Data Skills+: The Ticket to a Successful IR Career

Data skills are a must for IR professionals at every level. Today’s institutions use increasingly complex data tools, including advanced predictive analytics, big data, and business intelligence systems. Certainly, that calls for hiring individuals with advanced data skills. However, data skills alone do not necessarily make a skilled IR professional. IR professionals will likely find that they need to have Data Skills+. That is, to be equally strong in the so-called “soft skills”, such as communication.

Women sitting at table having a conversation

Data Skills+

Traditional data skills have been–and will be—critical for IR professionals. A quick survey of IR job descriptions will surely return requested qualifications including: “quantitative skills”, “reporting”, “statistics”, etc. This makes sense. Years ago, specific, data-related skills may have been the bulk of the job description. But a review of more current positions may surprise you. Today’s IR jobs are looking for individuals with not only the data skills, but for prospects to have well-developed soft skills as well.

Communication is Key

As early as the 1990s, higher education researchers were beginning to recognize that being good with data isn’t all that valuable if your IR department doesn’t know how to share it effectively. Indeed, today’s position descriptions for IR jobs at all levels often look for applicants to have a variety of soft skills. Communication. Collaboration. Writing. Presenting. Also known as, the skills that help transform the data from numbers on the screen to actionable information in the hands of the right people.

Person standing on top of mountain with arms raised in victory

What Do I Do?

A focus on soft skills in IR has implications for IR professionals at every level. If you’re looking to break into the field, you must figure out how showcase your soft skills via cover letters, resumes, and interviews. What examples do you have to show how you communicate information and work with others? How will you highlight those skills as part of the interview process?

Looking to advance your IR career?  You should always be aware of how you are showcasing (or, uh, not) your soft skills in your current role. Are you bringing people together to discuss analyses and solve problems? Are you keeping lines of communication open? Are you developing reports and presentations in a variety of formats to best suit the audience you’re sharing with? Whether you are or not, seek opportunities to build and fine-tune your soft skills before you put in for your next promotion.

If you’re responsible for filling open IR positions, you’ll find there is so much more to consider than whether or not the applicant has mastered all the technical skills in the job description. It may be beneficial to consider the soft skills strengths and weaknesses of your entire IR team and look for applicants who can support the areas where you find room for improvement. Your ultimate candidate may not always be the data wizard.

Which soft skills do you find the most valuable in your IR role? Tell us in the comments!

Using Storytelling to Engage Your Data Consumers

We all love a good story. It hooks us from the very beginning. The scene and characters come alive in our minds. Before we know it, we’re hanging on every word. We get so wrapped up in the story, we lose track of time. We’re dying to find out how it ends. When we reach the end, we feel a sense of closure…and maybe a little wistfulness that ride is over. Storytelling is a powerful tool.

Now imagine yourself in a meeting where someone is giving you a presentation on data. Are you engaged? Are you dying to find out what happens next? Not usually, right?

Storytelling book open with eyeglasses

Storytelling Makes Your Data Come Alive

But you could be! And when you’re up there giving the presentation, you could have your audience on the edge of their seats. You just need to look for ways to turn your data into a good story.

For example, suppose you need to report on an initiative that has increased graduation rates for its target population. It’s good news, so of course you could just share the numbers. But wouldn’t it be better if you told a story about some of the participants: where they came from, how they struggled, how the initiative helped them, how it helped other students, what it could mean for the future of the institution? Even without the details, the story is more interesting and memorable than just a few data points. And just maybe, it will keep people talking about it as they go about their day.

Data consumers listing to a story about data

Draw on Your Experience to Build a Story

Turning your data into a story isn’t all that difficult. Sometimes there is a real-life example to build on. Other times, you can construct a storytelling scenario. Either way, remember to incorporate these principles:

  1. Make them care: Who is your audience? What is important to them? Make sure to align those things to capture their interest.
  2. Build anticipation: Include enough background detail to paint a picture in their minds.
  3. Follow a clear path: If your story is too complex or too hard to connect to the data, your audience may lose interest.
  4. Draw parallels: It may be clear to you how the data relates to your story, but make sure it is crystal clear for your audience.
  5. Clear conclusions: Your story is one example of the data, but make sure they see the bigger picture.

