How to Handle Advancement Job Opportunities (and Create Career Karma)

No job search is a walk in the park, and advancement searches can be particularly tricky given the imbalance of supply and demand within the profession-the market for qualified advancement leaders is exceptionally strong, but that can often lead people to make hasty career decisions based on opportunity rather than prudence. As a search consultant, I have worked with many exceptional advancement officers and leaders who have thrown their hats into the ring as candidates only later to discover it wasn’t in their best career interests or that they didn’t go about the process in a thoughtful, productive way.

Every person, situation, and search is different, and we all certainly make career mistakes. What follows, however, are some rules of thumb for how to handle yourself when your opportunities to pursue advancement positions come along.

Take your time. The supply and demand curves in the advancement market are way out of whack. They have been this way for many years, and there seems to be no point of stasis on the horizon. Thus, there are many more jobs out there than there are people for those jobs. This means that you will likely be tempted with career opportunities earlier and more often than might be the case were you in another profession. This can be seductive. In fact, search consultants like me go to great lengths to make it so, but we also rely on you to govern your own career. Do your best to know when you are ready and when you are not. My colleagues, competitors, and I will respect that, as will employers.

Stay within your bounds. An unbalanced market like this one leads to a lot of what we used to call “Peter Principle.” This is what happens when someone rises to the level of his or her own incompetence. Don’t go there. Stretch yourself, but always stay within the bounds of your experience and your immediate potential. It does neither you nor your institution any favors to perform at less than an outstanding level.

Find the right institutional fit. It is not enough to want to move up the advancement ladder. You have to want to lead an institution with which you resonate, one about which you can be sincere and passionate. Our clients want to know that you wish to serve them, specifically. Understand that this is your responsibility, not ours. Recruiters may call you about any number of different types of places. It is your role to focus your aspirations on the sorts of places that float your boat.

Don’t become America’s candidate. That is, don’t decide that it is time for you to proceed in your career and then start applying for every job that comes along. This approach won’t find you the right next job. You will be far more successful if you are focused and intent; in return, my colleagues and I can be far more effective at putting your candidacy – your abilities, experience, and fit – into perspective for institutions who are hiring.

Keep your ego in check. Finally, allow me a moment of venting. To my mind, the most insidious and discouraging aspect of the unbalanced marketplace in advancement is the attitude of some of the people that I encounter in my various searches. I understand and applaud that the pay scale in advancement has risen precipitously in recent years. Nevertheless, the money, the opportunities, and the demand in the marketplace have also led to a lot of unpleasant and inappropriate behavior on the part of some advancement officers.

There is an epidemic of egocentrism out there that undermines the esteem in which the profession is held. It manifests in many ways, the most egregious of which are: 1) short tenures and constant movement from institution to institution; and 2) outrageous arrogance on the part of candidates and potential candidates, not only when negotiating the terms of engagement but even when deigning to discuss or to interview for an opportunity. It is my observation that the regard with which this profession is held within the academy has never been lower in my 37 years in higher education.

This sort of behavior reflects poorly on both the profession and the individual, and both will suffer for it. Karma will assert itself. People in my profession have long memories and very comprehensive databases; we will remember. Much more importantly, the leaders of institutions – their presidents, deans, and boards – will also remember.

Today’s advancement leaders hold in your hands the key to the way your profession will be viewed in the future. I plead with you to respect your position, your craft, your colleagues, and the higher education sector that you serve and to manifest that respect by acting with class, with intelligence, with dignity, and with humility.

Do so, and I promise that great will be your reward, at least on campus.

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