IN HER OWN WORDS: Lessons from Higher Ed Admin Professionals’ Job Search

Statistics and job candidates’ reflections showed that men and women have different job seeking experiences, and it’s important to understand why.

Higher Ed Admin Professionals’ Job Search WIHE

Staying current on hiring expectations and trends is critical in a challenging economic climate and increasingly competitive job market. This is especially true for those in higher education administration, where the trends and practices applicable to other occupations do not have parallels at schools. Because women outnumber men in these positions, the information is even more valuable for women’s success.

Corporate job seekers are flooded with resources toinform and prepare them for job searching, but higher education had no similar resources until the start of the National Study of the Student Affairs Job Search (NSSAJS) in 2011. The first study arose when an administrator and a professor wanted to find data to support anecdotal information about job searching in higher education administration.


NSSAJS educates job seekers in higher education about trends and timelines, helps graduate faculty and mentors with preparing students for their search, and communicates with employers how to attract strong candidates. Now in its fourth year, the study has grown to include 272 job candidates at 78 institutions in 35 states and has evaluated the hiring process from employers’ viewpoint.

NSSAJS looks at patterns and behaviors in job search practices that lead to success in finding a job. Some of the questions the study has considered include the quantity and chronology of applications, whether candidates participate in “placement exchanges,” whether networking plays a role in job placement, and how different jobs within higher education adhere to different hiring timelines.

Initially, the NSSAJS did not include questions about whether and how sex and gender interacted with the job search. Women tend to outnumber men in student affairs preparation programs. While gender equity in upper administration is still an issue, scholars speculated that the female majority of entry-level candidates might mean that no such issues would exist at that level.

The team reconsidered this omission after reading a startling admission by a woman job candidate: “In a group that’s half men and half women, I think it’s interesting that all of the men in my [class] have found jobs, while only two women have.” Statistics and job candidates’ reflections showed that men and women have different job seeking experiences, and it’s important to understand why.

Women and men differed in three areas of their job search: perception of qualifications and worth, likelihood of accepting the first job offered and criteria of job search and selection.

Perception of qualifications

Women are more likely to downplay accomplishments, doubt their success and underestimate qualifications. This leads women to underestimate their candidacy in the job search.

Women in the NSSAJS study declined to apply for positions and battled feelings of self-doubt during interviews. Additionally, women were less likely to seek feedback from employers during the search process.

Direct employer feedback led a number of candidates to success in their next interview. Encouragement from a safe sounding board helped many women. One woman said, “It helped to find someone outside of my class to remove the competition factor, and outside of higher education to remove the questions.”

Having reassurance and validation about the job search also helps at the time of job offer— a time at which women are more likely to accept the first job offered and more likely to accept a salary and benefits without negotiation.

Accepting and negotiating job offers

75% of all study participants accepted their first job offer despite their level of satisfaction with the offer. This number was much higher for women than for men.

Women and men cited reasons for their eagerness to accept a position early. Timeline urgency or financial pressure and fear of not receiving another offer were the most common reasons. Women more often cited the latter.

Similarly, women were less likely to negotiate initial offers for compensation and position responsibilities, sometimes out of fear that the job offer would be rescinded.

Meeting an offer with an informed and realistic perspective is helpful during negotiation. Public school websites are a good place to start to access salary information online. This information can be used to build expectations about average and starting salaries.

If the average offering isn’t enough, it is possible to negotiate in non-traditional ways: think parking arrangements, gym access and vacation time. Most importantly, build expectations and consider non-negotiable factors early in the job search.

Influences on job offer satisfaction

Women and men demonstrated an interesting difference of job search criteria and priorities. After receiving a job offer, candidates rated on the survey the offer on four main criteria: location, salary and benefits, position responsibilities, and campus culture. Additionally, candidates were encouraged to list additional influences on their search and selection, if applicable.

Few men listed family or partner considerations as influential, while a great deal of women rated these as equal to or greater than their other job search criteria. Instead, more men rated salary and position title and responsibilities among their highest criteria.

This question shows that job candidates should establish non-negotiable search factors and recognize that different job candidates are seeking different things. One candidate said, “The biggest thing that stresses me out is that I keep comparing myself to other people who I know are job searching. I even compared my starting salary… even though it’s for a different job and in a different state!” Focus on personal criteria and define job search success by that.

What this means for job seekers

As practitioners and scholars who are uniquely educated and experienced in helping, we are acutely aware of the challenges facing women leaders. However selfaware our training and experience have encouraged us to be, it is important to know that we are not immune to limitations. “I work in career services and tell students all the time how to [job search],” said one woman, “but when it’s personal and my future and emotions are in play, I do the same things I tell them not to do.”

Looking at the trends and experiences of job seekers lets candidates know that they are not alone during the search.

Five tips summarize how to stay on track:

Find an objective third party sounding board with good listening skills to be a voice of reason and source of support.

Consider and prioritize job search criteria and expectations. Don’t compromise these.

Don’t compare yourself to other job seekers. Individuals have different search criteria. Job searching in higher education is unique because candidates are often applying for positions in multiple different areas of campus. The hiring timeline for academic advisors, for example, is quite different from the timeline for residence hall directors.

Ask for feedback. This can mean being vulnerable, but employers are almost always willing to help.

Be a confident candidate. There is little in the job search within candidates’ control: the quality of application materials, the amount of interview prep. Press “send,” then wait—confidently. The best-fitting employers will reply.

The job search is at best a mutual match. Employers select candidates based on qualifications, yes, but also intangibles like school culture. Job seekers should ultimately set criteria and expectations and meet interviews with curiosity and confidence.

Léna Kavaliauskas Crain is the Primary Investigator for the National Study of the Student Affairs Job Search and a doctoral student at the University of Maryland.

Kavaliauskas Crain, Léna. (2014, August). IN HER OWN WORDS: Lessons from Higher Ed Admin Professionals’ Job Search. Women in Higher Education, 23(8), 18-19.

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