Have you had good luck turning your data into stories? What do your audiences respond to? Let us know!

Data People are Everywhere on Your Campus. Here’s How to Bring Them Together.

Long gone are the days where one department is the “data office”. Nearly every office and department uses data. Many even generate and store their own data. Data people are everywhere, bringing them together can make your job easier.

Man holding compass in snowy forest

Why Aren’t Data Creators Talking More?

If there are many data creators, where are the data discussion groups? Aside from being too busy, data creators and users can often have different approaches and access to data. While some people look at some data, others may not have access to it. So, we have a need to bring data people together to cross share their analyses more.

Bringing the Data People Together

Ask the questions that you wish people would ask you:  If you are a data wonk, you know that it’s not often that someone asks you about your recent analyses and what you find interesting. So be that data person who asks others the questions you would want to be asked! This shows your interest in the person and their work, and you will learn the types of projects that they are working on. This is important for building relationships and cross-sharing info.

Coordinate a regular forum: Create a brown bag lunch, info session, seminar that allows for data folks to share some information about a recent report with other data wonks. Why? People learn about other data that is available, ask questions, and make suggestions that will make future analyses better.

Send an article/resource to other data people: If you are reading this, chances are you read a variety of news services. When you see an article that you think may be relevant to someone’s work, send it to them. Instead of sending an “FYI” email with a link, include a note that indicates why you thought about them and what stood out in the article. This takes an extra 3-5 minutes of your time, but it now is a discussion topic the next time you see them. Or, better yet, include a proposal to grab coffee or lunch to talk more about it or pick their brain. Your conversation may lead to more ideas for how you can bring the data people on campus together.

Data People having coffee

Have you uncovered data allies hiding on your campus? What tips do you have for finding and bringing them together? We’d love to hear them!

Planning for a Smooth IPEDS Data Collection Cycle

With the IPEDS Winter data collection cycle nearly complete (don’t forget to hit lock by February 13!), we will soon shift our focus to preparing Spring data. While it may seem like there’s little time to take a deep breath in between the cycles, finding a little time for planning for a smooth IPEDS data collection cycle will pay dividends as we approach April’s deadlines.

To Do list with 
1. Wake Up
2. Coffee (underlined)
3. The Rest...

The rest would include planning for a smooth IPEDS data collection cycle.

Review Survey Changes

One of the easiest and most valuable ways you can get ahead of the next data collection cycle is to begin by checking out the Changes to the IPEDS Data Collection document for the current year. The document will classify the changes for you so you can quickly see additions/deletions/rewordings for each survey component, as well as a justification for the modification. This way, you don’t have to compare the data elements on your own and you won’t overlook a change until the last minute!

Pass the Information Along

Since the Changes to the IPEDS Data Collection document separates the changes by survey, you can easily share the appropriate information with the correct campus partners. Rather than just directing them to the page, you can quickly and easily copy and paste the relevant information into an email to the responsible parties for their respective surveys.

IPEDS is a Team Sport

By planning ahead for a smooth cycle and sharing changes, you show your colleagues that you are trying to make the IPEDS data collection process easier and less frustrating. In addition, you reinforce that IPEDS is a team effort and that you are available to support them, even if you’re not a Subject Matter Expert. Finally, your email can also serve as a friendly reminder of the upcoming deadline ?

Professionals in a huddle with hands in the center. Working together for a smooth IPEDS data collection cycle.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments if you have additional tips or techniques you use when planning for a smooth IPEDS data collection cycle!

5 Questions to Ask Yourself When You Look at Your Data

At the start of the new year, many of us take a good long look at ourselves and identify somethings we’d like to do better or differently in the new year. Have you thought about doing the same with your data, though? To get started, try asking yourself these questions when you look at your data.

ASK Sign

Look at your data: What’s changed?

What has changed – good or bad – that helps provide context for the data? If data are presented as random numbers – 86, 75, 309– then sharing them just makes you sound like a Sunday quarterback. Make sure the information is heard and understood by making the numbers meaningful with the context and stories.

What does everyone else’s trend chart look like?

Sometimes things are not what they seem. For example, suppose your numbers went up a little. Great! Improvement! But what if everyone else’s went up a lot? Maybe not so much to brag about. It is important to have external context – which means networking and keeping up with your colleagues to know what is happening at other institutions.

