The University Record, November 2, 1998

Two staff members offer career tips

By Mary Jo Frank
University Relations

Attitude, hard work and accepting responsibility for managing your own career unlock doors to promotions and to a more satisfying professional life, according to two successful women administrators who began their University careers in entry-level positions.

E. Karen Clark, human resources manager in LS&A, and Marilyn Knepp, assistant provost for University budget and planning, shared tips about getting ahead professionally at “Navigating the Maize,” an Oct. 29 brown-bag presentation sponsored by the Commission for Women and the Center for the Education of Women.

Knepp and Clark both credit early work experiences in family-owned businesses with some of the attitudes and work habits that have led to later job success.

“Satisfaction is the key to performance, and your attitude determines satisfaction,” said Knepp, who encouraged listeners to be confident in their own abilities and to focus on cultivating a positive attitude. The best employees suggest ways to improve how work is done and focus on fixing problems, not assigning blame, she added.

Hard work and extra effort pay off in increased personal satisfaction and happiness, and “the boss will notice, too,” Knepp predicted.

Clark, who first joined the U-M staff in 1969 as a student accounts clerk and left the U-M and returned twice, said moving ahead professionally also requires preparation and planning.

“No one will watch out for you and your career interests like you do, so don’t leave things to chance,” Clark advised. Opportunities for advancement are influenced by the office in which you work. If the current work environment doesn’t encourage professional development, provide feedback or help prepare employees to advance, consider a lateral move to gain these benefits, she said.

Check the job postings to learn what skills supervisors are seeking. Read professional journals, be successful in your current job, and establish networking and mentoring relationships, advised Clark, who explained how her work with a graduate student in the Psychology Graduate Office led to later jobs as a research assistant in health administration, and eventually in research administration.

Pursue additional training or education because “formal education really does count in an academic environment,” Clark noted. She also suggested looking for the kind of work you like to do: “You’ll be most successful in a job that you intrinsically like.”

Knepp, who began her U-M career as a secretary in the Office of Academic Planning and Analysis in 1979, and directed that office for 11 years before being promoted last March to assistant provost, shared tips on writing resumes and cover letters, and interviewing.

Tailor the resume to the position you’re seeking and demonstrate that you meet the qualifications and have relevant work experience, Knepp suggested. When reviewing resumes, Knepp said, she looks for active words like “accomplished,” “managed” and “organized.” Women need to learn to take credit for their accomplishments and highlight their personal contributions to team projects, she said.

Address the cover letter to the person who will be doing the interviewing. Cover letters and resumes should be well written and stress qualifications that fit the job posting. “You need to make sure both are perfect, with no typos, no grammatical errors. Do whatever it takes to ensure this,” Knepp said.

Before the interview, learn as much as you can about the office. A good source of information is back issues of The University Record, which are available online, Knepp noted. “You can search for the department or names of the faculty and staff in it. In addition to helping you prepare, it demonstrates you care about preparation.”

She also suggested making three lists:

• The questions you know that you’ll be asked and answers.

• A list of your strengths so you can mention all of them during the course of the interview.

• A confidence-builder list of all the reasons why you are a great employee.

Review the strengths and confidence lists immediately before the interview, Knepp said. A few other tips:

• Never criticize your current boss or office.

• Be honest in your presentation. Your goal should not be to get every job that you interview for; it should be to get the right job in the right kind of office.

• Say thank-you in person at the end of the interview and follow up with a formal business letter, reinforcing what you heard and said in the interview.

If you get the job, Knepp added, leave your current one professionally. Complete your tasks and resign gracefully; you never know when that boss will be called for a reference.

If you don’t get the job, ask the interviewer for feedback so you can improve and identify what you need to do to be the candidate-of-choice next time, Knepp added.


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