Friday, March 17, 2006

 

Ask the Administrator: Tailoring the Application

A new correspondent writes:

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I am writing to ask about the new job search I am initiating. I was a graduate student at a top tier reseach university for five years. I wound up leaving my program (for a variety of reasons - and with no real regrets) without a PhD. I did receive a master's degree so I have something to show for my five years of toil! I was primarily interested in teaching when I came to graduate school and so my goal post-quitting was to teach at a local private high school and see where that led me. But I was super lucky to get offered a position running a program specifically for undergraduates interested in pursuing research careers in (my field). I have had this position for (several) years now and it has been wonderful. I've been able to teach at a university (always my dream job) and I have gotten a taste of administrative type things since I coordinate the use of our teaching space and develop new aspects of the program that might help pre graduate students. I have also been involved in some community outreach type efforts including assisting with a high school teacher continuing education workshop.

There are several things that aren't main parts of my current job, like outreach and more planning/oversight for the program, that I would like to do more of in the future. And there are several parts of my current job (like the assumption that I will do research whenever I'm not teaching even though I was hired as a lecturer and not a scientist) that I'd like to do, well, no more. Because of this I've decided it's best to get out of my current job, so I am applying for new jobs (with the blessing of my current employer, thankfully!). I am applying for positions in Academic Affairs, mainly, since these seem to fit my interests and are similar to the one I have now (like Director of XXX Program for Undergraduates).

I am struggling with how to convert my CV (or should it be a resume?) into an appropriate form for this new type of position. I had always maintained my CV in a fashion similar to the ones I had seen before - which were all for tenured faculty in the hard sciences employed at major research institutions (the kind where teaching is just barely valued). My instincts tell me this is not the type of resume I should submit for these jobs - but then the only other examples I have to go on are for positions in departments totally unrelated to mine (like Recycling). So I am wondering if you have any basic advice on what types of things a CV/resume should look like when applying for these administrative positions: should I include an "objectives section"? Should I even discuss my research experience? Do you think I should describe my current duties in a lot of detail or should I leave that to the cover letter? And speaking of cover letters - is it appropriate to explain that I would like to move to (the new desired region)? Would this help them take my application more seriously? I understand that the main point is to get them to understand what I am doing now and how that will make me the ideal person to do what they are looking for. But I'm just not sure style-wise how best to accomplish this and everyone I know well is a grad student or a post-doc (yikes!).

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Congratulations on finding a career path that has made you happy! I have a theory that the happiest people are probably those without any self-awareness, but the next happiest are those with quite a bit. (It’s the ones in the middle who trip over themselves. That’s why adolescence sucks.) Your clearsighted awareness of your likes and dislikes is a real asset.

My rule of thumb for job applications is to think like your prospective employer. Let’s say you’re a manager of a science division at a mid-sized public university, and you need someone to step in and run a subset of your area. What are you looking for?

Beyond certain minima (degree requirements, subject matter fluency), you’re looking first for someone who actually wants that kind of job. You don’t want someone who really wants a faculty position, and is falling back on this, taking an ‘any port in a storm’ attitude. You want someone who has shown the ability to handle ‘administrivia,’ or the constant stream of little nagging details that comprise a distressing percentage of most admin positions. (You’re hosting an open house for high schoolers? Great! Did you put in the work order to get the lab tables moved? Did you move the money from ‘off-campus professional’ to ‘food’ last week so you could cut the purchase requisition in time? Have you cleared school bus parking with Security? Will the money for the handouts come from your budget, or Admissions’?) Big Thinkers often fail at this, since they think details are beneath them and they get impatient and/or sloppy.

A traditional faculty-style c.v. tells me, in the absence of other information, that you’re still in the faculty mold. You’re settling. I don’t want someone who’s settling. (Is it a flawed indicator? You bet! But if I’ve got 25 applicants, 22 of whom I’ve never met, I have to winnow down the pile somehow.)

Don’t tell me about the research prominence of your advisor. I don’t care. Tell me about projects you’ve coordinated, admin duties you’ve performed, details for which you’ve been responsible, and abilities you’ve developed. If you know you have some gaps, sign up for some workshops to address those gaps and list the workshops on the resume. Lead with this, and put the traditional academic stuff at the end of the resume. That way, you will communicate that you have made a career change, and you’re committed to forging ahead on your new path.

