With the AUA 2023 Annual Conference and Exhibition nearly upon us, I have been reflecting on the theme of this year’s conference – Becoming a Higher Education Professional: Continual reinvention in a transforming sector. As someone who ‘fell into’ a career in higher education professional services, I am now in the privileged position of recruiting to professional services leadership roles across the higher education sector. With a wealth of diverse and multi-skilled roles available across an array of professional service areas, becoming a higher education professional services leader can offer an incredibly rewarding career and opportunities to shape the journeys of thousands of students. This year, AUA conference sessions will address professional development for aspiring leaders and approaches to inclusive and positive recruitment practices, two topics very close to my heart!

As well as providing opportunities for staff to develop leadership skills through training and qualifications, and then putting this into practice in the workplace, universities and higher education providers can do a huge amount to ensure their selection processes are equitable and inclusive, and I look forward to hearing how some institutions are addressing this very important issue at the conference.

Today, I want to focus on candidates and the ways in which they can prepare themselves for a positive experience within a selection process. Ideally, this will lead to a successful appointment, but in a competitive market this is not always the case and being part of a process should also contribute to professional development and provide a range of tools for next time.

Creating your own opportunities

The experience, skills and knowledge required for the role will be outlined in the job role and person specification. These criteria act as a clear guide for you to understand if this is the right role for you and how you might align and evidence your own experience and impact against each criteria, whether it be leadership skills, operational management, strategic development and delivery, or technical ability.

Having the right track record to align to the criteria and being able to showcase this through your application is essential, and it’s important to be proactive in your own development towards this next step in your career by creating and making the most of every opportunity. For example, being engaged with a professional membership body, such as AUA, will open the door to training and networking opportunities and expose you to the wider professional services landscape and good practice outside your own institution.

The application

You may be writing an application for the first time in a long time, and this can be very daunting. Keeping a regularly updated CV will ensure that you have logged responsibilities, recorded all your achievements with qualitative data and evidence, as well as your continuing professional development, training, and other voluntary activities, such as non-executive positions.

Whether you are applying for a leadership role in a different institution, or applying for an internal promotion, approach the application the same. At Peridot Partners, we offer candidates the opportunity to speak with a consultant at every stage of the process. We will talk you through the brief and advise you on how best to showcase your experience. Selection panels will not second guess or make assumptions about your experience, you are responsible for demonstrating clearly your alignment to the criteria and brief for the role – you can do this comprehensively and succinctly!

The interview

When you make it through to the interview stage, make sure you give yourself time to prepare and gather as much information as you can about the context – what is the format of the interview, who are the panel and how many stakeholders will you meet, and, most importantly, can you request the panel’s feedback about your application to understand which areas of your experience they want to explore in more depth?

There will always be external factors that can impact your performance on the day – how much sleep you got the night before, did the train make you late (set off early!), and was the sun shining in the right way! However, there is plenty you can do before you ever get to this stage.

Securing the right opportunity

If you are an aspiring professional services leader looking for the right opportunity, make sure you look at the bigger picture – yes, this is one of Peridot’s key values and it has served us well! In this context it works too. As the theme of the AUA conference suggests, the UK higher education is a transforming sector. To be at the forefront of these transformations, leaders and those aspiring to be within the professional services need to be horizon gazing across this changing landscape.

Understanding the current and future trends and opportunities in your areas and being able to sense and respond to these (yes, another Peridot value!), will ensure that when that perfect leadership opportunity comes up, you can not only demonstrate the range of essential experience, skills and knowledge required, but have the confidence to showcase how you have and will put this into practice.

I am very much looking forward to attending the AUA conference and having the opportunity to chat more about the challenges and rewards of pursuing careers across the professional services in higher education – and if you want to chat further about how Peridot can support clients to recruit outstanding talent and how we support candidates to showcase their experience, head to our stand in the exhibition hall!


Dr Sophie Carmey our Managing Consultant for Higher Education Appointments in our Education Practice. With her extensive experience within the HE sector and passion for working with organisations that have a strong social mission, Sophie can support you to recruit outstanding leaders and non-executive directors who are committed to improving every student’s experience and ensuring the best outcomes for all. You can connect with Sophie on Linkedin, or send her an email.