Part 1 was what you need to read before you decide to apply for a job in higher ed admin. Now let’s look at what to consider once you have decided what job you want.
1. Put your ego aside and look at the facts.
You've probably heard me say before that confidence matters more than competence because if you are competent but not confident, you are not likely to be chosen. But competence matters too! Don't try to fake your way up the ladder.
Make sure you are really qualified for the job you seek. Transferable skills are not enough. When hiring administrators, colleges and universities look for particular skills, experience, expertise and education. Some candidates are so confident in their abilities that they over-estimate how they compare to the pool of applicants and to committee members’ expectations.
Let’s say that you are the Director of a department in student services and you want to move up. You fell out of love with student services and you want to go into instruction, workforce development, institutional research, or just about anything else as long as it’s new and you get a big raise. You think you are a gift to the world and can excel at any job. You just want people to give you a chance!
While you may be an outstanding employee, when you look to start something you have never done, you don’t realize how much you don’t know. You are not likely to be selected, and if you are, your job will be very challenging because your subordinates will have a hard time dealing with your lack of experience and you will have to face the consequences. When you want to transition to a new area, don’t try to start at the top. Lose any sense of entitlement.
If you want to make a drastic move to a different type of work, you may have to start at a lower level and get a pay cut. But it will be worth it! You’ll be able to do a good job, build positive professional relationships, and move up knowing you are competent and appreciated. Trust me, that is better than finding yourself in a situation that creates self-doubt, low self-esteem, conflict with others, errors, and political drama caused by your excessive ambition.
2. Show who you are in your cover letter.
Cover letters that repeat what is on your resume and list facts without explaining why they matter and what the implications are, completely miss their purpose. Your letter is an opportunity to show not only experience and accomplishments but also your leadership style, your core values, and what the institution could expect if they hired you. Don’t be afraid to show who you are. Keep things professional obviously, but highlight the essence of who you are as an administrator. Give reviewers a chance to “meet” you through your letter.
If nothing stands out in your application because you are too vanilla, you won’t be on anyone’s radar. So get noticed, in a good way. Know your strengths, your talents, and what makes you exemplary and make sure your letter reflects what you bring to the table, beyond meeting the job requirements. Give examples of how you dealt with challenges in the past. Show your values that are in alignment with the organization’s values and culture.
3. Customize your letter and be thorough.
Look at the job requirements in the job description and make sure to address all of them in your letter. To make the reviewers’ job easier and to increase your chances of being interviewed, consider organizing your letter using one topic per paragraph. You may want to follow the same order they did in the job description. Please do not cut and paste paragraphs from old letters. Take the time that you need to do your absolute best in crafting this letter.
When you talk about your experience, make sure to highlight how it is relevant to the position you are seeking. Keep in mind that you are painting a picture of what it would be like you have you in the position they want to fill. If you keep writing about experiences that aren’t directly relevant to the new job, you will be convincing them that you belong elsewhere.
For example, if you are a faculty member applying for an Associate Dean position, don’t focus too much on your classroom experience. Talk about the committees you chaired, how you helped during the accreditation visit, or what issues you had to resolve as department chair when you created the class schedule and no instructors wanted to teach evening classes. Show your project management skills. How are you with organization and deadlines? How do you keep others accountable? Talk about your experience managing budgets. Describe your supervisory experience if you have some. Give examples of leadership roles you have taken. See what I mean?
These were general examples; now let’s work on your specific situation. Think about what challenges come with the job you want and what experience you have dealing with something similar. In administration, there is always an emphasis on conflict resolution, teamwork, bureaucratic tasks, politics, etc. Show that even though you were not an administrator, you have experience working with faculty, staff, managers, and students of course. I know… it takes work but the process will show you how qualified you really are, it will boost your confidence, and it will prepare you for the interview. So do it!
If it’s overwhelming or if you are highly motivated to make things happen quickly, remember that you don’t have to do this alone. Let’s talk and I’ll show you how to have an enjoyable job search experience and get the position you really want.
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.