Showing Industry What Academics Are Made Of

As jobs continue to disappear while COVID-19 spreads, Eric James Stephens invites readers to join #HireHigherEd for help forging a new career path.

July 9, 2020

I filed for unemployment yesterday.

I finished my master’s thesis a semester early. I completed my Ph.D. in 2.7 years, with thousands in competitive grants, more than 20 conference CV lines, eight peer-reviewed articles and several local and national awards for teaching and research. I had my pick from five offers when I graduated in 2018.

Post-COVID? I’ve packed nearly all of our belongings into a storage unit in Ellensburg, Wash., piled the rest in our cars and moved my family (myself, my spouse and three kids, including a 3-week-old newborn) to Maryland to live in my parents’ basement.

With more than 575 million users and 277 percent more effective job-lead generation, LinkedIn is the place to network to find jobs. When I entered the industry market, I looked to my academic community. But it’s invisible on LinkedIn. Think about it. When was the last time you logged in to your profile?

We need to pull together as an academic community. We need to show our strength and value to the algorithms that matter. #HireHigherEd is such an event.

Over the last few months, people have been speculating about how COVID-19 will impact higher education, but we just won’t know just how bad it is until this fall. Right now, colleges and students are playing chicken with each other, wondering what move the other will make before making their own.

When the reality of COVID emerged in the United States this past March, I knew my previous advocacy work had put me on thin ice with my institution. (Like others, I wonder if the pandemic was an excuse to let my contract expire.) I soon began searching for other jobs in higher education. Yet as COVID spread, jobs started to disappear.

Then came the stories about layoffs and furloughs, colleges removing faculty protections, and one institution cutting nearly 40 programs. Before and during grad school, I had worked in sales and co-founded a freelance copywriting business, so I decided to shift back into industry.

For a moment, I felt pretty confident going into industry -- not unlike my 2018 academic search. Then I remembered COVID.

I spent late April and early May applying to more than 150 jobs across the country in a variety of industries. I panicked, applying to anything and everything. I had one unsuccessful interview.

I paused my job search and took some time to figure out what was happening. In that moment, I read a New York Times article by one of my former professors, Todd May: “What Is Making You Stay at Home Right Now?” May argues that our decision to stay home during a pandemic is an ethical decision -- one grounded on the premise that our actions impact other people and staying home is an action that positively impacts others.

Inspired by this logic grounded in ethics, I extended his logic in a LinkedIn article I wrote: “How Can I Be Ethically Employed During a Pandemic? It's Easy. Stay Active on LinkedIn.” In it, I argue that one of the most ethical things someone with secure employment can do is connect on LinkedIn.

It gained some traction. Not a lot, but enough to spark another idea. Rather than try to persuade individuals to connect with me, why not host an event? Enter #HireHigherEd.

The idea is to come together as a community -- all at once -- to log in, connect, endorse and recommend each other authentically, showing industry (and LinkedIn’s algorithms) that this growing pool of talent entering industry is full of drive and experience. The date was set to coincide with National Best Friends Day on June 8.

I started organizing. I created content. I built a website. I set meetings. I collected registration information. I recruited experts and participants.

On May 25, 2020, a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd. Protests around the world erupted.

I postponed the event in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and took time to reflect on how I could enact diversity and inclusion for the event. I’m a better person for it, and what comes from this event will be actively diverse and inclusive -- embedding these principles in our mission as we move forward. My perception of the market and career advice is grounded in who I am, but this event isn’t just for me. I need to work with people different from me. I want participants to recognize themselves in the people offering them advice by bringing together expert coaches and experienced recruiters from a variety of colors, genders, orientations and abilities.

With the extra time and reflection, #HireHigherEd is ready to launch on Aug. 6-7.

How do you participate? Just log in to your LinkedIn profile and connect authentically.

Leading up to the event, we’ll release tips and tricks on how to engage on LinkedIn. On the day of, individual industry experts will host free live events to promote their services from résumé writing to salary negotiation. Currently, we have nearly 30 moderators, career coaches and recruiters from nine countries. There are no registration fees or costs of any kind to participate.

What’s in it for me, the organizer? Whether I land a job inside higher ed, find a new career in industry or help turn this into something of its own, I want what most people want during a pandemic: security.

What’s in it for you? If you’re looking for a job in academe or industry, this event will be invaluable as you formulate your post-COVID professional identity and look for a new career path. If you’re not looking for a job, this is a chance to exercise compassion and empathy in an incredibly easy way.

Whatever your reason, join us on Aug. 6-7 for #HireHigherEd.

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Eric James Stephens is the founder of #HireHigherEd and an expert in rhetoric, communication, strategic thinking and higher education.


Eric James Stephens

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