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The Intangible Qualities Higher Ed Employers Look For

Paula Goodman
By Paula Goodman, Director of Recruitment / HR Client Services-CUHR at Columbia University
October 12, 2015
stand out from the crowd

Right now I am working on several very senior administrative searches.  I hear hiring managers say they need to hire someone who can handle “organizational ambiguity” and/or have “emotional intelligence”. Just today a manager said he had to hire someone who could maintain a sense of humor even in “the darkest hours”. So what does this really mean and how can you as a job seeker prepare to address these qualities that do not have to do with the functional skills that are described in job descriptions? 

Adapting to a Decentralized Environment

What is behind these bona fide needs is the fact that academic institutions take decentralization VERY seriously. That is not to say that there are not centralized offices in Finance, HR, IT, and the Office of General Counsel that enforce compliance around issues that could put a university at risk legally or that could create negative press.

Anyone working in especially large Universities needs to simultaneously respect and comply with  the mission of such central offices while at the same time operate within the individual school or department that hired them. Navigating these waters is not easy. 

How can you present yourself as someone who can do so?.  If you are currently working inside higher ed you most like understand the intricacies of matrix reporting. And even if you are trying to break in from the corporate sector if you have worked in a large financial institution or service provider, you may also be able to draw parallels. 

Have Examples Ready

What the interviewer will want to hear from you are concrete examples of when you had to make decisions to satisfy your direct boss while at the same time maintain good relationships with central offices that are trying to protect the organization at large. You need to do some thorough reflection of instances in your past work environments that relate.  Remember it boils down to developing and fostering relationships with stakeholders close to you and those that are at somewhat of  a distance.


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