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Job Talk HERC's Jobseeker Blog

Job Talk HERC's Jobseeker Blog

HERC's blog for jobseekers, Job Talk, offers tips from experts in the field that will help you with your search and provide the best ways to promote yourself to prospective employers.

reference check blog post imageBy Paula Goodman

Having made it to the final stage of receiving an offer “predicated on reference checks,” it is critical you select the best individuals to act as references.  Some employers also want background checks which are normally done by third party vendors that verify educational degrees, dates of prior employment, and even criminal or credit data depending on the type of job.  These are done to ensure that what your resume conveys is the truth.  Reference checks, however, are much more qualitative and are intended to probe whether what the prospective employer truly needs to know about you as they envision you joining them.  Most will understand if you do not want to offer your current boss if you have been interviewing in confidence but they will want to at least one person from your current place of work - either a coworker or a client.   Human Resources people are often mandated not to give references due to the litigious climate we work in.

When you ask someone to serve as a reference I would forward them a copy of the job description in question and speak to them about any additional points.  In my role as an internal executive recruiter I am very often asked to conduct references as part of my services.  I do, however, encourage the hiring manager to make at least one of the calls him or herself so he/she can probe deeply about the qualities they are seeking in this new hire, especially if there are particular technical or functional necessities.  Questions I ask have to do with:

  • Relationships with Supervisors, peers, and subordinates
  • Willingness to take on new challenges and deal with setbacks
  • Examples of where the person exceeded expectations
  • Developmental needs

A skilled reference checker will probe deeply into the above points so you need to be totally certain that the person you have offered up is indeed going to be positive.  I have encountered instances where the person giving the reference is hesitant or qualified in their response and on a few rare occasions was negative. This example reinforces why you need to be very selective in choosing a reference.  As mentioned above sending them the job description in advance and prepping them as much as possible for the upcoming call will help a great deal.

About the Author: 

As Director of Recruitment in central Human Resources for Columbia University, Paula Goodman manages senior level searches on an ad hoc basis. She advises internal schools and departments on recruitment strategies for positions at various levels. She handles high priority referrals from internal and external stakeholders of importance to the University. Under the auspices of the Office of Work-Life, she provides career advisement for accompanying spouses/partners of potential faculty recruits. She also provides confidential career advisement for officers contemplating internal moves. Additionally, she was re-elected for a second term to the University Senate as the sole representative for non-faculty on the Morningside campus. She has both a Bachelor's and a Master's degree from the University of New Hampshire.

salary negotiations blog post stock photoBy Paula Goodman

Many articles exist about negotiating salary and focus on how to secure a higher salary than the job seeker is currently making.  Of course this is the desired outcome especially for someone who is trying to advance in his/her career.  Within higher education, however, that outcome is not always attainable.  At the most senior levels, salaries tend to be comparable to other sectors, but at the junior and mid-level that is not always the case.  So when should you think about taking a position that actually pays LESS than you would hope?  There are different instances when this could advisable.

  • You are truly, truly motivated to break into higher education and the other benefits make a salary reduction less painful.  These could be concrete ones that are part of a benefits package or less tangible ones like work-life balance.
     
  • You are already working within higher education for a different university or inside the same university and the new job is more in line with your long range goals than your current one. The new position has different salary structure or constraints that are not flexible.
     
  • You are not currently working, have conducted a long search, and feel good about the new opportunity in all regards other than the salary.

One thing you would need to keep in mind, however, is that too large a salary reduction will be extremely difficult ultimately to recover from.  I would not overly stress opportunities for advancement in your discussions since that gives the new boss the impression you are using the currently open job as a stepping stone.  But it is fine to ask about performance appraisals and how salary increases are implemented on an annual basis. Whereas large corporate employers might have more flexibility and when they really want a candidate might be able to accommodate, that is not common in academia given budgets and equity issues.  So if you find yourself in a situation of accepting an offer less that you were originally seeking, you just need to think long and hard about your decision.  Higher education is indeed a great sector to work within and it may just be worth it.

