When writing your letter of application, it’s an important point to remember that the college search committee and the internal and external constituents have developed the advertising materials and position profile to help them select their new administrator.
Take the profile seriously. For example, if the profile states, “Applicants should state in their letters of application how they would address the issues identified,” your letter of application should do that. The search committee is concerned about what accomplishments you have made that meet their needs.
After reading the profile carefully, respond to each issue or preferred criteria in the order they appear. Use bullets, be brief and refer the reader to the resume where key information is highlighted.
Although some committee members will read a narrative letter of application and “check off” the statements that seem to relate to the profile, most prefer a candidate’s letter to list the items and the candidate’s response, in order, which demonstrates that the candidate paid attention to the committee’s instructions.
Always check over your letter of application to assure that you haven’t overlooked spelling, typographical or grammatical errors or inadvertently included the name of the previous institution to which you last applied. Candidates are regularly eliminated because of such slip-ups.
The details regarding your accomplishments should be in the resume, not in the letter of application. The letter of application describes how you meet the profile characteristics and can be done in two or three sentences — not paragraphs — for each item. The resume documents specifically what you have accomplished.
You may want to re-do your resume for each application and highlight in bold the activities that relate to the profile criteria and are referred to in the cover letter.
- Standards: name and page number on the top of each page; plain white 24# paper; dark, black ink.
- Never use your college letterhead stationery.
- Aim for a crisp, clean, professional look. Flush left margins are more effective (and use less space) than indented items.
- Do not staple or bind your resume and cover letter. It creates additional work for the college staff who must duplicate your materials.
The following is the most effective for a senior administrator’s resume (see Sample Resume):
Section 1: Name
(Including Maiden Name), Home and Work Address, Home and Work Telephone Numbers, including office extension numbers.
Section 2: Professional Experience
(Reverse Chronological Order -- Current Position Listed First)
Provide basic information about your current and two or three most recent college employers. Include total headcount and FTE, total budget, number of faculty (both full time and part time), geographical area/population served, etc.
For your position, include the total budget for which you are responsible, number of staff supervised, etc. (You want the search committee to understand your institution and to see it as comparable to their institution.)
In addition to “Responsibilities,” create an “Accomplishments” section for each of your three most recent positions and list activities that can be credited to you (and to your subordinates). It’s all right to give yourself credit where it is due, but not where it isn’t. Be brief and highlight significant accomplishments, especially those that relate to the profile.
Section 3: Formal Education
Eliminate your dissertation title. If you must use it, list it under publications.
Section 4: Faculty or Teaching Experience
Section 5: Community Activities
Highlight Board of Director Positions
Section 6: Awards
(League of Innovation Executive Leadership Institute, Kellogg Foundation, National Community College Hispanic Council Leadership Institute, etc.)
Section 7: Grants or Proposals Funded
Section 8: Professional Activities
Section 9: College Committees, etc.
Section 10: Consultancies, Workshop Presentations, etc.
Section 11: Publications
Section 12: References
Your references should represent a cross section of people with whom you worked. Include superiors, peers, subordinates, including clerical staff, and community members. Keep it balanced between male and female references, and include references from your previous institution, if applicable.
The interview process, both as a semifinal candidate and as one of the final candidates for the position, is key to selection. The four essential factors for predicting success on-the-job and, therefore, where you have to “shine” to get the job, are;
(1) Intellectual capacity,
(2) Interpersonal skills,
(3) Personal motivation, and
(4) The ability to motivate others.
These four factors — the most important factors — need to be conveyed during the interviewing process.
Prepare, prepare, prepare. Review the materials sent by the college, highlighting particular items that you believe are most important. An obvious hint: Review the criteria to identify what their key issues are and be prepared to answer questions about these issues.
Review your application letter, identify any criteria items that are particularly strong accomplishments and speak about them if you are not asked a question that elicits them. However, do not attempt to “weave” your accomplishments into a question to which it does not pertain.
Answer the questions asked. At the close of the interview, if there is time, remind the committee of additional accomplishments or qualities which they did not inquire about and which are important to their criteria.
Be prepared to enjoy the interview. If you don’t relax, the interview committee won’t either. They are judging you as a potential leader and co-worker. The committee members are asking themselves, “How would it be to work for this candidate?” Have a positive attitude, one of anticipation that you are meeting new people, learning about them, and telling them about yourself.
Dressing for the Interview
Dress the part of the senior college administrator. For women this means no flowered skirts/jackets or suits. If you wear eye makeup, beware to the effect of eyeliner underneath your eyes.
For men, white, long sleeved shirts are the norm; no short sleeved shirts, even in the summer. Ties should reach the top or middle of the belt buckle, with no shirt showing. It is not possible to be too conservative.
Beware of perfume and after shave. Many people are allergic and/or offended by too strong a scent.
Watch out for personal habits that are defeating. For example, some women and men have a habit of pushing their hair back or playing with their hair. When observed by a committee, it serves as a beacon that says: “This candidate is more concerned with his/her appearance than the question I’ve asked or what I’m saying.”
