Finding your next job: Three things to do before starting

July 30, 2012, 8:00 am

We’re continuing a series on Finding Your Next Job. In the first post, we stressed the importance of identifying your motivations and coming to terms with the why behind the search. Now we need to think about getting started. Hitting the EIMS website and beginning to compose cover letters is not the start of the job search in my opinion. That comes next. But first there are a few more things to do. Three things, in fact.

1. Determine who the stakeholders are in this upcoming search. This would be any person, other than your current colleagues, whose daily life will be altered by your move to the next job. This is a different and much smaller list than that of the people who careabout your search — hopefully there are a lot of those kinds of people, but it’s likely you have few true stakeholders. The last time I was on the market, in 2010, I identified five stakeholders other than myself: my wife, my three kids, and my mother-in-law (who lived just 90 minutes from us at the time and was a frequent visitor to see the kids). By contrast, we had friends where we lived who were sad when we left but whose day-to-day lives didn’t change.

Why is this so important? It’s because you’re not just looking for a new job — in most cases, a new job will mean a new life in a new place. And if there are people whose lives are attached to yours to the point where a move to a new life will change their lives, then you have to conduct the search with them in mind and with their input if possible. Eventually, if the search plays out and you end up with an offer from a new place, you have to consider not only whether you want to accept it but whether accepting it would be a net win for all stakeholders involved. This is a big deal. You are affecting not only your own life here but the lives of potentially dozens of others. So figure out who those people are and keep their needs in mind as you proceed.

2. Build your network and your reputation. You’ll benefit from doing this even if you’re not looking for a next job. About the second of these two: Many people feel that your reputation is something that just sort of happens to you, not something you build. But it’s quite possible to shape how people perceive your professional identity, or your “brand” to use the business term. You can write a blog, for instance; this blog was a key part of building my brand and reputation even before I was on the market. You can get on Twitter (see below) and use it in positive ways. You can also do the usual work of teaching, scholarship, and service that you currently do, but do it intentionally, aware that every time you do work, what you produce says something about who you are. The aggregate of all those things that are said is your “brand”, and people take brands into account when they are thinking about hiring someone.

One thing to say about networking: I’m an introvert and I’ve always hated the notion of networking. But thank goodness for Twitter. I connect will all kinds of people on Twitter and have come across some amazing opportunities and relationships there. I ended up with interviews for three different jobs in 2011 and one of those was a direct consequence of a tweet that advertised it. A person I was following saw the job ad in a listserv that he (and not I) subscribed to, and pushed it out to his Twitter stream. I was just in the right place at the right time. If you’re on Twitter currently and don’t see the point, give it another chance — follow people from whom you feel like you can learn. If you’re not on Twitter, give it a shot and build up a list of people you follow that’s relatively free of noise. Drop Twitter after the search is done if you want. But try it! It’s a way to build your brand and your network at the same time.

3. Figure out what your skill set is and what you want to do with it — and be ready to entertain far-out ideas. Your skill set includes not only your mathematical skills but also your teaching skills as well as transferable skills that work in any job. A lot of academic types tend to think that their next job will have more or less the same job description as their current one, and it takes conscious effort to realize this isn’t the case. Maybe you’ll look for some standard professorial positions, sure — but there’s a much larger world out there. In higher education alone there are numerous jobs for which a person who’s currently a professor would be qualified: administrative positions, instructional designers, faculty teaching center directors, student math lab coordinators, technologists, and more. And there is the wide world outside of academia. If you’ve never considered jobs like these, it’s time to start, and that means having a decent sense of your skills and what you might bring to the table for a position that is not exactly the same as what you’re doing now.

Once we have those three things figured out, it’s probably time to start actually looking. That’s for the next post. In the meanwhile, what’s your story? Do you have anything to share on this?


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