The Applicant’s Role in the Screening Process

bigstock-futuristic-networking-13063529-e1359992609269What can a candidate do to affect the outcome of the screening process? Not much. You can’t set the search criteria for an employer. You can’t make screeners meticulously follow the criteria they have. And you can’t eliminate bias.

You can only present a coherent argument, and make sure that it highlights what you have to offer in relation to the position and the needs of an employer.

How can you describe, explain, or imply a high degree of fit between you/your skills and the needs of your potential employer?

It will not be through the use of buzzwords. It will be through the use of keywords. And the best way to discover the most relevant keywords are to study the employer, read the position description or advertisement carefully, and pull out those elements that seem most important. This introduces the value of “word-farming.” There are some great tools out there that can help you distill a job description down to the most important keywords. We’ll delve into them in a later post. For now, let’s start at the beginning. If you are going to make a coherent argument, you have to do one thing first…

Know Your Goal

Have you ever heard the term “He couldn’t hit the side of a barn?”

 It implies a lack of precision and lack of focus.

How about “shooting from the hip?”

It implies that a person engages in hasty, gut-level reactions, rather than taking carefully-considered and well-planned actions in an attempt reach a goal.

Let’s consider these metaphors and attempt to apply them to our thinking about the job search process.

How specific is your job target? Is it the side of a barn, or the barn window?

You see, shooting at the side of a barn is a really aimless activity. It doesn’t take much talent. You could almost do so by accident. Bored teenagers shoot paintballs at the side of a barn for something to do. A serious marksman wouldn’t bother. A marksman would shoot out the windows (or maybe the lights!)

If you ever shot from the hip, it was probably during a moment of reaction, when you had your guard down, felt attacked or confronted, and responded immediately, in a way designed to help you deflect the arguments of your attacker, or to escape from an unpleasant situation. Is that really any way to approach your job search? Some job seekers browse job postings without specific job titles, employers, roles, or responsibilities in mind, taking an “I’ll know the right job when I see it” sort of attitude. If you aren’t imagining an ideal job, or ideal roles, you’ll be less able to coherently present your arguments, and when interview time comes (if you are that lucky), you’ll be responding to questions in the same way. Shooting from the hip is a terrible way to interview.

Aimless is as Aimless Does.

I have a piece of paper tacked to the bulletin board above my desk that reads “Aimless is as aimless does.” It reminds me to set specific goals to hold myself accountable for reaching them.

Notice that the key point is that your goal must be specific.

Aim for a bullseye, not a barn.

Would you really be happy just having any random job? Probably not.

You might get by. You might pay your bills. You might even be able to do so for quite a while. But don’t you deserve more?

Know Yourself First

You are a unique person. No one else has seen the world through your eyes. No one else can bring the exact same mix of qualities to the table.

There is a job out there that you are a perfect match for. And you aren’t going to find it if you view every opportunity equally.

If you are going to have a great résumé, you need to have a goal in mind. My belief is that your goal should be to find an ideal job. Not just any job, but a job that is a good match for your education, skills, interests and motivation.

When I talk to clients who have been looking for an extended period of time, I usually see a common thread: lack of focus. They are shooting at the side of a barn, and wondering why no one’s giving out marksmanship trophies!

So set a good goal. Make it as specific as possible (we’ll talk more about how to do this in a later post). And understand that you may not reach it.

But, as Benjamin May once said:

“The tragedy in life does not lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach.”

The FreeNote: Thoughts on Working in Student Affairs (Podcast)

Retro MicrophoneThe Higher Ed Career Coach Show with Sean Cook returns today with a “freenote” (free keynote) for student affairs professionals. Suitable for using in training meetings or team development, if you don’t have the time or money to hire me or another speaker to kick off your fall training. Look for a video version and downloadable handouts and script soon here at the site.

Based on parting thoughts I shared with colleagues in Residence Life upon my departure in Fall 2009, the “FreeNote” gives a dozen brief lessons culled from over 15 years working in student affairs.

Professionals (new and not-so-new) will appreciate the perspectives and hopefully the humor herein. If not, they may at least find something worth disagreeing with.

This episode features pre-recorded content. The live show will return later in July or early August.

Notice: This episode is best suited to adult listeners and contains a couple of instances of mildly coarse language. Nothing too crazy, but it’s probably best to listen yourself before playing for the whole staff.

A Note From the Author:

Hello Student Affairs Colleagues. Right now many of you are either planning or starting your professional staff training, depending on your institution’s academic calendar. I remember how tough it was to fill the schedule with worthwhile activities, so over the next month or so, I’m going to share content on my website and podcast that you can hopefully use in staff training. The first piece is this week’s podcast, which I am calling a “FreeNote” (free keynote), where I share some thoughts and perspectives on working in Student Affairs. I also plan to post outlines for some of the better staff discussions I had during training, and maybe even later, I might share some RA training and orientation activities. I hope you can use this stuff. I’ll be making some downloads available soon, and possibly a brief video of this same talk.
(Length: 10 minutes) 

Listen to internet radio with Sean Cook on Blog Talk Radio

Career Tracks in Higher Education: New Guest Post Series

bigstock-Businessman-kneeling-on-the-st-12160124There are so many different career tracks in Higher Ed, and so many different titles and combinations of responsibilities, that it can be hard for graduate students and new professionals to figure out where a position falls in an organization, to understand what the day-to-day experience might be in a particular job, and to key in on skills and interests that will help them make good arguments for a particular kind of job.

