by Christopher D. Lee, Ph.D., SPHR
“Ask the Expert” is your chance to get advice and insight from experts on specific questions you have about searching for a job, interviewing, dealing with problems in the workplace, and advancing your career. Featured experts range from HR professionals who specialize in conflict management and bullying to job search experts who can share insight on how to secure interviews and impress search committees.
Questions: I have a master’s degree in education, and I currently work as a substitute teacher. I’m interested in pursuing a new career in higher education, but not in a teaching position. What other positions in higher education would I qualify for?
I am new to higher education. I have 20+ years in the private industry. I was wondering how I can chart a career path in higher education administration. I currently work in International Enrollment and would like to know what type of opportunities I should be looking for.
Answer from Christopher D. Lee, Ph.D., SPHR: These two questions are versions of a perennial question I have heard from countless applicants, career counseling clients, referrals, friends, and relatives over my more than 30 years as a human resources professional. The answer that I have offered has been rejected as often as it has been received. When a job seeker asks this question, they are unintentionally revealing that they may not be ready to start a job search because the premise of the question indicates that there is some homework to be done. This homework has three separate parts.
First, one must know thyself. Second, one has to identify and group their competencies into at least one neat package. And third, one must marry up their skills with opportunities in the marketplace. It’s a difficult proposition when one is unsure how to articulate and communicate their own strength and skills. This is the critical first step of the job search process. No one knows you better than yourself; this includes the skills and experiences that you have acquired but have not yet put on paper. If you work in admissions and have learned to compile and analyze applicant information, build datasets, generate demographic reports — in addition to recruiting — a potential employer or career counselor may overlook you for a variety of positions because these skills are missing from your resume.
You, alone, must take the time to dig deep into all your past positions and mine them for skills, competencies, and experiences. Once compiled, you must categorize them into organic groups. Once grouped, you can curate them into buckets that reflect the jobs that are available in the market. That aforementioned admissions counselor will now be competitive for a lateral move into the more lucrative field of institutional effectiveness and research. A person who has developed strong computing skills could possibly qualify for an entry-level position in information technology. The point here is that hard work, effort, and research produce this result. No one else can do it for you.
The question, “What do I qualify for?” can be perceived by a potential employer as a lack of effort and passion. In a previous blog, we discussed why displaying passion to a hiring manager who values their chosen profession is a way of standing out from the competition. By way of an example of good effort, many working professionals who are aspiring adjunct professors call colleges and universities and communicate 20 years of awarding-winning experience, an advanced degree, and the desire to give back to the next generation. “What can I teach for you?” The truth is the division chair is unlikely to have the entire curriculum top of mind and be able to contemporaneously marry up a person’s professional experience with one or more courses on the spot. They are also unlikely to have time or desire to comb through the random caller’s resume and match it to the catalog’s applicable course(s). The point is — the job seeker would be wise to have completed their own research, looked at the online catalog, and then contacted the division chair to say, “I have education and experience that would prepare me to teach A, B, and C courses for your students. Can we meet to discuss my interest?” We should not ask others to do our homework if we are trying to win their favor. After we have examined ourselves, packaged our skills, and gained some insight about relevant professional positions, then we can more fruitfully seek the advice and assistance of others.
Looking for a job is a part-time and, sometimes a full-time, job itself. It entails a considerable amount of time and effort. Yet, this investment of time and effort will yield positive results. Asking others to think about what we are qualified to do presumes they fully understand our background and are willing to do the hard work of thoroughly thinking through and matching our background with openings at their organization. To increase the chances of success, one must know their own skill sets, determine possible jobs that match these skills, research positions by reviewing HigherEdJobs and private sector job boards, and then target an employer with specific jobs in mind. This is a better way of starting a conversation with a hiring manager. They will appreciate your preparation and specificity. Otherwise, they may be unclear about how to help you or be unwilling to spend the time it will take to figure it out.
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