of the school, and how everything fits together. And when you’re head of school, that’s really important. You’re talking about finalizing and closing the deal with families on a huge investment. That’s a phenomenal financial experience. You’re not asking people for money, but you’re asking them to make a major investment in their child’s education and that’s a great launching pad for moving into fundraising or other leadership positions.

Growing & Expanding Your Horizons

Q: How do you ask a boss or your superior for more responsibility or projects so you can grow in your role? 

John Farber: It all has to do with the relationship that you have with your superior. Have a conversation. Find out what your superior thinks about your performance. If there are areas to work on, work on those and ask for a shorter duration of time between reviews with your supervisor to gauge your performance. If you get a negative review, you want to have another meeting in two to three months. You don’t want to wait a year. 

If your supervisor says something like, “I’m so thankful that we’re working together. You’re accomplishing all your goals. Things are going really well.” That’s a great opportunity to say, “You know, as I think about where I want to start looking ahead to the future, I would love to take on a little more responsibility. Are there some things that I can do that would help you, my supervisor, or other areas of the school where I might be able to be helpful?” It’s always a good way to go. And supervisors love it when people ask for more to do. They love it.

Q: How can you get more exposure in roles outside of your current skill set, without stepping on the toes of those who are already in those roles?

John Farber: A lot of that depends upon the school and the structure that is set. If you’re looking into pursuing more leadership positions, or assume a lot more responsibility, people like to see what kind of involvement and experience you have interacting with boards of trustees or interacting with other types of administrators in your school. 

“Committee involvement is always a good place to get more exposure in roles outside your current sill skit. It will expand your experience and improve the breadth of your experience.”

John Farber, Managing Director, Resource Group 175

For example, let’s say that your athletic department creates a task force to review different types of athletic offerings at the school. There’s a great opportunity there to jump into that, particularly if you haven’t had much experience in that domain. Or, if a curriculum committee is going to take a fresh look into a few departments or change a few things in the curriculum, that’s a great opportunity to get some academic leadership involvement. 

Q: Can I still grow if the administration isn’t on board with my ideas?

John Farber: Oftentimes I tell people, if you’re walking down a road and keep running into a brick wall, that may be an indicator that people are intimidated by your interest and your skillset. Sometimes people work for supervisors that are threatened by their subordinates. If that’s the case time after time, it’s probably time to start looking at other opportunities or ways to grow through outside organizations. If you build a network outside of your school, you’ll open up many avenues of opportunities at other schools or with other organizations.

I am a real believer in both expanding your opportunities at your school, but also knowing admissions is an externally-driven enterprise. Anything you can do to work in your community that will help the reputation of your school or get involved in one of the professional organizations can be very beneficial personally as well as professionally.

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Moving Up And Changing Roles 

Q: Typically in private schools, admissions leaders wear many hats. In some cases, our job descriptions probably don’t match what we actually do. If your job title does not reflect your responsibilities, what should you do? 

John Farber: At the end of the day, your title is less important than the actual responsibilities and areas that you’re responsible for. When you put down, “Director of Admissions” or “Assistant Director of Admissions” on your resume, the bullets that you provide underneath it are very important. And the more data you can include the better.

“If you’ve seen a 12% to 15% increase in applications in the three years you’ve been at your school, list it on your resume. If you’re expanding at the moment, list it. Make those bullets count, and keep it between three and five per job. But make sure to put down all that you can that is truthful and will tell your story.”

John Farber, Managing Director, Resource Group 175

Q: If I’m on the admissions team and want to start moving up within the department, what kind of qualifications, data, or information should I bring with me when I am seeking that promotion? For example, I want to move from an associate director to a director, what do I need to bring in terms of evidence?

John Farber: Internally, you’ll likely already be well known by the people at your school and if given the opportunity to interview for the position, you should definitely do it. If you haven’t done it before, it’s easier to practice where you are with the people you know. I know people that have been reticent to put their hat in the ring internally because they don’t want to be told no and sometimes that can backfire because the Head of School or division head could come over and say, “Why didn’t you put your hat in the ring for that job?” Put your foot forward. There’s nothing wrong with that.

If you love the school, you could ask someone, “Look, I absolutely love this school, I feel like I ought to throw my hat in the ring, but I don’t have to. What do you think?” And get some feedback. It can be very difficult to take a promotion in the school where you are currently serving because you might jump from being a colleague to a boss. And that can be a big jump and a little awkward, so you want to know if people will be behind you. 

If you’re going outside of your school, you have to show your body of work and your level of experience. Everybody wants to see management experience and what they’d call leadership, right? So anything you can do to show a committee you’ve run, or a new initiative that you put together and have led will be helpful evidence of your skills. Don’t be afraid to share the failures as well. Let’s hope you have some wins because you want to be able to show both, but how you reacted to a difficult experience will tell a lot about your resilience and drive. That’s what people are looking for.

Examining Your Pay & Negotiating For A Raise

Q: How do you know if you’re being paid fairly in your current position? What goes into discerning whether you’re being paid fairly or not?

John Farber: A lot of that information is public information now. You can find it on tax records and 990s. That doesn’t always work when you’re a little lower down in the pay scale of a school. Most people figure it out by looking at job openings and seeing what the pay range is. Or frankly, if you build a network with colleagues around the country or around your region, you can simply ask them. I think people are much more open to discussing compensation now than they were 15, 20 years ago. 

“It’s important to consider that there’s a lot more to compensation than just salary. You have to look at the whole picture.”

John Farber, Managing Director, Resource Group 175

As someone who left schools and now works on my own LLC, I’m in a firm, but I have to pay for health insurance. I never had to do that before. Health insurance is a huge benefit. Then you have retirement and other pieces of your benefits package that are really valuable. Let’s say you’re making $45,000, $50,000 a year, but your school pays 100% of your health insurance and one of your friends says, “Well, I’m making $60,000 a year,” but their school is paying less than 50% of their health insurance benefits, you’re basically making the same thing. 

Q: Let’s say you’ve determined you are a little bit underpaid for the value you bring to your school. How do you make a case? And how do superiors look upon those requests or conversations?

John Farber: Typically if a superior knows that you’re vastly underpaid, they’re probably asking themselves if they’ll be able to hold onto you. Again, it goes back to communication, it goes back to your relationship with your supervisor. Sit down and have an honest dialogue. You can say something like, “Look, I love it here at XYZ Academy, but looking at the long term I’m wondering if I’m going to be able to stay at this because the affordability factor’s starting to weigh on me and all of the different family responsibilities,” or whatever it might be.

No one’s going to fault you for looking out for what’s best for you and for your family. Don’t come across as whining or with a “woe is me” attitude. Instead, say “I’ve taken on more responsibility. The feedback that you’ve given me and personnel evaluations have been pretty positive. Is there a way for me to move up in the pay structure here at this school?” It’s a much different way to approach it and can open up an honest dialogue. 

There are many opportunities to use your skills and continue to grow and learn as a school professional and school leader. To ensure you’re advancing your career, and being paid fairly wherever you work, watch the full webinar to learn more tips and tricks from John Farber.