One of my ongoing consulting engagements is with an executive search firm that recruits technology leaders for higher education. Recently I’ve noticed an influx of applicants with a corporate background looking to transition to higher education. There are, of course, many similarities in the CIO role across industries. However, I find many industry changers make a detrimental error in their application packet: omitting a cover letter. Or equally unfavorable: including a generic cover letter.

Here are two tips that can improve the opportunity for a corporate CIO to be considered for a technology leadership role in higher education.

Why Higher Education?

Tell me, the executive search consultant, why you’re interested. Be specific. If you are interested because you are passionate- why are you passionate? Conduct research. What about higher education interests you? Demonstrate your knowledge of issues that impact technology leaders and the overall business of higher education. Don’t go overboard with details in the cover letter. Your cover letter should subtly show that you’ve done your homework about the institution and higher education.

Why You?

Technology leaders with significant experience in higher education are your competition. Help me understand why you should be considered for this role instead of an applicant with deep industry experience. In addition to a broad introduction to your background, correlate your experience to specific requirements for the position. Tell me about yourself in the context of the priorities for the role. If the primary priority for the new role is planning for academic technologies— highlight elements of your background that demonstrate your success working with a highly political constituency. What are the other experiences in your background that can correlate to a higher education cultural environment? If the institution priority is improved IT services, call out your experience in maximizing the customer experience. Have you led a strategic planning effort? Highlight experiences where you’ve provided leadership from both a technology and business perspective.  View the cover letter as the qualitative context for your application. Your resume provides the quantitative back up.

Questions to Consider

Does your cover letter augment your resume or replicate it? (opt for the former)

What three points do you want the evaluator to remember? Are these clearly stated with supporting data points?

And finally, review the position description and compare to your cover letter and resume. Does your application packet clearly illustrate why you are interested in shifting from your industry to higher education?

Questions about how to maximize your career portfolio for an executive position? Contact me at
[email protected].

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