Special Features

  • Special Feature / Interview
  • 07.12.19

Skills IR Professionals Need to Succeed

  • by eAIR

Today’s IR professionals need everything from an ability to interpret data to an understanding of how others think. This article focuses on the second part of the Impact Session from the 2019 AIR Forum, An Exploration: What is IR?, which looks at skills needed by IR professionals, whether a new hire or a senior-level leader.

Panel Members

Rachana Bhatt, University System of Georgia
Narren Brown, South Central College
Jonathan Gagliardi, Lehman College
Resche Hines, Stetson University
Junelyn Peeples, Scripps College


Christine Keller, AIR

What knowledge, skills, or competencies do IR professionals need?

Narren Brown: In terms of hiring, there’s a skill I look for most. It’s outside of technical skills. When I write a job description, technical skills are clearly outlined - but I look for curiosity more than anything. I had two candidates one time, and during the practical skills section, and one candidate (who on paper was by far better than the other candidate) quit the process. The second candidate used the resources at their disposal including a search tool. They had a basic set of technical skills but also had the curiosity and desire to keep learning. They taught themselves practical skills as they evolved. A month ago, this person rewrote one of my queries to make it run better, and I was simultaneously hurt and proud. I need someone who is curious about learning and growing, because that is infectious. These types of people have an easier time relating to folks, which is part of their role. 

SkillsJunelyn Peeples: If you’re hiring someone new, look for coachability and whether they ask a lot of questions. If they have these traits, you can really work with any deficiencies or skills they haven’t professionally developed yet. You can also then teach them how things work at your institution. I run fast and hard - I'm always high octane. I don't need someone to have the same level of intensity as I do, but I am looking for someone who is just as dedicated.

The future of IR requires us to be a whole lot more versatile. We need IT savvy folks, strategic thinkers, enrollment managers, alumni relations manager, etc. A more senior person should have those skill sets.

Jonathan Gagliardi: Having someone who is willing to try is crucial. More and more, what I’m seeing is that folks are willing to "socialize" the problem or the request, even if they don’t have the expertise. Get the right folks around the table, as that encapsulates a lot of what we’re talking about. Identify the right stakeholders who should be at the table, even if you don’t know everything. Tell me what you think I should do with the data. I have less and less time to even be able to distill it, to boil it down myself. Look for the ability to connect, curiosity, and willingness to try.

Rachana Bhatt: Look for someone who is logical. The way they rationalize and approach a problem is key. Step back and think abut the big picture and ask “what am I trying to get at?” Does what I put down on paper match that? Do they dovetail?

I need someone who pays attention to detail: We work in numbers, and it’s really easy to switch a 3 to an 8. As you’re working, do some quality control. At the end of the day, if there’s a discrepancy, there will be 15 people knocking on your door.

Look for good communication skills. We're often the ones receiving a request, and the requester may or may not know about data. You need someone who can say, “I think what your question is, is this." or "By the way, you may want trend data so you can compare over time.”

Question from the audience: What skills did you, personally, need? Because I’d like to become you.

Rachana: Organizational skills, delegation skills, and management skills. Establish a framework and expectations and be part of the process. You need to understand both what the work is and how to get your staff to do the work.

Junelyn: Good research skills: research design, methodology, types of approaches, and why they’d be relevant. People come into my office with a question and they leave with a completely different question. Teasing out what someone really needs requires the ability to listen, understand the various approaches to conduct research that are compatible with the request, and the ability to execute it. You have to be constantly learning about what is being discovered in the field of research and how to apply these skills. For example: Is the data replicable? Is it valid? Can you relay what you found and tell the pertinent stories to help inform decision making?

Jonathan: You need to have a thick skin, particularly early on. Can anyone remember when you were first staring and you were fresh and knew everything? And then you got feedback and your draft got torn apart? What you know about methods, you might not know about your campus - and vice versa. Take criticism with a smile. IR folks sometime have the reputation of being a little surly and not being able to take feedback well.

Narren: For me, growth in my career has coordinated with growth of my people skills, which helps to mask my surliness. (laughter)

Continue the conversation by tweeting @AIR4Data and using the hashtag #IRWaterCooler.

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