So You Want to be an Academic Advisor….
As the office winds down a search for a new academic advisor, the process has really provided some unique insight into the question, “How do I become an Academic Advisor?”
If you take a couple of minutes to Google the question or even visit NACADA’s LinkedIn forums, one quickly can see there is no real answer to that question. Each response is its own prerogative based on past experiences and current policies at an institution. There is not a right or wrong answer which makes becoming an academic advisor a process with minimal direction.
When I became an academic advisor close to 10 years ago, the advising profession was seemingly treated as a stepping stone, a position to just bide one’s time until they got the real job one was looking for. Turn the page to today and it is not out of the ordinary to actually hear the tale of another’s quest to become an academic advisor. For me it is quite refreshing to see a pool of potential academic advisors who plan to be academic advisors for hopefully quite a while.
NACADA’s Clearinghouse has a great primer on how to become an academic advisor. It provides much more timely information for those in the job hunt than some of the four year old answers on random question and answer sites like Yahoo! Answers, eHow and Indeed (not too far of a reach eh?). It goes to show just how much has started to change over the last few years.
So as we begin to wrap up our candidate search for the new position, I thought I would offer a quick glimpse into what this committee was looking for and frequent comments about the applicant pool.
- Education: While a master degree was preferred, some relevant academic advising experience can make up for holding only a bachelor degree. Relevant being the keyword here. While higher education and student affairs work is appreciated, actual time as an advisor or in an advising office goes a long way. Quality of the academic degree was also taken into consideration.
- Experience: Previous academic advising experience was definitely preferred. Experience in higher education was next on the list if there was no time in academic advising. Those with the experience in student affairs (res life, admissions, registrar, etc.) have value. A very valid concern here is the quality of responsibilities help previously. A title is just a title in the end. If you were more of a sales person than advisor, it shows through pretty quickly.
- Cover letters: It is quite evident when someone is submitting a generic cover letter. It is even worse when it is the cover letter for another position. Double and triple check all of your attachments to make sure you are submitting a unique and applicable cover letter. One does really need to take the time introducing who they are and how they are uniquely qualified for the position. Double and triple check grammar and spelling as well.
- Résumés: Just like the cover letter, this can’t be the same résumé you have sent out for every job opening during your search. It should identify how your previous experience meets the duties and qualifications of the job. And while I personally don’t like an “Objective” area on a résumé, if you have one, please make sure your objective is to actually become an academic advisor. Not something generic or even worse, an objective with the wrong job position. Take the time to rewrite a résumé and cover letter specifically for the position you applying.
- Translate your past: Regardless of if your résumé if chock full of advising experience or if you have relevant, if not directly related, experience, we needed to see how you fit into what we need now. Having a past in student affairs may not directly win you the interview, but making it clear and obvious just how your student affairs past leads you to the now to be the perfect fit for the job. Do that through tailored cover letters and résumés, highlighting the key points of the job responsibilities. Is more clear you make it, the better your chances.
- Objective: Your objective is to become an academic advisor, plain and simple. Not find a job in higher education, not relocate to the area, but be the academic advisor the hiring unit is looking for. Having non-specific goals in your application, résumé and cover letter leave doubts as to if you really want to be an academic advisor or if you are simply just looking for a job. You must somehow convey you have a genuine desire to be an academic advisor now and into the future.
- Treat it as a profession: Academic advising is no longer a stepping stone of a job. We want academic advisors to fill an academic advisor position. It all goes back to not being a generic applicant. You should be invested in the advising career path and that shows pretty quickly in a quality application package. Those just looking for a job are quickly shuffled to the bottom of the stack. Applicants should make reviewers feel that this is the job they have always wanted and are in it for the long haul.
- Involvement: It never hurts to show that you are a member of a related organization or have ventured into giving presentations on topics in academic advising. It shows investment into being an advisor and offers hope that one will continue those endeavors should they fill the open position.
At this point there are many paths to being an academic advisor. No one path will fit every open position. But perhaps a little insight will help you prepare going forward. For what it is worth at least.
Have any tips for the weary job searches? Feel free to share.