It's even more obvious for employers recognizing the top candidates.
Whether you are determining if an institution would be a good place for you to work or if you are preparing for an interview, doing your research on an institution is a crucial part of a job search in higher education.
Here are six tactics you can use to identify and obtain useful information about a school:
- Do Some 'Site-Seeing. If you want to know what's important to an institution, the school's website is a great place to start. Each school puts delicate consideration into how it paints the picture of the institution and the website is its canvas.
Pay close attention to how the information is presented and what is given more prominence. Attracting prospective students is usually the top function, but as you work your way down the totem pole you can determine where an institution's priorities rank.
- Peruse the News. A school's website often functions as its news outlet, but paying close attention to how third-party media portray the school can be helpful. In addition to reading news releases generated by the institution, read articles and editorials written by the local media. You can quickly determine the "points of pride" and "points of pain" that affect school administrators. This can be important to know during an interview so you can present yourself as someone who can perpetuate the pride or be a remedy for the pain.
A good practice is to visit news websites, especially in the institution's city or websites devoted to higher education news, and enter the name of the institution in the website's search tool.
- Review the Rankings. College rankings provided by agencies like U.S. News and The Princeton Review are critical for institutions. College administrators have developed a love-hate relationship with the outcomes. While some schools have questioned the methodology and others have even attempted to manipulate the data they provide, the results of these rankings are vital to the branding of an institution. They use favorable rankings as fodder for marketing campaigns and negative rankings can influence a college's behavior.
- Become a Social (Media) Butterfly. Social media networks have made it is easy to conduct investigative work. People readily provide their work history. Before you apply for a job, search through your contacts on social media to determine if someone you already know works or previously worked for the school. They can provide inside information about the position. LinkedIn is especially good for this because if you visit a school's "company page" you are provided a list of first-degree and second-degree connections who work for the school. These are your contacts and your contacts' contacts, respectively.
This can be especially helpful if you'd like to find who left to create the open position and the outgoing employee's destination. Did he leave for a better job? If he didn't that could raise a red flag.
However, conduct your homework tactfully. No matter how friendly you are with a contact, always ask if he or she is in a position to disclose any information about the position. Be careful when deploying your friend on a fact-finding mission. They may not be as reputable within the institution as you think and you don't want a potential employer identifying you as a snoop. Also, when using LinkedIn, remember that users receive notices indicating who is viewing their profile.
- Think Over the Turnover. Look at the other open positions at the institution. There could be new leadership at the school and a new president is cleaning house. Perhaps a department just received a grant and there is a hiring surge. Then again, budget cuts could be relegating an institution into hiring more part-time or adjunct positions. This activity can provide helpful hints about the stability of the institution.
- Use a Cheat Sheet. HigherEdJobs did some of the homework for you. Nearly 900 colleges and universities have Institutional Profiles on HigherEdJobs.com. In these profiles you will find a description of the institution, campus photos, the school's location on Google Maps, recent posts from the school's Twitter feed, current job postings on HigherEdJobs, and more.