Sunday, April 13, 2014

Terms You Should Know when Applying for a Top Position in Higher Education

Imagine sitting at the head of a long table with 15 inscrutable faces looking back at you. That's what some interviews look like.
by Ann Abbott

This year I have done a lot of work on search committees--and by "a lot," I mean a lot. Each time I serve on a search committee I learn more and more about what it takes to be a successful job candidate.

Based on those experiences, I have shared tips about:

In this post, I'd like to share some of the terminology I have picked up while working on a search committee to fill a very high-level position in my university. Yes, your experience and qualifications are the most important thing in a job hunt. Still, knowing the lingo helps position you as an expert. Here are the terms I learned; click on them to find more information.

C-level Position

When I thought of the top positions in an institution of higher education, my mind always went to jobs like President, Chancellor, Provost and Deans. However, colleges and universities also have C-level positions like the CFO (Chief Financial Officer) and CIO (Chief Information Officer.) Those are all C-level positions.

"Architect" as a verb. 

"To architect" is one of those words that people from the humanities hate because it comes from the business world. However, I think it is a valuable word that we has been missing from the English language. For example, when I build a wiki for a committee that I chair, it tends to eventually become confusing because I didn't "architect" it well from the beginning.

Six Sigma

Some people in C-level positions within higher education have previous experience in industry. When they talk about how they lead, prioritize, measure success, etc., one model they might mention is Six Sigma. While it's not necessary to be thoroughly trained in a specific model like Six Sigma, it is very important to be able to talk about coherent approaches to building excellence into your organization.

Direct Reports

First of all, the person interviewing for a job wants to know to whom they will report. For example, a campus CIO might report directly to the Provost. Candidates at this level need experience managing direct reports--the more the better. For example, in my current position of Director of Undergraduate Studies, I have four direct reports. Many of them have people who directly report to them. So I oversee a group of about 50 people but only have four direct reports. (Again, I have heard faculty complain about this term because it is hierarchical and de-humanizing, so be careful when you use these kinds of terms in a higher education setting.)

360 Review

This is another term (buzzword?) that people use when talking about their management processes, leadership style, creating a high-performance team, etc.


I had to look this one up. It means "Service-Level Agreement." If you are involved in the support services that keep a college running, this is something you should know about.

Actvity-based Costing

This is a kind of financial model. I won't try to pretend I understand the ins and outs of this, but the big take-away is that when you apply for C-level positions you need to have experience managing very big budgets and be able to talk about some kinds of financial models.

Metrics and Dashboards

These tools are aligned with concept of strategic planning--you need a strategic plan for your organization, you fix your objectives and prioritize your work around the strategic plan, you define what you will measure to ensure that you have met those objectives (what will success look like?), and the dashboards allow you to see how you are doing at any moment in time. One particular dashboard that was mentioned: Tableau.

Internet 2. 

This is a research-focused, big-data kind of international professional organization.


This is a professional organization for IT professionals in higher education.

The Art of the Possible. 

As soon as I heard this phrase, I knew that I would incorporate it into my own vocabulary. It conveys my own can-do, optimistic, innovative outlook. Unfortunately, this phrase comes from an Otto von Bismark quote and a military/political context. Still, I identify with the notion of finding things/projects that are possible; I don't like it when people's first reaction is to simply find the "impossible" in everything, always sticking with the status quo.

After Action Report. 

Among other things, an after action report is part of a communication cycle when something bad/unexpected happens. Here is the cycle: 1) message acknowledging the problem, 2) a resolve message, letting people know that the issues has been resolved, 3) an after-action message letting people know why it happened and the lessons learned from the incident. C-level employees must show that they are excellent leaders, communicators and know how to handle crises.
Here are some technologies that came up:
  • Google Garage. Wouldn't it be great to set up your classroom space with a lot of tools and then just tell students to "make something"?
  • Hypercities. Mapping that goes beyond Google maps.
  • Neatline. Combines maps and timelines.
  • Scalar. A platform for scholarly publishing.

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