What data would I like to have that would help tell a richer story?

Look to related data to help paint a more complete picture. Perhaps adding in finance data or student survey results will add more to the story. When you bring in additional elements, you set the stage for your colleagues to better connect with the data.

Does this really need to be done?

Sometimes we get in the habit of doing the same thing over and over again. All to come to find out…no one looks at that report anymore. Since our time would be better spent, developing a new report or enhancing an existing one, it’s important that every so often we assess whether or not what were doing is useful.

Man yelling important into megaphone

Is it important? Or just interesting?

Research for the sake of research is great…when you have all the time in the world. But collecting interesting data that isn’t also important can have more drawbacks than just wasting your time. It can lead to scope creep. It can make the data confusing. Certainly, no one completing a survey ever thought, “Gee, I wish they’d ask more seemingly irrelevant questions.”

4 Easy Ways to Encourage Productive Data Conversations This Year

So often, one of the biggest hurdles to using data effectively lies in the conversations we have about the data. What are we trying to study? What data do we need? How should we collect it? What type of analyses will we do? With so many conversations to navigate, we thought we would share some tips for creating space for more productive data conversations in 2019.

People having a productive data conversation

Focus on the End Game

The holidays are a memory, and chances are, your colleagues have shifted their focus to their 2019 goals. However, folks are still energetic and refreshed from the holiday break! That makes this is a great time to connect with colleagues and leaders to find out what goals they have. And once you’ve done that, you can consider how to support them, given your role.

Bring Something to the Table

Delight a leader with new data they didn’t even know they were looking for (using minimal extra time on your part!). Most of us have a number of required reports due throughout the year. While doing compliance work, take a second look at the data. Then, identify any areas that may be of interest and/or align with folks’ goals (see Focus on the End Game above).

Looking at laptop, having a productive data conversation

Go the Extra Mile

Take a few extra minutes to add another variable into the pivot table or other analysis for greater granularity. You’ll likely be pleasantly surprised at what you find! For example, if you need to provide data for compliance reporting as a total, disaggregate the data by degree or major. This can serve as a ‘cross check’. For example, is the largest number of students the institution’s largest major? In addition, it gives you another table to discuss in your data conversations with senior leaders.

Sharing is Caring

Share your work widely. We all know to share our work up, but what about across and down? It is important that everyone is informed so that they can incorporate information into their own constructs. Thus – the more people know – the greater the likelihood they can make the connections that might otherwise be missed and offer valuable suggestions and solutions.

Have other suggestions for fostering productive data conversations? Drop them in the comments to share!

Postcollege Outcomes Resource Clearinghouse

As you probably know, the metrics for measuring student success in higher education are dynamic. Institutions and stakeholders have long been on the hunt to know more about how college impacts students’ lives. Therefore, we have tirelessly studied student satisfaction. And grades. And graduation and retention rates. Now, we are finding ourselves diving into research on employment data and other postcollege outcomes.

Student moving on to postcollege outcome of a jop

Postcollege Outcomes as a Measure of Success

In recent years, higher education has turned its focus to exploring the outcomes of its graduates as a measure of student success. Accountability efforts, such as Federal Gainful Employment reporting, institutional rankings, and state performance-based funding, reflect this shift. Therefore, institutions have begun to explore the wealth of information they learn from studying what happens to their students after they graduate or leave the institution. That is to say, they want to know more about about things like salary, job title, and organization.

Emerging Research and Best Practices

As a result, the body of research and best practices surrounding Postcollege Outcomes data collection, use, and study is growing quickly. K Powers Consulting is pleased to have developed and share the Postcollege Outcomes Resource Clearinghouse, which will act as a repository for these resources. The Clearinghouse provides reference information and links to resources including policy & research reports, journal & news articles, and related organizations & initiatives. Some resources are behind a paywall or require a subscription to access, so we have provided the citations for those resources.

Library representing the Postcollege Outcomes Resource Clearinghouse

Explore the Postcollege Outcomes Resource Clearinghouse Now!