(I’ve personally always found “Objectives” statements on resumes insulting. The objective is to get the job. Leave the narrative for the cover letter.)

As far as stating geographic preferences, I’ve seen it done many times, and it always leaves me cold. I’ve never seen a committee swayed positively by it (though I have seen the opposite). At best, it’s neutral, but it could hurt. Like leading with academic credentials, it casts doubt on your motivation. Are you applying because you want this job, or because you want to move here? If it’s the latter, how motivated will you be six months or a year into the job? If I’m going to hire you, I want to believe that you really want to do this job. If you want to mention an affinity for a geographic area, save that for the interview.

This may seem obvious, but coming out of grad school it isn’t: the job application isn’t about you. It’s about the employer. It isn’t about your life story, or putting your best foot forward. It’s about showing the institution how well you fit its needs. Which means it’s about the institution’s needs.
Write for your audience.

(The cover letter that got me my first full-time faculty position included a list of the courses in that school’s catalog that I could teach, using that school’s course names and numbers. The dean who hired me specifically mentioned how impressed she was by that. Since moving into admin, I’ve never seen anyone do that, and for the life of me, I don’t know why. Show the employer that you can solve her problems.)

Good luck! And kudos on having the courage to chart a new path.

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at ccdean (at) myway (dot) com.

Comments:
This is really excellent advice for any grad looking for any position, I'm emailing it to my college-age kids now. Thanks for a great post, especially the point that it's all about the employer.

BTW, Blogger is buggier than usual.
 
Great Web site. A question:

A part timer at several schools for over 5 years, I've been trying to get hired as a FT'er. I've come pretty close to full time hire a couple of times, so I am pretty acquainted with the process. I've made it to the final (college president-level) round twice in my two serious runs, so I know how to take an interview.

My question is about the inevitable "diversity" question in interviews. As a while male (conservative), this question burns me, and my instinct is to tell them how full of s___ the question is, and that I treat all students the same, the whole colorblind thing that MLK had hoped for (and appears to have no hope of realisation on a modern CC campus). Obviously, that is a fatal answer. I've had one dean coach me on this before, but I would like your opinion. It sure sucks having to swallow one's pride and answer such a question with the desired liberal, PC answer, when inside I am fuming at this leftist institutional bias. So what is the desired answer to the "showing sensitivity to the needs of the diverse student body blah blah blah (I want to kill myself)" question?
 
I really like your idea of putting down the courses I can teach at a school; next job search go round, I'll be doing that!
 
Quietly Suffering -- the best answer I've found to this one is to address diversity of learning styles. Do you present material in several different formats, to allow students with different learning styles to gain purchase on it? It addresses the academic side of diversity, and another name for it is 'good teaching.'
 
Okay, hang on -- one of the explicit goals of a Community College is to give greater access to traditionally underserved groups. If one doesn't agree with the goals of the institution, why would one seek to join it?

I mean, I don't go around to Catholic universities, then complain when I'm asked how I'm going to further the university's mission of Catholic education.

Also, since King explicitly endorsed Affirmative Action programs during his life, it's probably not best to bring him up in an argument against them. You've got your reasons for your beliefs, and I respect them, but I feel strongly that Dr. King would disagree with you, based on his statements while alive.

Anyways, if one is trying to join an institution that has a particular quirk that one is unfond of in general, but whose overall mission one likes a lot, one needs to decide whether supporting that quirk is enough to keep one out of the institution or if it's time to swallow a bit and suck it up. There are principled arguments on both sides.
 
I agree with both Kimmit and Dean Dad on the diversity question. Also -- when we are reading applications we are looking for EXPERIENCE teaching a diverse student population. A white male can have that just as easily as a minority female.

Since you were clearly born without the tools to answer the question one way, answer it another way-- namely explaining how the schools where you've been teaching ARE diverse. For example, when I got my full-time teaching job at a CC I told them that CC 1 on my resume had a campus with a traditionally black student body and another with a tradtionally hispanic student body where CC 2 had a very diverse student population... as a white woman this gave a good answer to the question.

Of course you'll treat everyone equally, but there are cultural assumptions and distinctions among groups that you'll have to deal with and hiring committees are looking for evidence that you've thought about how to handle them.
 
Kimmitt said:

Okay, hang on -- one of the explicit goals of a Community College is to give greater access to traditionally underserved groups. If one doesn't agree with the goals of the institution, why would one seek to join it?

