Tips for Your Job Search in Education

May 11, 2015

By Pamela Rodriguez Otten

interviewI'm getting old. I just realized that I have been working in higher education for almost 20 years now. Although my age may sadden me, I can tell you that I have gained valuable experiences along the way. Higher education is a great profession for so many reasons, and international education, specifically, has enriched my life and the lives of my family members.

I am grateful for all of the students and staff who have helped me grow as a professional and a person. So many of them have taught me so much. I have also learned that I have a lot to offer and I wanted to share my thoughts in this blog.

I started as an academic adviser and worked my way up to assistant dean. I have held roles in enrollment, financial aid, advising, recruitment, registry, and the international students office. All of these are student service roles and I have gained valuable knowledge in the field. I am now in a recruiter role with the PIE, a specialist executive search service for the global international education sector, because I do know what hiring managers are looking for.

There have been many articles, blogs, and websites telling you what you need to do as a newbie in the field. This may be no different, but I hope it gets you to start thinking about how you can improve your position in your quest to get a great job.

This not an exhaustive list of tips for new candidates, but here goes.

Cover letters are just as important as the CVs. The CV will show your experience, but it doesn't convey who you are and why you are looking. The cover letter gives you an opportunity to explain why you are a good fit, show them your real personality, and answer any obvious questions before they ask. I have had a few short-term appointments in the past due to the necessity of moving cities or countries, visa issues, maternity leave, and so on. If I didn't explain that in the cover letter, I would still be unemployed. Employers quickly notice the gaps on your CV and won't look twice at you if they don't know why because they will come to their own conclusions. Don't let them get that far. As a hiring manager, I can pinpoint a candidate's age, marital status, reasons for gaps in employment, conflict with previous employers, and so on in a matter of minutes. It is only a good cover letter that can prove me wrong.

It is also the cover letter that will highlight the transferable skills and show how they are useful in the potential role. The cover letter is where you will shine! Craft it to perfection. And, adapt it to each and every job you apply for.

I can keep going on about the cover letter because it is important. I can get another staff member to review CVs and see your prior experience but the cover letter is where I may see something different. I was advertising for three roles once about eight years ago and got over 350 CVs. They all blended together after the first 10 but I still talk about the quirky and shining cover letters I received. In the end, the three people we hired had little experience in the role, but they had transferrable skills we saw as critical. All three employees are still in their respective roles.

Prepare for the interview. This seems like it is obvious but one of the first questions for some employers is, "Tell us what you know about our organization." They just want to see if you are tenacious and really interested in working there. Be prepared. Don't just get a few facts from their website, dig a bit deeper and note the mission statement, future goals, and current projects. They want to see if you are a good fit, show them you are.

Listen to their questions. There are a few very important reasons I say this, as you'd think this is a given. However, you'd be surprised by how many candidates give canned answers and don't really answer the questions! Often I have asked a candidate to tell me about a stressful incident at work and how they handled it and the response is about how they have a lot of stress at work. I want to know HOW YOU HANDLED IT!

Now, the second reason for listening to their questions is that they are very telling. There are common questions you will get asked about such as dealing with stress, your work habits, hitting targets, and so forth, but if the employer has asked three different questions about how you handle stress, you can bet there is something percolating below the surface. I am speaking from experience. I was asked these questions and then thrown into a situation where there had just been a restructure and I needed to deal with a lot of angry staff. Even worse, another restructure was imminent. That wasn't good but I saw it coming from the interview questions. They may ask you about dealing with changes and difficult personalities. Red light—you will have to deal with unhappy staff members and lots of stress.

Don't fake it. Honestly, it is pretty obvious when you just agree to everything they say and don't really think about what they are telling you. If they say they are looking for a "can-do" person and you aren't so interested in the job and aren't ready to be that person, they can tell. They won't call you back. And, if you ARE hired, BE that person! Roll up your sleeves, get dirty, and give it all you got! If they are looking for someone with strong analytical skills and you are more of a relationship builder, you will be quite overwhelmed when you are asked to write a weekly report for the upper leadership to read. Be honest with your shortcomings and challenges upfront so they make the right hire.

It is a numbers game…and it isn't. I would agree that you need to get your CV out there if you are looking for roles, and I try to keep to around five a week if I am looking for a role. However, if you are applying for everything, you are wasting your time. First off, if your name keeps popping up, it is remembered, and if they aren't interested, they will just roll their eyes. Unfortunately, if you weren't offered an interview once or a job after an interview, you weren't a strong candidate. So, move on to more fitting opportunities.

Secondly, don't apply for jobs that aren't a good fit. If you don't have experience or can't show them in the cover letter why you are a good fit, stop applying for these roles. Look for roles that are worth pursuing and apply for those. It saves you and the employer time. It will also save your ego because nothing is worse than constant rejection.

You don't have choices until you have an offer. I have had countless conversations with people about whether the job is right for them even before they apply for it! It may be too much travel, they may not have childcare sorted out yet, or the benefits might not be that good. Seriously? It isn't wise to make up your mind before you even know what the offer is! So, go to the interview, do your best to answer their questions, ask them things you want to know (not about holiday time, that will come later!) and get an idea of the role. Make yourself open to an offer. IF they offer you a job, THEN you have choices to make. But, until then, DON'T make any final decisions in your mind about it. That is self-defeating.

Interested in learning more? Join me on Tuesday, May 26 from 12:00 p.m.–12:45 p.m. for my presentation "Marketing Yourself...It's a Piece of PIE!" in the Career Center located in the Expo Hall. I hope to see you there! Thanks for reading.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the PIE)