Keep Failing Forward

When it comes to failing, where do you tend to assign blame? Knowing academics, I’m guessing that you tend to blame yourself (because often that’s true).

Let’s take a concrete example. Let’s say you are competing for a job that you really want. You put forth the effort to write a strong cover letter and tailor your resume. You get a call for a phone interview. You start to accept that this might really happen. You get an in-person interview. You give a great interview. You are charming, you’re personable, you have strong answers prepared, and you’re sensing that the committee liked you. After you leave, you start thinking that “this could be it! I might finally get the job I deserve!” You even start to publicly tell your references and circle that you did really well, and you are waiting for an offer any minute.

And then, you get the rejection email.

What’s your reaction?

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Why Higher Ed Needs to Invest More in Staff Professional Development

One of the prevailing paradigms in higher ed these days is student success. Cynics decry it as a framework devoid of meaning. After all, haven’t all of us in higher ed existed to ensure student success at all times? As in: how is this “new” or advancing the field? But more narrowly constructed, many universities, colleges, and community colleges frame their missions and strategic plans around it.

Student success can mean many things. It can entail access – ensuring that education remains available to all to the degree possible. It can include breaking down scheduling and financial barriers so students are able to complete their programs and graduate to a rewarding career. And it can mean that institutions provide services for its increasingly diverse students, such as food insecure students, first generation students, etc.

But what does your higher ed institution do for career success for its staff? Anything?

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How to Move Forward When There Is No Up

Let’s take a look at my inbox. A question from a reader is as follows:

My college is – literally – the only higher ed game in town. And so even though I work in a staff job that I generally enjoy, there’s no upward mobility. I’ve been here for 3 years and I’m really ready to take on more challenging assignments. I’m in my early 40s and at a place in my life where I just am not interested in getting another degree (already have 2 Master’s). I’m trying to be patient but I just don’t see it happening. The people who are the next level up from me have been here for at least 8 years. What would you recommend?


I can already hear many of my readers nodding their heads. I know I can relate. In my last organization, I put in 8 years and still wasn’t at the level I wanted to be at. And the people who were in the job title I wanted? They’d been there 10+ years. I had proven my abilities – I had excellent performance reviews and was clearly capable of the next level of responsibilities. There just wasn’t a job above me to be given to me. Ultimately, I wasn’t willing to wait it out yet another couple of years…so I left.

So that would be option one.

Moving on to another organization.

You should do this only after you’ve 1 – made clear your desires to your boss, and 2- made a strong case for your abilities to take on something new. Repeatedly. Because it’s not fair to duck out on a boss / organization if “but I want more challenging work, and I deserve the chance” would be news to them. You need to give them the chance to meet your demands.

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Show Me the Data on the Job Market

Today I met up with a client who is wrapping up their postdoc in a few months and unsure where to turn next. I made an offhand remark during our conversation that while “alt-ac” (or alternative academic) career is the prevailing term, that many oppose this term. And with good reason, too. When over 70% of the jobs are, well, alt-ac, then it’s actually tenure-track or permanent faculty positions that have become the “alternative” career path. If you have to label us working outside of tenure-track faculty, some argue for using career diversity instead.

And I thought that the conversation would just continue on that same path, but she said “Wait, what?! I knew that there weren’t that many tenure-track jobs, but you’re saying chances are less than 30% that I’ll get one? I had no idea!” Sad, but true. But then here’s what she said: “What are your sources?”

Well, folks. That’s a good question that I’m tackling here today.

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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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