Developing diverse talent in a fast-developing higher education sector

As the Development & Alumni profession grows and evolves, talent plays a vital role.

Experienced development professionals are in high demand, but availability is decreasing. Here lies a problem as the sector can be wary of recruiting from outside. This, in turn, has a negative effect on the diversity of talented people in higher education.

Attracting overseas professionals is still seen as the next logical step. And, on the other end of the spectrum, graduates are being drawn in and trained up – an important step but a very time consuming one too.

These strategies won’t be enough to meet future demands. Attitudes will need to change around the prospect of individuals with transferable skills. Transferable skills are an excellent solution and something I see as an extra string to your bow when developing diverse talent.

Don’t restrict higher education recruitment to only people in the sector

Senior professionals from the wider non-profit sector can bring valuable experience. Areas like wealth management, commercial sales, fundraising and membership organisations come with people who encompass the technical abilities that work well in higher education.

There’s an age-old fear that bringing someone from outside brings risks. Sometimes the working culture and values clash and expectations vary on the realities of making the move across. You can address this by assessing a person’s motivation from the beginning. It’s important to invest in support, training and development. This is crucial in the first six to twelve months to make their transition smoother.

Recognise that there are successful professionals with transferable skills in other sectors too. People who can assist in the increase of success. Once you’ve made that leap, it’s up to the candidate to think about how their transferable skills can benefit your organisation.

In some cases, employers can meet them half-way. Knowing that there will be some time required for development and cultural change.

Considerations when recruiting in higher education from client and candidate perspectives

Four key things for employers to consider when hiring in higher education:

1. Culture – will bringing a fresh perspective to the team be worth the development? Or do you want somebody who can fit into your existing culture?

2. Skills – are there particular skills gaps that someone different could bridge? Would the benefits of these skills make a lasting difference?

3. Training and development – is there always adequate support for new joiners to the higher education sector? Have you set realistic expectations for somebody to be able to adapt?

4. Motivation – it’s important to understand the motivation for someone wanting to join the higher education sector and align their expectations to the realities. Maintaining motivation will have a positive impact on performance and retention.


Four key things for prospective candidates and employees to think about before moving into the higher education sector:

1. Research – the sector is as diverse as any other. Do your research on the different types of institutions and what attracts you to them. Make sure that you have researched the current issues facing the sector. Be clear about your motivation to move into it.

2. Invest in yourselfCASE and the Institute of Fundraising (IoF) offer initial training courses that can help develop your skills whilst providing you with an insight into the industry. This will show a true commitment to making a change.

3. Network – networking within the sector is a proactive way of getting yourself noticed. Open those potential job opportunities! This will give you invaluable insight into the nuances of the sector.

4. Specialist – seek advice. There are many consultancies that come with a wealth of knowledge who can help steer you in the right direction.


Are you searching for senior leaders to join your Development and Alumni teams? Feel free to contact me at any time.

James Hunt | 07711 405444 | – Head of Membership & Development, Executive Search & Selection