Asking for a Job that Doesn’t Exist…Yet

Today’s topic comes from my inbox. The author’s question is about how to ask about a job opening that hasn’t yet been posted. Also known as: how do I write a cold cover letter (which in my mind should be read as “email.”)

I’ve anonymized some details at the author’s request, but here’s the gist.

“I have been at my job for more than 5 years, so I’ve gotten to know my university pretty well. I am decently happy where I’m at, but there is one college that, if they EVER had an opening in the right role, I would jump at. The person who’s in that role has been there for more than 10 years. Or, I should say WAS there for more than 10 years. I learned in the fall that she had resigned. I was sad that she’d gone – I really liked and respect her – but their loss could be my gain.

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Mixing Metaphors: Career Ladders, Playgrounds, and Beehives

Today’s career development is not about finding “a” (singular) path or climbing up a ladder. Many (most?) careers today are much more flexible or modular. They will grow and change over time, as you both vertically move up in responsibilities and scope but also laterally to apply your skills and experience to new areas or in new ways.

Some people call this the career playground – where you move about your career doing whatever feels right for that moment in your life; there’s no predetermined path or “right” way to play on the equipment. While I agree there’s not really ladders anymore, I don’t use the playground metaphor.

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Live in the Grays

I have been deliberately cutting back on my social media consumption this year, for a number of reasons. But like everyone else, I find myself scrolling around here and there to catch up on what I “missed.” So this past weekend, I’m scrolling through my FB feed and saw a post about an article that caught my eye.

The post was about “Going Hungry at the Most Prestigious MFA in America” by Katie Prout, an essay about the (unfortunately) all-too-common experience of food insecurity. (Aside: Usually the focus on food insecurity is on undergrads, so it’s, uh, refreshing (? I guess?) to have the spotlight redirected to the plight of graduate students, and I am glad I stumbled across her essay.)

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An Action Item for your Grad School

It’s taken me only a month (!) but I’m finally catching up on stuff here (my side gig) after the holidays and the resulting backlog at my real job. One of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is how to scale alt-ac guidance.

Based on my own experience and those of my clients, I’m obviously biased towards the value of tailoring career guidance to the individual. But I also am against a pay-to-play approach, in which only those with means can access assistance. (Hence, this whole blog thing I have here! 🙂 )

So then, the only way I can see to scale career guidance is to situate it within the grad school context. For graduate schools to bear the burden of providing career guidance – beyond the undergrad “how to write a resume” basics or all-purpose career fairs. Even if the scaling is just offering an advanced version of how to write a resume or hosting career fairs with employers who are looking to fill knowledge-based or highly-skilled positions…that would still at least be a start.

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Less strengths, more interests

There’s been a lot of talk lately – by which I mean the last 20 odd years – about strengths.

Strengths Finder (now called CliftonStrengths) has been the linchpin of so much career coaching, HR team building, and individual career exploration and planning. That’s all fine and good, but I wish there was more talk about your career interests.

It’s not that it’s a bad idea to know your own strengths. But are your strengths really what drives job satisfaction? I’m not convinced. I think your interests are at least as important, if not more so, as a key driver of job satisfaction. 

What you’re interested in, curious about, can be a strong motivator at work, particularly for academics, who are naturally smart and curious and highly skilled at research. Being able to spend more of your work time on your interests correlates to a higher chance of job satisfaction and long-term engagement.

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