Well, to reductio ad absurdum, by this argument, if one of the goals of a white southern college in 1954 was to keep the school all-white, why would a black student seek to join it?

We aren't talking about minority outreach programs here, which are fine. We're talking about the lefty thought police trying to get into my head regarding a matter of academic freedom, at the hiring level. I'd love to say 1) I treat all people the same, regardless of color (which is the God's-honest truth) and 2) I am more concerned with the real problem on college campuses, i.e., diversity of thought, than I am with the color of my students' faces. Of course, this would be suicide.

I honestly don't think you help people of color by catering to them and treating them differently. That won't happen when they go out into the real world and look for jobs. My concern is that on campuses that practice such "diversity" policies they are apt to dumb-down curricula and inflate grades in order to "serve" minorities. This ill-serves them. The time to reach out and lift people up is at the K-12 level. And our K-12's are failing, because, among other reasons, they are preaching instead of teaching.

How sad that *half* of Harvard's black students are West African and Carribean immigrants! Apparently, West African and Carribean K-12's actually spend class time teaching math, science, and English, instead of wasting time with silly multicultural and victimology curricula!

I mean, I don't go around to Catholic universities, then complain when I'm asked how I'm going to further the university's mission of Catholic education.

Of course, community colleges are *public* schools - taxpayer funded - and subject to the US Constitution and civil rights laws that private schools are not in many cases.

Keep in mind also that that California clarified its public education and hiring "goals," as you put it, by having amended its constitution in 1996 by passing Proposition 209, which reads:

SEC. 31. (a) The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.

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Also, since King explicitly endorsed Affirmative Action programs during his life, it's probably not best to bring him up in an argument against them. You've got your reasons for your beliefs, and I respect them, but I feel strongly that Dr. King would disagree with you, based on his statements while alive.

Again, he talked about a colorblind society. AA, "diversity" programs, and the general obsession with race by the left in America does exactly the opposite IMO. As a free-thinker, I reserve the right to adopt what portions of a philosopher's words I adopt.

I also believe that AA is inherently racist and paternalistic (oh, poor people of color can't succeed without the help of guilty white patrons) and leads to more prejudice (in schools with AA, white and Asian students look at black students as underqualified).

Anyways, if one is trying to join an institution that has a particular quirk that one is unfond of in general, but whose overall mission one likes a lot, one needs to decide whether supporting that quirk is enough to keep one out of the institution or if it's time to swallow a bit and suck it up.

Wow, how ironic! I thought you lefties were about fighting for social change in the classroom. Isn't that *exactly* what these silly diversity questions are about, changing the status quo? I'll remember that argument next time some lefty faculty member wants to complain about the status quo, "swallow a bit and suck it up!", LOL!

Sorry, but with all due respect, I am not quite ready to cede public education to the left wing. At least not without a fight.
 
Dean Dad said...
Quietly Suffering -- the best answer I've found to this one is to address diversity of learning styles. Do you present material in several different formats, to allow students with different learning styles to gain purchase on it? It addresses the academic side of diversity, and another name for it is 'good teaching.'
Thanks much for the input. I have used this approach in the past - as well as "swallow[ing] a bit and suck[ing] it up" and blathering on about the special needs of the community, blah blah.

This a great blog and you provide a great service for those in the biz - or trying to be. - QS
 
My concern is that on campuses that practice such "diversity" policies they are apt to dumb-down curricula and inflate grades in order to "serve" minorities.

As an interview strategy, it's probably best to keep the accusations of systematic race-based academic and administrative dishonesty until after the hiring process has gotten somewhat underway.

The rest of your comments have been debated and will continue to be debated elsewhere. Please do not take my lack of interest in discussing them for anything other than lack of interest in rehashing old arguments.
 
Hi--
I have a question: I recently applied at a two-college and have not heard anything. It's been 3 weeks since I submitted my materials, which was the last day to submit them. Today I got the letter asking what race I am. Is it a bad sign that that's all I've heard? If they were interested in me, would they have gotten back to me by now?

Nervous
 
Oops--meant to say "two-year college" in the previous post :)

Nervous
 
Hi--
I have a question: I recently applied at a two-year college and have not heard anything. It's been 3 weeks since I submitted my materials, which was the last day to submit them. Today I got the letter asking what race I am. Is it a bad sign that that's all I've heard? If they were interested in me, would they have gotten back to me by now?

Nervous
 
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