Back when I worked in higher ed administration, I liked volunteering to serve on hiring committees for our management positions because I wanted to help select the best candidates possible.
It meant extra work for me but I was highly motivated to prevent the avalanche of problems we get when we choose someone who is not a good fit for the position. I had much respect and appreciation for my bosses and the rest of the leadership team and I wanted to keep it that way.
Reviewing dozens of applications was both tedious and entertaining.
Typically we had a few highly qualified candidates, some less qualified but probably capable of doing an ok job, and many whose applications made very little sense. Some people were so motivated (or may I say desperate?) to work for our college that they applied for every position that became available.
HR would screen applications to make sure they met the minimum requirements before sending them to the committee members, but we still saw applications that made our jaws drop. What were these people thinking?
I am now grateful for that experience because it allows me to coach my clients on how to prepare job applications that get them noticed and invited to interviews. Here are some ideas I wish every person seeking a leadership position in higher ed administration would consider before applying.
1. Don’t follow general job hunting advice
Most job hunting advice is written for students entering the workforce and adults in the private sector. Does it make sense for a new graduate to apply for many jobs every day and be open to all sorts of opportunities? Absolutely! Should that person pursue multiple paths until the right one is revealed? Probably.
But not you! You already have 10, 20, or more years of experience in higher ed. The hiring committee will look at your background and not just your potential. If there is no chance you will be one of the top candidates, don’t bother applying (unless you want to practice your interviewing skills).
Before you start applying for jobs, you need to be crystal clear on your expertise, skills, strengths, and what direction you want to take. In your resume, letters, and social media profiles, position yourself as an expert. The “Jack of all trades, master of none” approach won’t land you a high level leadership position in administration.
2. Focus your efforts where they will pay off
Most people apply for far too many jobs thinking “you never know!” But they do know. If they aren’t competitive for these positions or aren’t excited enough to bother spending time making their applications the best they can be, they are just wasting their time and the reviewers’ time.
They will get rejected, again and again, making them feel undervalued. Soon they will come to expect rejection and will self-sabotage because they stopped believing in their success.
Don’t let that happen to you. Set new goals for your job search knowing that quality is better than quantity. For example, instead of applying for multiple jobs each week, only pick one, choose thoughtfully and don’t cut any corners.
3. Know what you want
I see job applicants who don’t know what’s next for them and knock on doors almost randomly, waiting to see what might work. They think that their open-mindedness will get them a job faster because they aren’t picky. But in reality, it takes them longer to find employment because they aim at a moving target and get increasingly confused about what they bring to the table. And when they do get a job, they are more likely to discover they don’t like it because they haven’t done the inner work to identify what they really wanted.
Settling for whatever comes up is never a good strategy.
Instead, decide what you want to do next and do your best to succeed. For example, imagine that you have been a Dean for a few years and the politics at your college make you want to leave. Will you look for a lateral move and be a Dean elsewhere or do you want to be a Vice-President?
It is important to decide because you need to develop a strong identity as Dean or VP and if you try to be both you will be neither. If you are considering a lateral move because you lack confidence but you are competent enough to become a VP and your heart wants to serve as VP, then go for it!
4. Choose your path and your pace
Continuing with the example above, if you think you can do a great job as VP but you may not be a top candidate because you have fewer years of experience than others, don’t let that stop you. Focus on what you have to offer rather than what you don’t have and go where that will be appreciated.
For example, here in California, there are over 400 colleges and universities. Even if an applicant is only looking at one system, let’s say community colleges, that’s 113 potential employers. A person with high potential but limited experience will have to decide whether to wait to accumulate more years to become more competitive where they are or to apply to colleges in less desirable locations where competition won’t be as fierce.
They can consider campuses inland, in the desert, or in central California rather than the highly competitive and high paying ones close to the beach in high income cities. It can be a tremendous opportunity to build a resume and use the experience as stepping stone.
There are many ways to get to where you want to be. You don’t have to wait until you see a straight line. Be clear on what you want, including type of work, title, compensation and location. Once you can prioritize what’s most important to you, you can be flexible on what matters less and see more possibilities arise. Be creative.
5. Make job search a priority
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the job you already have and not give your job search the attention it requires. Administrators often get stuck in a rut and stay at jobs much longer than they should. If job searching has been on your mind for quite some time but you haven’t made much progress, give yourself a reality check.
Staying at a job too long can affect your health, lower your self-confidence, reduce your creativity and innovative spirit, and fuel an irrational fear of the unknown. You cannot procrastinate on taking charge of your career. Also, in most cases, a new job comes with a pay raise. Every single month that you stay at your current job means that you are missing out on income (and retirement benefits). Need I say more?
Forget “someday” and give yourself deadlines. Keep yourself accountable and get things moving. You’ll be so glad you did!
If you would like my help uncovering what makes you exceptionally valuable, what type of position would be the best fit for you, and how to get offered your dream job, simply schedule a time to speak with me about working together on advancing your career.
Imagine sending fewer applications but getting more interviews! Wouldn’t that be better than husting and struggling? That will happen when you focus your search efforts, gain more confidence and know your worth. Let me show you how to do it. It’s easier than you might think.
About the author: Since 2010 Dr. Audrey Reille has empowered thousands of professionals through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking engagements, online courses, and interviews on international telesummits. Audrey is the go-to coach for leaders in higher education administration. She empowers them to thrive by reducing stress, optimizing strategies, improving professional relationships, and developing a strong and empowered mindset.