What kind of academic and work experiences did the most to prepare you for your role as a department chair?
The best training experiences I had were leadership opportunities in professional organizations. For example, I was the national vice president of the American Vocational Association, and I learned a great deal from my experiences in the association. I think that co-curricular activities in college can also be very helpful. I always encourage students to work in professional organizations because employers look beyond grades and transcripts. They want to hire employees who can handle multiple priorities. Successful students who are active in organizations and still earn good grades demonstrate that they can do several things at the same time, and do them well.
How did you become interested in school administration?
I happened into it. My boss was taking a medical leave of absence, and they needed someone to take over her responsibilities for a short period of time. As it turned out, she never returned, and I continued on as an administrator. It was not a conscious decision. I really enjoyed teaching, but I felt that I really needed to help out in an emergency. The longer I stayed in the job, the more I felt that I was broadening my skills as an administrator.
What kind of preparation would you recommend for someone who is interested in school administration?
There are certain skills that administrators simply must learn. The most important set of skills that I would suggest developing is people skills. The ability to get along with other people is absolutely critical. In descending order, I would add leadership skills and writ-ten communication skills. When our advisory board members ask alumni to talk to our students about ways to improve their education, the overwhelming response is to work in oral and written communication skills.
How would you describe a typical workday? What kinds of activities tend to dominate your day?
Usually several things are going on at the same time. I spend a lot of time developing the academic budget and on day-to-day management issues. I also supervise a large staff of people, so there are supervisory and people issues that come up. I enjoy working with the school curriculum, even though it can be very time-consuming. In order for us to do a good job, we need to make sure that our curriculum matches the needs that business and industry have. I spend a lot of time with division heads to discuss our academic program and make changes as needed. I meet with faculty, and I meet with students who need advice on their academic careers. Sometimes I need to meet with students who are not going to be successful in school, and I have to counsel them to look for other options.
When you are hiring new staff, what particular qualities do you look for?
We look for people who have actually done the job that they are preparing students to do. We want people with real-life experiences and teaching skills. We are not interested in people with research backgrounds. Our entire faculty has a minimum of a master's degree in their field, and the best candidates have a teaching background either as a teacher in an evening program or as a teaching assistant in college.
What recommendations would you make to a potential candidate?
Obviously you will need to have the credentials that we are looking for. We get between one hundred and one hundred and fifty resumes for every teaching position that we advertise, and you would be surprised by how many people apply for jobs that they simply are not qualified for. Unless you meet the minimum requirements in terms of education and experience, you will not be inter-viewed. The next suggestion I would make is to be extremely careful with your resume. When a school gets the volume of resumes that we do, resumes that are handwritten or sloppy or contain spelling or grammar errors are seldom considered. I would also suggest that potential candidates practice interviewing before they come in for the real thing. We always do mock interviews with our students as part of their career development course, and then the students interview with members of our advisory board. They can use the feedback they receive to work on problems with their resume.
Candidates should arrive early enough so that they can try to relax and collect their thoughts before the interview begins. They should be careful not to smoke before or during the interview. They should never place their resume or notes on the interviewer's desk. It's important to respect the interviewer's space. Probably the best suggestion that I could give is to prepare questions to ask the inter-viewer, such as what kinds of skills and qualities are important to the company. Appropriate questions give the applicant a chance to pattern his or her responses to what the interviewer needs to hear. I would also say that applicants need to take the time to listen to the questions and think about answers. No one expects applicants to rattle off answers instantly. People need time to organize their thoughts. Applicants should also be willing to expand on their answers and go beyond "yes" or "no" answers. They need to watch the interviewer's body language to get a sense of when they should stop. These are skills that only come with practice, and that is why the mock interview is such an important tool.
When asked about the most demanding and time-consuming part of their jobs, deans of academic affairs all describe the problem of dealing with people under stress, whether it involves hiring staff, supervising and evaluating staff, advising students, or planning and implementing budgets. As challenging as this is, human relations comprise only one part of the dean's job. Deans are expected to develop and administer budgets, hire and supervise staff, develop and revise the curriculum, and advise students. This is difficult, demanding work.
People who are drawn to administration generally enjoy the challenge of shaping programs to meet student needs. They often have definite ideas about how an ideal school should work and derive great satisfaction from the day-to-day decisions that bring the school closer to their dream. This is challenging work. Deans deal with conflict, invest time in meetings, and are confronted with the minutia of making a school run. At the same time, deans must become experts in the academic areas under their supervision and careful evaluators of the faculty that they supervise. Deans hold a responsible and respected position in the academic community and command the commensurate salary and benefits. Average salaries for academic deans range from $70,000 to $90,000 a year.
In order to qualify for this position, applicants must earn a master's degree, and in many cases schools will require a Ph.D. In addition to the academic credentials, academic deans need to develop excellent communication and human relations skills. They particularly need to learn how to deal with students and faculty who may be under stress. The need to plan for long-term goals while meeting the day-to-day obligations of their job requires tremendous organizational skills.