If you look at character traits for an Admissions Director, you will see phrases like “people person” “outgoing” “extroverted” “likes a dynamic working environment” and often “likes to work collaboratively.” For me personally, these were some of the descriptors which led my former head of school to believe that I could even do this job.

So you can imagine my surprise when I started the job and realized that my team consisted of myself and two secretaries. While this small number kept disagreements to a minimal, it did little to foster great exchanges of ideas. There were few opportunities to explore different ways of approaching an issue or task. After all of my “new person ideas” were implemented we basically fell into a routine of doing things one way with minimal variations month to month. Routine is good but as time passed it started to feel a bit more like a rut than a routine. Sure, I was meeting new families and each new family brought new challenges and my boss was happy with our results but, the rest of the job was beginning to feel a bit stale and I was at a loss for what to change and how to change it. Unfortunately, there is no “International School Admissions for Dummies” guide. According to the The Enrollment Management Association’s International School Admissions Industry Report from 2015, 79% of us work in offices with less than three people.

Then October came and I attended the EARCOS (East Asia Regional Council of Overseas Schools) Leadership Conference (ELC) in Bangkok. I went to the Admissions Directors job-a-like and felt a bit like a kid in a candy shop. My mind was racing “What, wait you guys all do the same job as I do? You are facing some of the same issues? How do you do this? or this? or what happens when you do this?“

Everyone was giving and sharing ideas, issues and possible solutions. It was incredible and I basically got tendonitis from raising my hand so much. At the end of the conference everyone exchanged business cards and we all went back to our jobs recharged with new ideas or approaches. We were beginning to network.

Knowing that we cannot attend conferences every month while at the same time knowing that we as Admissions Directors need to be able to exchange ideas I decided to set up an EARCOS Admissions Directors Google Group. Over the last 5 years our group of over 225 has grown to include Admissions Directors outside of the region. We have answered questions, shared documents, answered surveys and supported educational research. The group format allows us to work together and support each other in between conferences. The response has been so positive that an EARCOS Marketing Directors Google Group was started as well. There are many times in meetings or when working on something new that I find myself saying, “Let me ask in the group maybe another school is dealing with this issue as well.” There is not enough time in a day for us to continually reinvent the wheel so it is nice to be able to turn to people who might have answers, documents or suggestions to share.

This network has moved beyond supporting us as individuals, to supporting us as a collective as many networks often do. Because of our ability to reach out and contact each other so easily we have started to become more involved with the planning process of the Admissions Strand at the ELC and other admissions focused conferences, like OpenApply and CASE. We have been able to get feedback on topics which are most relevant to us and plan sessions catering to these issues. We were able to demonstrate the need for a dedicated Admissions/Marketing pre-conference which attracted the highest number of participants of any pre-conference in ELC history, which included many heads of schools. This helps to elevate our roles in our schools.

As competition increases, it is becoming more important to make sure that we stay current of best practices and changes in the marketplace. Additionally, through the connections we are making we are becoming aware of different schools around the world and they are learning about our schools. More than once, I have been able to help a transitioning family find a place at a school in their new country as well as have had families come to look at our school because of a recommendation from their current school. At a time when word of mouth advertising is becoming an increasingly important component of families’ decision-making-processes this advantage can be key to meeting our enrollment targets.

Having a network of colleagues available can also be positive when planning the next move in your career. Besides just knowing what jobs are available and having the current job-holder speak a word for you, can go a long way to opening doors. Studies show that 80% of jobs are never advertised but are filled by word of mouth applicants. Many of my new colleagues each year are recommended by previous colleagues proving not just that who you know is almost as important as what you know but also that by supporting each other we also support ourselves.

Whether your network is small or large, is virtual or meets in person on a regular basis, it is important to participate and build relationships with its members. Get to know others, answer questions, ask questions and get involved. In business school I had a professor who was fond of saying “Your network is your net worth.”

About Katie Rigney-Zimmermann

Katie has been in her current role for the past 8 years. SSIS is the only not for profit international school located in Ho Chi Minh City. We offer an American-style curriculum with IB & AP options in high school.

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