About the Author: 

As Director of Recruitment in central Human Resources for Columbia University, Paula Goodman manages senior level searches on an ad hoc basis. She advises internal schools and departments on recruitment strategies for positions at various levels. She handles high priority referrals from internal and external stakeholders of importance to the University. Under the auspices of the Office of Work-Life, she provides career advisement for accompanying spouses/partners of potential faculty recruits. She also provides confidential career advisement for officers contemplating internal moves. Additionally, she was re-elected for a second term to the University Senate as the sole representative for non-faculty on the Morningside campus. She has both a Bachelor's and a Master's degree from the University of New Hampshire.

HERC has an Alliance with the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) as part of its commitment to helping member institutions attract a diverse workforce. This post was originally published at the ODEP blog. By Guest Blogger Maria Town, a Policy Advisor in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy

Cover Image of Skills to Pay the BillsWho can forget their first job? Mine came as a teenager when I worked as a receptionist for a personal injury attorney. You know, one of those lawyers who comes on television and says, “If you’ve been in an accident, call me!” Well, all sorts of people called our office seeking help, and I answered phones, made copies, scheduled appointments and filed papers.

Aside from being in an office, this job had little to do with the profession I eventually pursued. However, it was probably the most valuable job I’ve ever had—because it helped me understand the value of a paycheck and the importance of work and personal responsibility. But there’s something else I learned in that first job that helped fuel my professional success today—and that’s the importance of “soft skills.”

That experience was about more than simply answering phones and taking messages; it was about supporting clients, relating to coworkers, being punctual and behaving professionally. In other words, it helped me recognize the importance of interpersonal and other soft skills that were so vital to my boss and our business.

There’s no question that early job experiences are essential to developing soft skills. Conversely, soft skills are essential to getting early work experiences, because they make us more marketable. Yet, many young people—particularly those with disabilities—do not receive training or education about soft skills before dipping their feet into the world of work.

Recognizing this, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) has developed two free career development resources designed to sharpen the communication and other soft skills of young workers, both with and without disabilities. Called “Skills to Pay the Bills:  Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace Success,” this series includes a curriculum and a set of videos with an accompanying discussion guide, both of which are available for download or mail order.

These resources are targeted at youth, ages 14 to 21, in both in-school and out-of-school environments. The curriculum was designed to be inclusive and is comprised of modular, hands-on, engaging activities that focus on six key skills: communication, enthusiasm and attitude, teamwork, networking, problem solving and critical thinking and professionalism. The curriculum can be adapted to suit the needs of any group. The video series also addresses these six themes and can be used separately or as a complement to the curriculum. In fact, mail-order DVDs of the videos include a guide with “conversation starters” to help spark discussions among youth about the importance of soft skills to career and personal success.

These are outstanding, practical tools, and I encourage anyone who works with young job seekers to check them out. Simply access the “Skills to Pay the Bills” curriculum and video series on ODEP’s website or order them in hard copy, free of charge.

I’ve come a long way from that first job working the phones. Today, I’m a policy advisor in ODEP and part of the team behind the soft skills products. And as I continue my journey along my own professional trajectory, I know I’ll never stop honing those “Skills to Pay the Bills.”

Maria Town is a Policy Advisor in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, where she focuses on youth issues.

By Paula Goodman

Picture of stairway

I have written in the past about breaking into higher education when someone is outside of the sector.  So, is it easier to move up and around for those already working in academia?  It is not always the case but it certainly can be done. Some academic institutions are becoming more sophisticated around leadership development programs and succession planning but those programs are usually for a  pre-identified few.

 

What about the many existing open positions and the large pool of internal applicants interested in making a move?  You would think that filling jobs with internals would be easy for hiring units and internals would be able to land their next positions easily. Often that is the case, but conditions have to be right in two regards. 

