DEAR BI CAREER CONSULTANTS:
I am contemplating accepting a position as a minority affairs
coordinator at a traditionally White institution. It is rumored that
such positions can be dead-end career busters. Are there conditions or
considerations that I should insist on before accepting the position?
DR. CHARLES D. MOODY SR.
Vice Provost Emeritus, University of Michigan Founder, National Alliance of Black School Educators
Any position has the potential of being a dead-end career buster.
Additionally, your effectiveness in any position and the development of
a constituency base will do more to advance your career than the
However, some questions you may want to ask include: Are you viewed
as a gatekeeper or a gate opener? Are you to justify the actions of the
institution in dealing with issues of equity and diversity or are you
an advocate for people of color?
It is also important to understand the principles of planned change
because you will be an agent of change. Change is painful and part of
the job will involve changing the institutional culture.
Additionally, compare the budget, office space, and status in the
administrative structure to others in similar positions. What
administrative and academic authority do you have? Do you have full
control over an adequate budget? Do you have an adequate staff to
accomplish the task and attractive space in a premier location? You
should have the authority to create and monitor programs designed to
demystify the institution for students, faculty, staff, and parents.
Help others understand that your assuming the position does not
relieve anyone from the obligation of discharging his/her
responsibilities as they relate to equity, diversity, and fairness.
Everyone has a role and responsibility in the institution’s
Finally, you should never become more concerned with keeping the
job or “moving up” than you are with doing the job. Don’t try to play
it safe. You are never safe, so you should just do what you have to do
and say what you have to say, because they are going to fire you one
day anyway. At the end of each day you should be able to say that you
gave it your best shot.
BETH J. WILSON
Associate Provost, Columbia University President, American Association for Affirmative Action
In my experience, one of the best ways to keep your options open is
to make sure your education and training will provide the greatest
feasible flexibility in your career paths. Although you should have one
major career path, you always should foster alternative routes that can
move you in a somewhat different direction. I have three degrees,
including a law degree. Combined with my experience and a little
assertiveness, I have been able to teach part-time as adjunct faculty,
practice law, and consult in any number of ways –including as a
trainer, program evaluator, complaint investigator, paid seminar
presenter, and expert witness. I have done this in many different
forums, and this externally achieved experience and recognition has
immensely increased my flexibility in career choices and in career
Working as an unpaid volunteer, particularly as president of an
organization or in another leadership role, can also be career
broadening in providing you with more diverse experiences than those
that occur naturally in your job.
In negotiating the terms of your responsibilities and working
conditions, discuss support for professional training and development
including travel. Ask about tuition exemption or reduction, and time
off to attend classes at your institution or another one. Discuss
representing your institution through your participation in community
and professional organizations, and whether the time and expense of
your participation will be supported.
If the others previously held the position, ask about their career
paths and where they went after they left. Ask about upward mobility
within the area as well as transfer possibilities for promotional
opportunities. Try to assess the person to whom you will report. Look
at his/her career path and try to determine whether he/she will be a
helpful mentor, or if interactions with others will provide you with
contacts and exposure to other potential mentors. You need to be
assured of opportunities to expose your skills and talents to as many
as possible throughout your organizational hierarchy, and beyond.
When you are ready to make a move outside the field, you need to be
prepared to demonstrate how the experience, education, and training you
have had in all these different forums, will transfer to the job you
are seeking. Keep good records of all you do. Use that information to
tailor your resume and your interview comments to convince the hiring
official that you are just what they’re looking for. This requires, of
course, that you do your homework and find out everything you can about
the job, the organization, and the person(s) with whom you will
interview. Your job is a dead end for you only if you fail to make the
effort to prepare yourself to do something else.
Assistant Affirmative Action Officer Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
These don’t have to be dead-end jobs. I’ve seen smart, ambitious
people move from minority programs into student affairs, community
relations, business management, and myriad other areas. Your future
options depend primarily on the initiative and energy you bring to the
job, and how you master it. Those who fail to develop fundamental
competencies, analytical, creative, and managerial skills that are
transferable to new positions will not get far in any organization.
Probe for the specific expectations. If the person to whom you will
report is vague and noncommittal, then you probably want to look
elsewhere. Seek an institution that understands what such a position
can and cannot realistically accomplish.
As with any job search, you should have your own career aspirations firmly in mind.
Preparation is the key to making the right job decision. Find out
the specific knowledge, skills, and experiences expected of candidates.
Be sure that you can satisfy the stated requirements, to minimize the
likelihood of accepting a job for which you really aren’t suited.
Ask about the freedom and support to attend workshops and
participate in other professional activities. This can be an important
facet of increasing your career mobility.
If you expect to have full responsibility for the program, you
obviously will need a budget adequate for the activities you plan on
carrying out, along with flexibility and control. A miserly budget can
be prescription for failure.
Finally, take time to assess the general environment into which you
will be going. If the entire institution demonstrates a vibrant
commitment to enhancing diversity, you are more likely to find open
doors when the time comes to move to new pastures.
COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com