Hiring for the Future

Job descriptions and résumés. 

February 1, 2022

What is in a résumé? That was the question I asked in yesterday’s higher education administration program’s professional development seminar.

Although we don’t usually think of a résumé as a piece of writing or even as a writing sample, like anything we write, there is an imagined reader, an intended audience. Yes, it has a highly prescribed format, but that shouldn’t stop us from writing for the reader(s). Ideally, your résumé is a map that starts at the position description and ends at you getting an interview and, hopefully, an offer.

I am a firm believer that your values should show up in your résumé. When I read a résumé, I want it to give me a glimpse into the person who wrote it. Sometimes there is too much personality—photos, colors, distracting graphics, confusing formats. These all have a time and place, but those are not usually for staff positions in higher ed. Again, know your reader. If you are applying for a staff position at a university or college, your readers will be other staff members, the hiring manager, and could potentially include students and faculty members.

What do you look for when you look at a résumé for a staff position? What stands out? In a positive way? In a negative way? Why is it important to tailor your résumé to each position? How do your values show up in your résumé? Why is one page not important? But don’t add more just to fill it up.

Personally, when applying for positions in higher ed, I think it is important to lead with your education—to show its importance to you and to convey that to the potential employer. I may be old-fashioned in this respect, but I stand by it. We are in the business of education, and burying yours sends mixed signals.

What does it mean to create a résumé that will be viewed by faculty members who have only updated their own CVs for the past 10, 20, 30 or more years? CVs are different beasts, and they often look like they are written in different languages—and, in a sense, they are. Don’t let that dissuade you from focusing on a résumé for a staff position. It needs to be readable. Typically, the person hiring you will be another staff member, and there will definitely be staff members in the group conducting the search.

I recommend using some of the language used in the job description on your résumé. Often the folks that wrote the description will be the same group that will be selecting applicants to interview. Your résumé should show that you have the required qualifications and some of the preferred qualifications, and those should be easy for the search committee members to locate. Sometimes, they are reviewing dozens of résumés for a position. Make it easy for the required qualifications on your résumé to stand out, but also make your values stand out.

For those of you writing position descriptions for posting, the same goes for you. You are writing for an imagined reader. Whom are you imagining? In today’s tough market, you want to inspire your applicants. You are enticing them, your position posting is an ad, it is marketing—you are telling future staff members that you are awesome and that they would grow and learn and meet their career goals with this position. I also think it is important to list a salary range. My students agreed. We’ve seen the research on the lack of gender and race equity when it comes to negotiations. When you provide a salary range in the job posting, you are helping women and folks from underrepresented groups know what to expect and where to begin the negotiations.

An applicant needs to see themselves in your job description. This is especially true if you are trying to attract women and BIPOC folks to apply. Are the tone and language of the posting welcoming? Have you put a commitment to diversity in your posting? Is every required qualification truly necessary? Have you included the ability to communicate in a second language in your preferred qualifications? Do you spell those out? In Boston, the top languages would be Spanish, Haitian Creole, Chinese, Cape Verdean Creole and Vietnamese.

Don’t ask for what you are not ready for, but be aspirational. Where is your institution going? Hire for the near future. Hire for next year’s students and initiatives.

Mary Churchill is the former chief of policy and planning for Mayor Kim Janey in the city of Boston and current associate dean for strategic initiatives and community engagement and director of the Higher Education Administration program at Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University. She is co-author of When Colleges Close: Leading in a Time of Crisis and an ICF certified leadership coach.


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