First, the hiring unit needs to be pre-disposed to internals.  For financial positions where particular functional systems are involved, there is indeed this preference.  Additionally, in decentralized academic environments simply knowing how to navigate the overall culture gives an internal an advantage.  At the same time, however, the internal needs to have an impeccable reputation.  This transcends just being exceptional at  the function you perform.  It has to do with how you carry yourself at all times---in formal meetings and in informal settings such as when making small talk in elevators or on shuttle buses.  Managers form impressions quickly and those are hard to change.  The other thing to keep in mind is that it is hard to control behind the scenes reference checking.  So although you might want to keep your interest in a newly posted position confidential and are clear about this desire, there is no guarantee that the potential hiring manager would not do some investigation.  You need to decide if it is a risk worth taking.  An alternative is  to move to a competitor institution and then to come back to your current employer as an even stronger candidate. I see this happen very often. 

In closing, however, the best tactic is to do your current job to the very best of your ability, manage your personal “brand”, and nurture your internal network. In other words be in interview mode at all times. 

About the Author: 

As Director of Recruitment in central Human Resources for Columbia University, Paula Goodman manages senior level searches on an ad hoc basis. She advises internal schools and departments on recruitment strategies for positions at various levels. She handles high priority referrals from internal and external stakeholders of importance to the University. Under the auspices of the Office of Work-Life, she provides career advisement for accompanying spouses/partners of potential faculty recruits. She also provides confidential career advisement for officers contemplating internal moves. Additionally, she was re-elected for a second term to the University Senate as the sole representative for non-faculty on the Morningside campus. She has both a Bachelor's and a Master's degree from the University of New Hampshire.

By Paula Goodman

Hiring Committee

For faculty and senior level administrative positions, academic institutions often will use a search committee and conduct the interviews in a group format. From the employer’s vantage point this method is not simply a good way to manage the calendars of busy committee members, but also gives them first hand indication of how the candidate would conduct themselves in group settings once on the job. Depending on your own predisposition, this format can be perceived either as anxiety producing or a chance to excel. If you could adapt the latter attitude, it will help you present yourself.In a well run institution, the committee members will have agreed amongst themselves on pre-designated questions each of them will “own”. Then, that person will ask his/her same question to every candidate. If a search firm has been engaged and has put you forward to the client, then you might have received bios on each committee member. However, in this age of Google and LinkedIn, it is not difficult to do extensive research on each person. It should relax you to go into the room armed with as much information on them as they have on you.  In many cases a committee member’s chosen question relates to what their own functional specialties are inside the institution-that is what they care most about and will want to know about you as someone they would want to work with. Even with extensive preparation, however, it is hard not to feel as if you are in front of a firing squad. Making eye contact with the person that asks you a particular question is critical as you begin to speak, but then addressing the group as a whole should follow. Don’t feel that you have to blurt out an answer and taking a moment to ponder is fine. The introductory question most often is ---“What brings you here today?”. In other words, why are you interested in THIS job in THIS place. The closing question as in one on one interviews would be “Do you have any questions for us?” You really must have one or two that you would address to the group as a whole. Then, individual members will choose to respond on an ad hoc basis.

The number of individuals on a committee can range from 4 to 8 depending on the hiring unit’s desire to involve stakeholders beyond themselves. Try not to be daunted if it is a larger group. It’s best to adjust your thinking so that you feel you now have that many more people with whom you can make a good connection. As far as follow up, I recommend individual emails sent within 36 hours. If you are pressed for time, then a group email is acceptable, but I urge you to craft it carefully. It should not be too long but should have substance ---reinforcing your interest and emphasizing your strengths up against the needs of the job. If you receive an offer after first having passed through a committee interview, you know this is the right employer for you.

About the Author: 

As Director of Recruitment in central Human Resources for Columbia University, Paula Goodman manages senior level searches on an ad hoc basis. She advises internal schools and departments on recruitment strategies for positions at various levels. She handles high priority referrals from internal and external stakeholders of importance to the University. Under the auspices of the Office of Work-Life, she provides career advisement for accompanying spouses/partners of potential faculty recruits. She also provides confidential career advisement for officers contemplating internal moves. Additionally, she was re-elected for a second term to the University Senate as the sole representative for non-faculty on the Morningside campus. Paula returned to Columbia in 2000 after spending 14 years in senior recruitment positions in industry. Prior to that she was Assistant Director of Career Services at Columbia Business School. She has both a Bachelor's and a Master's degree from the University of New Hampshire.

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