Monday, June 02, 2014

Ask the Administrator: Recovering from a Layoff

An occasional correspondent whose administrative job was recently eliminated writes:

When an administrator loses her job, does she do a resume or a CV or some combination of both? I had been faculty, not administration, for over 10 years when I applied for the admin position in another state. Having been an administrator for several years, how do I best show my work when applying for my next position, whether that be administration or faculty? I'd bet I should use a CV for faculty positions [would need to include the admin work to explain a multi-year gap?] but am not sure how to proceed for the admin work.

First, my condolences.  It really sucks when good people get tossed for reasons having nothing to do with performance.  

That said, I think you’re right to position administrative applications differently from faculty applications.  The key is to remember that people hire to solve their problems, not yours, so you need to show them how you solve their problem.

For a faculty position, a focus on teaching and/or research -- depending on where you’re applying -- makes sense.  (For cc’s, obviously, it’s about the teaching.)  It would make sense to acknowledge the administrative work, of course; depending on where you’re applying, it could even come across as an asset.  I’ve seen plenty of departments over the years in which absolutely nobody wants to be the chair, and people reluctantly endure their turns in the role in the same way they endure dentist visits.  If you show up with the skill set to step up if/when needed, you could solve a real problem for some departments.  

Be aware, though, that you may have to overcome the suspicion that you’re not “really” interested in the faculty role for which you’re interviewing.  Only you will know whether that’s true, but some may wonder.

For deanships and similar roles, it’s important to have that faculty background, but the first and most important credential to highlight would be managerial experience.  Plenty of absolutely wonderful faculty fall on their face in administration because they’re too used to being independent operators.  They have trouble adjusting from “I’ll just do it myself” to a more indirect and collaborative role.  (Others have trouble adjusting from receiving the benefit of the doubt to being under constant scrutiny.  It’s disorienting at first.)  If you can show some specific achievements in your administrative role, and come prepared to speak thoughtfully about lessons learned, you should come off well.

The layoff presents a complicating variable.  Some of us -- cough Gen X cough -- understand that austerity is the new normal, and has been for some time, so we tend not to hold a single instance like that against a candidate.  Others still believe in the older idea that downsizings are nothing more than excuses to clean house, so anyone who got cleaned out must have deserved it.  It isn’t fair, but it is what it is.  I’d suggest coming prepared to disarm any suspicion along those lines, to the extent that you can.  If your downsizing was part of a systemwide change, for instance, highlight that.  I agree that it sucks that people still think that way, but many do.  Better to know that upfront.

Good luck!  It’s rough out there.

Wise and worldly readers, any suggestions?  Have you seen someone successfully get around the “if you’re so good, why are you available?” issue?

Have a question?  Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.