The Clearinghouse is now live and available for you to explore. Take a look around and check out the current list of resources! In addition, we would love to hear your suggestions for resources we may be missing. The Postcollege Outcomes Resource Clearinghouse will be updated as additional resources are identified. And please don’t hesitate to send us your feedback!

Be sure to bookmark the Postcollege Outcomes Resource Clearinghouse today!


Planning to Succeed in 2019

It’s hard to believe 2019 is here already. If the new year can sneak up this quickly, so too can deadlines. It happens to all of us. So, let’s do better at planning to succeed this year.

Whenever I think about the concept of planning to succeed, tax-time comes to mind. Tax-time always seems so far away. And each year, after scrambling to get all of the receipts, W-2s and other tax related documents together, we vow to implement a better system next year and be first among our family and friends to get our refunds (we can all dream of getting a refund!).

But alas, every year we find ourselves scrambling because we put off planning to succeed at next year’s taxes. And this is a known deadline that happens at the same time every year – like birthdays, Christmas, etc! What about the deadlines that come up with less than 364 days’ notice? We have even less time to plan for those. Is there something we could do today to work toward planning to succeed in those things that we might not even know are coming?

Planning for Success

What is it about planning that we are so averse to? Do we secretly enjoy the thrill and drama of a deadline? [Will I make it? Will I miss the deadline? Who else can help? If I miss it, what are the consequences?] And even if we do get some twisted, secret enjoyment from narrowly making it in before the wire, wouldn’t we be much more productive if we weren’t regularly sprinting for a finish line?

Regardless of your reason for postponing planning, here are some suggestions to help you with planning to succeed this year:

  • For the planning haters: Great news!!! There are people around you who LOVE planning. Delegate this to them. They will be thrilled for two reasons: 1) they get to do what they love and 2) your lack of planning can irritate and frustrate your colleagues who are planners. So this is a win-win situation – you don’t have to plan and someone else who enjoys this work gets to do it. You can simply say, “I’d like to leverage your expert planning skills. Could you prepare a plan and have it ready X days before I need it?” You likely were not going to think about a plan until two days before, so you too are stretching yourself to begin a bit earlier. And – the planner won’t bug you before the deadline. Secret tip – planners stick to deadlines.
  • For the planning lovers: You can’t turn it off – you plan all of the time. And why would you turn it off? It doesn’t hurt anyone else to plan. It doesn’t cost anything more to think about plans in our head. In fact, most of us (yes, I’m on Team Planner) secretly develop plans so that we can effortlessly pull out a well-organized plan on a moment’s notice. The important thing for planning lovers to know is – everyone knows we are planners. And even thought it partially annoys them, it also it the thing that the planning haters wish they were better at.

I shared with a very good friend and colleague about an experience where I was having difficulty communicating with a colleague. He said, “Kristina – I know exactly what that person was thinking. Us non-planners don’t want people to highlight our lack of planning.” It had never occurred to me that my enjoyment for planning was not enthusiastically embraced by others. That perspective has helped me to look for opportunities or requests to share my planning work, rather than sharing it whenever I want to. Secret tip – timing is everything. Be prepared, but wait until you are asked to share your the plans.

Leveling Up: From Planning to Strategizing

No matter what level of planner you are, make the move from planning to succeed to strategizing for success. What’s the difference you ask? Great question! Strategy is choosing a path, where as planning is maximizing the chosen path. Don’t I need both? Yes – both to some degree is important, but it is strategy that will help advance your organization and planning will move you through the process.

Now, if you really want kick off the new year with a bang, start working on moving from planning to strategizing. The to-do list of your plan will serve you well enough. But, by moving from outlining the steps it takes to get something done to identifying and taking the most effective steps to achieve your goals, you’ll be helping your team reach its full potential.

Happy 2019! I wish you and yours health, happiness, and productivity!

Engaging Others into IR through the Backdoor

I smile when co-workers/colleagues say “can you just tell me what I should do with these results, I’m not a data person.” If I know the person well enough (or am feeling like the mood could be lightened a bit), I’ll ask the person if they balance their checkbook (who does that anymore)? I will get a puzzled look. Then I’ll ask – do you in general make sure you have enough money in the bank before you make purchases? They say, of course I do. Then, “you are a data person.”

Continue reading “Engaging Others into IR through the Backdoor”