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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.

people watching a clockI have mentioned in the past that job hunting in higher education is a very long process.  This time of year as the semester is drawing to a close, the process could take even longer.  I am continually dealing with advisees who are suffering through the waiting-to-hear stage.  So two issues I will try to address here are (1) Why DOES it take so long and (2) How should one handle themselves while waiting.

1) Recruiters are often called upon by management to provide a particular metric known as “time-to-fill”.  This relates to the date from when a job was posted and when it was closed.  The timespan can be anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months depending on the circumstances.  A short time frame is far less common and is attributable  either to a sense of urgency  or to the position being a role where the requirements are extremely specific and the pool of candidates is very small and easy to target.  The average duration of 3 months factors in the various stages of posting, advertising, reviewing resumes, scheduling interviews, and gathering interview feedback to move to a final stage.  Final scheduling and gathering final feedback then follow.   Reference checks then need to be done as well as background checks depending on the type of role.  If a hiring unit such as an academic department does not have an internal human resources person(s) then recruiting can take much longer---especially if committees are involved.  There could also be the issue of internal/departmental politics that could potentially delay the process.  At my institution we try to indicate at the end of a posting whether or not a possible candidate has been pre-identified so that any new applicant can choose to apply or not.  I believe it cannot hurt to still apply  This time of year with the combined pressures of the end of the semester looming ahead plus the upcoming holidays, you should realize that the process is very apt to drag on.

2) So if you are “in play”, I think it matters a great deal how you carry yourself.  While internals ought to know firsthand how long filling a position may take, they sometimes have an even greater sense of frustration.  I know of cases where internals choose to withdraw since they take the delay personally.  But whether you are internal or external, there is a fine line between too frequent follow ups that could convey desperation or cause annoyance and sending periodic reminder expressions of interest.  Recently someone said they wanted to fabricate another offer to provoke a decision on their status.  I discouraged them from doing so since this could backfire.  I am most sympathetic to candidates who are not currently working and for whom waiting time seems endless.  It does not help for me to say “it is not about you”  since if someone is unemployed, it is very hard to grasp the big picture.   Carrying oneself with dignity and even empathy for a harassed hiring manager tells an employer a great deal about you and will work in your favor.

Contributed by By Paula Goodman, Director of Recruitment / HR Client Services-CUHR at Columbia University

Interview Image 2

If you have hired people in your own prior positions, you might understand why a hiring manager would be reluctant to bring someone in who could be restless soon after starting the position or perceive the daily responsibilities as beneath them.  Your challenge as a job seeker is to convince the hiring manager that you have a true commitment to filling the role as it is advertised and then as described during the interview.  The good news about job hunting within higher education is that maturity really is valued as is longevity in prior positions.   The key, however, is to market yourself as someone with a genuine interest in not only working inside an academic institution but also for the hiring unit in question.  I never believe someone should “dumb-down” their resume.  You should, however, avoid highlighting those accomplishments that do not directly relate to the open position.  It is preferable to have concrete examples of responsibilities you have had that directly relate to the open job---even if they were further back in your career history.   There is also a misconception that the older candidate would be less adept with technology.  If you feel this concern is somewhat well founded then try to take relevant courses to get up to speed and then reflect those skills on the resume under your Professional Summary section. 

Related concerns from an employer could about salary.  As a recruiter, I find it annoying to have a candidate withhold prior salary information.  Some candidates actually refuse to share for fear of being rejected based on past salaries having been much higher than that of the open job.  I would much prefer someone be honest and indicate that at this point in their career compensation is not their prime motivator but that job satisfaction is.  Of course, this needs to be a true fact.  In higher education there is little if any flexibility around salary due to our grade structure.  Be cautious also about overemphasizing work-life balance.  It is somewhat of a misconception that academia if hugely different from the corporate world in this regard.Presuming you are indeed genuinely interested in the content of the job in question, the best approach is to convey sincere enthusiasm and back that up with why you are so enthusiastic. Your energy level during the interview is a reflection of how you would perform on the job.

A lot has been written about dress for the “older candidate”  but I would avoid going too far with youthful attire.  I think what is most important is to dress in a manner that reflects who you are now while not necessarily portraying yourself as who you “were” in a prior high paying job.  There is great likelihood your interviewer(s) will be younger than you so you need to convey willingness to learn from them in order to perform on the job.  An interviewer could easily be threatened by someone who has many more years of experience than they have so your challenge is to communicate flexibility and eagerness to contribute.  If faculty are involved in the interview process, they are apt to be more open to a mature candidate with substantive years of experience.  In summary, you should do some self-assessment about your motivation for seeking the position in question.  You have a much greater chance of landing the job if you really are motivated by the day to day responsibilities and the environment and not by simply wanting “A Job.” 

Contributed by By Paula Goodman, Director of Recruitment / HR Client Services-CUHR at Columbia University

 

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.

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