This has been quite a week! I am still dealing with the loss of Kevin Sumlin, University of Houston head football coach who decided the grass was greener in Aggieland. He left my beloved alma mater suddenly, later stating that he did not come to Aggieland to “lose” as their new head coach. As for the rest of the collegiate world, it is winding down time in academia as faculty members turn in their grades and prepare to leave for the holidays.
This is a time of year when people lay work aside and focus on things like giving, new Facebook photos reflect the season, and there is less traffic on the way to work. For me, a hiring agent, it is not such a time. My winding down begins when the college officially closes its doors for the season.
Then, I am able to safely turn off my cell phone, stop checking email…and yes, maybe those dreams about work will stop as well. What makes someone like me so busy? Well, this is a popular time for job seekers to…well…seek jobs!
I have decided to give some tips to those seeking academic work at this time of year. First, the end of the semester is not necessarily the best time of year for either of us to meet for the first time because this is when I begin considering people for open positions that I have had a conversation with during the semester. As I finish up faculty observations and post-observation conferences, I try to hone in on professional development for the following semester.
Here are few tips if you plan to apply for a job in academia:
- Waiting until the end of the semester is not the best time to look for an academic job. The middle of a semester, when current employees are not so dependent on the college or university’s resources, is the best time to submit an application for employment. In a college community, and a university no doubt, “all hands on deck” is the protocol for this time.
- This piece of advice plays into the old adage that people hire those they know; therefore, be a darn good volunteer. Be the type of volunteer where others actually begin to believe that you’re getting paid for your time and efforts.Many schools have a policy about volunteers, so check with the human resources department about those policies. Keep in mind that a background check may be required.
- If you have trouble with the application process, contacting the hiring agent to ask for help is not recommended. Instead, contact the human resources department for assistance first. The last thing you want in a digitally progressive world is having an employer think you cannot problem solve before they have invited you in for an interview.
Children and Interviews
- Though you have been told how cute they are, refrain from bringing your kids to an interview. You may ask why I would write this in an article geared to help you find academic employment. Hmmm. Let’s just say it happens; therefore, if this is the bind you are in, find a trusted sitter for a few hours that day. I do not condone using Barnes and Noble either. Some churches sponsor drop in care for parents needing a little time away. Check your local church for such a service. You do not have to be a member or a Christian in most cases. If all else fails, find a worthy neighbor with a child and trade babysitting for babysitting whereby you both agree to babysit each other’s children (or you could trade any other skills you possess that they may find useful, cooking, cleaning, gardening, use of your DVR, whatever works).
During the Interview
- During the interview, do not hesitate to use a little humor. Ask about other things you could do in addition to the specific requirements of the job. Find out as much as you can about the position you are applying for. Dress appropriately for the interview. Be prepared; again, this sounds obvious but with so much of a college’s information so accessible online, it is well worth you time to peruse the web site and get familiar with a few things. This will help you to shape thoughtful, appropriate questions and demonstrate sincere interest in the organization. For more about this see HigherEdJobs.com’s “Etiquite for a Successful Interview.”
Less Rigidity is Best
- If asked about your availability, try not to be too rigid. Rigidity during an interview is quite the turn-off. Though it is a good idea to always be up front about what you can do and what you cannot, there are ways to express openness without committing. For instance, tell the potential employer that you cannot work during a particular time now, but you are open to doing so in the future, perhaps once your situation changes. Finally, you’ll want to avoid any personal sob stories that end with “That’s why I need this job.”
Desperados Need Not Apply
- If you come across desperate, employers are going to think you are and that makes them a little suspicious. Though when a posting says “preferred,” that is legitimate ground for negotiation, but this is not the case when a posting says “required.” This brings me to my next brief point of being considerate of the hiring agent’s time and yours.
- If you do not qualify for a posting, don’t force the issue. As much as I love advanced degrees, a doctorate does not automatically qualify an applicant for a job that requires a bachelor’s degree. I once had an applicant get upset that his doctorate for which he paid a lot of money was not able to get him a particular position.
- Finally, let friends know you are seeking employment. If you know anyone that works for the organization you are seeking to work for, tell them you are applying as well. Ask if they would be willing to share your resume with a decision-maker within the organization. This is also where those 5,000 Facebook friends and 2,000 LinkedIn connections can come in handy. Do some scanning of your contacts and see who may be able to offer assistance.
- Be sure you tell persons you list as references that you are indeed listing them and a little about the position for which you are applying. There is nothing worse than a former or current boss being called out of the blue about your work performance. Give them a heads up so that they can prepare something to say.
- Be sure NOT to use a work reference of someone who you have had unresolved conflicts with or who you know cannot speak well of your character or work performance. In the case of the latter, you may want to avoid using anyone who would think you are less than spectacular. Be objective in your assessment. What would this person have to say about you?
As curriculum vitaes go…
- First, make sure you bring one with you. Yes, you submitted one with the application and yes, you emailed one to the hiring agent when you agreed to interview. Still, bring one! It shows that you are prepared. Make sure any previous courses you have taught are relevant in some way to the job.
- Sometimes, the college only wants to know about your collegiate work experience. In that case, all courses might be applicable. Others want experience in a particular area. Never assume that a college’s requirements for teaching experience are negotiable as often these requirements are part of the mandates for accrediting agencies.
- In addition to your curriculum vitae, include a cover letter that speaks directly to the qualifications of the job posting. In fact, you can use the job posting to write a nice cover letter.
Finally, if you got the interview, do not hesitate to follow up with the interviewer. I suppose these are just some things to think about if you are looking for an academic job. Certainly, I wish you well in your search. If you re leaving one employer for another, remember to check to see if the grass is truly greener on the other side (sometimes it’s just spray paint). If you chose where I work, you’d be right, but if you take the advice of the outgoing Cougars coach, you’d lose for sure.