In response, Higher Ed Career Coach is introducing a new guest post series where experienced professionals will share more about their jobs, the skills and experiences that helped them get those jobs, and what they really spend their time doing.

In order to have some uniformity to the series, guest posts in the Career Tracks in Higher Education series must answer a common set of questions. The article should be at least 500 words, and when published, will have a headline in the following format:

Career Tracks in Higher Education:  [Area]

For example: Career Tracks in Higher Education: Judicial Affairs

You are welcome to suggest any subtitle you like. Articles longer than 750 words may be published as two or more separate posts. If your article is published, you may also be invited to be a guest on the Higher Ed Career Coach show to discuss your article and your career.

Please submit your post through the contact form on the Write a Guest Post page or via e-mail to

Common Questions

1. Name:

2. Current Title:

3. Department:

4.  Division Department Falls Under?  (For example: Student Affairs, Auxiliary Services, Academic College, Development, Alumni Affairs, etc.)

5. University:

6. Enrollment of Your Institution:

7. Your Highest Degree Earned:

8. Number of Years of Full-Time Experience You Had When You Started This Position:

9. What was the minimum education required for your current position?

10. How many years of experience were required for your current position?

11. What are your major responsibilities in your current position?

12. Does your role require direct service to students? If so, explain.

13. How many persons in your department hold an equivalent rank?

14.  How many people do you supervise? Are they Full-Time or Part-Time? Professional Staff, Trades/Custodial Staff, or Student Staff? (Please list numbers for each.

15. What is the title of the person your report to? What is the title of that person’s immediate superior?

16. What is your typical day like? Your typical week?

17.  What do you spend the majority of your time doing in your current role?

18.  What did you think you would be doing more, when you applied for the job?

19. What survival skill is most important in your current role?

20.  Do you serve on committees within your department? Division? University-Wide? What roles do you play on these committees?

21. What advice do you have for persons seeking this type of position?

5 Tips for Kick-Starting Your Job Search in 2012

SoccerThe New Year is a time when many of us re-evaluate our goals and set new ones. The top resolution people make, according to an article at About.Com, is to spend more time with family and friends. (50% of us place that as our top priority.) Other common ones are to lose weight, get organized and get out of debt. And many of us, whether we say so or not on surveys, l0ok forward to moving on in our careers.

Spring is typically the “high season” for academic job searches, since many institutions begin the hiring season for the next fiscal year in July, and the next academic year in August. Associations sponsor placement conferences, and job boards start to fill with ads.

If you are searching in academia, it’s a great time to get your act together. Here are 5 tips for kick-starting your job search.

  1. Set up job alerts on major job boards, such as HigherEdJobs.Com and AcademicJobsToday.Com for positions in your specialty area(s).
  2. Write up all the major elements you will be looking for in a job, including type of institution, roles you would enjoy, salary range, geographic location, size of department, place within the organization, daily tasks, office environment. Don’t leave anything out that you consider important. Write toward the ideal job and let yourself imagine yourself in that ideal situation. Don’t filter yourself. This is about reflecting on your priorities. Later, you will gauge your opportunities against this ideal (and yes, non-existent) position.
  3. Make a list of your top 5 “must haves” (things that a position must include) and top 5 “deal-breakers” (those aspects of a position that you are unwilling to perform). Gauge every position you consider against them. Do not apply for any job that doesn’t have your “must haves” or includes your “deal-breakers.” Trust yourself enough to know what you have to do, and will not do. If you do not find any jobs to apply for, then it’s time to sit with a coach, a mentor, a trusted colleague, or a counselor to figure out it you have realistic expectations for your job search.
  4. Update your résumé or CV. If you are self-directed, and have generally been getting good results, you may need to only do a minor brush-up. Check out my guide 7 Points to a Winning Résumé for ideas about how to write a targeted résume that gets you more interviews. It’s $10 and you get some great extras, including a $25 discount on my coaching or résumé writing packages if you decide you’d rather have professional help. Go to the sales page for more information.
  5. Get social. Networking has always been a great way to get job leads and to understand job roles, formal and informal rules of particular organizations, and the work environment you might be joining. Social networking can extend your reach. The role of social media in the job search has changed drastically over the past few years. It’s no longer a luxury but a basic skill. If you don’t “get” social, you will differentiate yourself in a bad way.

One more thing you can do, if you need some help: talk to a coach. Contact me to set up a free coaching consultation.

7 Points to a Winning Résumé


7pointscover1-215x300I’ll make this post short
and sweet.

I finally finished my first e-book, which I am calling
“7 Points to a Winning Résumé.”

It’s $5 until December 30, and $10 after that. It comes with some special offers.

I have a great salespage you should check out if you are interested, with an overview of the e-book and what else you get. Please feel free to tell your friends and colleagues!

If you are not interested, come back later for more of the regular articles and advice you find here.

And if you have a break from work this month, enjoy it. I hope this month brings you happiness and good times with friends and family.

Thanks for reading.