Your goal is to have people identify you as a positive candidate as you walk through a group. Women, in particular, need to present a strong presence and strong does not mean loud or boring. Also, conservative does not mean that you have to wear a black suit. For women, red, bright blue and navy, even deep pink, are also appropriate. If you are tall and/or large, take advantage of your size and don’t try to disguise your weight or height. A large woman who dresses in a distinctive color rather than trying to disguise herself by wearing black, and who carries herself elegantly and professionally, will be much more effective in the interviews.
You never get a second chance to make a good first impression. Walk around the room, look at each person, shake hands, and say hello. It is not necessary to repeat your name; they know who you are. Repeat the committee member’s names. “Hello, Bill, I’m delighted to meet you.” You’re beginning to build a relationship with each person.
The hand shake is also important. Your hand shake should be firm, using your whole hand, not just three fingers.
At your chair, sit down comfortably, and look at the committee chair. Sit with your feet flat on the floor, slightly to the front of the chair. Aim to be relaxed, alert, and attentive. Do not slouch or lean on the table with your elbows. Show the group that you’re ready.
Have a colleague or two interview you using standard candidate interview questions. How do you look, are there any mannerisms that you can (and should) learn to control? For example, what do you do with your hands? Do you have a nervous giggle? How does your voice project?
Focus on the person asking the question, but do not ignore the others. Look at the individual asking the questions as you begin to speak. Then slowly move your eye contact to others in the group. Candidates have been discounted because the candidate didn’t look at each of the committee members when answering the question.
Watch the time. Typically each person in the room will ask a question and possibly a follow-up. Be sure your answers are succinct, clear and short. Learn to make mental checklists and tick off each item as you discuss/report it. Check back with the questioner to see if you’ve answered the question fully. Give specific examples of activities, not philosophy, to respond to the questions. And, as much as possible, use concrete examples from your career to demonstrate your suitability for the position you are seeking, not the position you currently hold.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a question, or a subpart of a question, to be repeated. If you’re comfortable jotting down some key words as soon as the interviewer is finished asking the question, do so. It will help keep you focused and remind you of points you want to make. Don’t, however, read your answers or your notes to the committee.
At the close of the interview, there will usually be time for questions that you may have of the committee. Salary and benefit questions should not be asked at this time. When it’s your turn, do not try to ask “a good question.” Ask about something you really care about learning and ask a question that relates to the position you are seeking, rather than the position you currently hold.
If you do not have a question for the committee, it is effective to ask if you may make a statement to summarize your interests in, and qualifications for, the position. Most effective of all is to tell the committee why you want to be their leader not just a leader.
End with thanking them and letting them know that you continue your interest in their position.
Identify people who will be candid and positive about both your strengths and weaknesses. You should have a minimum of six individuals on your reference list who know you well enough to give specific answers to questions and who can be contacted regularly without implying that they have been contacted by other colleges regarding your candidacy. You should include superiors, professional and clerical subordinates, including support staff, community members, and faculty members at both your current and past institutions within the last ten years.
It is acceptable to have more individuals in each category if you wish, however, never use people because they are well known names, unless they know you very well. A nationally known figure may look impressive on your resume. But, if they can’t be reached for comment, they are useless to you.
Also, effective references will share what they believe to be your areas of strength as well as needed growth (minor, of course). Therefore, a good, sound communicator, who knows your work well, is an excellent reference.
If there are issues or positions in your past which might prove to be a problem, for example, you were relieved of a position; had a faculty vote of no confidence; received a less than glowing performance evaluation; or you’re concerned that you may not get a fair review from a necessary reference, please alert the search consultant ahead of time.
Think about what your worst enemy might “leak” to the press the morning after your selection is announced. If it’s relevant, or if it can be used against you, let the search consultant know about your concerns. He or she can help you to defuse the issue, confidentially, with the college leadership, if necessary, or by contacting additional references to refute the negative impression.
The age of technology is here and, with greater regularity, it is being used in the interview process for community college administrators. While many can and do argue about the validity and impact of technology on the hiring process, nonetheless, it is likely here to stay. Therefore, it is best to prepare for the new methods of conveying information to the search committee.
Videotaped preliminary or semi-final interviews are now common. While on-campus interviews provide the most complete review of each candidate, candidate videotape interviews are an attractive alternative for college districts with tight travel budgets. Typically, videotaped interviews are conducted using a standard set of questions, and are generally 30 to 45 minutes in length. The Pauly Group does not coach candidates, provide candidates the interview questions in advance, or offer candidates interpretation of the questions. Also, videotapes generally become the property of the college.
Interactive Video Conference Interviews
The newest addition to interview methods is the interactive video conference interview. Using the campus telecommunications network and external telecommunication sites, committee’s can communicate with candidates without the expense of candidate travel. This method of interview has long been used in the business sector, as the cost savings and reliability of the process have been demonstrated.
It is the policy of Pauly Group to maintain a consistent interview format for all of the semifinal and final candidates. The mixing of on-campus, videotaped, or video conference interviews of semi-final candidates is highly prejudicial and strongly discouraged.