by Mary Everley

True or false: Only professors work at colleges and universities. False! Higher education institutions in Minnesota employ more than 50,000 people.  In addition to faculty, they hire cooks, groundskeepers, plumbers, accountants, graphic designers, nurses, and more. It takes an employee base with a wide range of skills to keep a college running and students healthy.

universityThere are many benefits of working at a college or university. Most provide health care, retirement plans, and access to recreational facilities and cultural and professional development. Some offer discounted tuition for employees and their family members. Looking long term, this benefit might save your family thousands of dollars. You can simultaneously complete a degree and be employed—maybe within the same building. Union positions are common on campuses.

Higher education also tends to be a fairly stable industry. Employment fluctuations are less dramatic than in the private sector. There are more than 100 colleges and universities in Minnesota. In some situations, employees may transfer within systems.

Where do you look to identify jobs within higher education? You can go to each college or university’s website, college system websites, or to the Upper Midwest Higher Education Recruitment Consortium (HERC) website. This site aggregates jobs from most of the non-profit institutions in Minnesota and western Wisconsin. You’ll also find collegiate employment recruiters at local job fairs and advertisements in local newspapers.

Because the jobs in higher education are excellent, competition is stiff. According to Marcea Manley, a consultant in the University of Minnesota’s Job Center, the most common mistake applicants make is that they fail to provide enough detail in their application materials about their skills. The key to moving your application out of HR and to the hiring unit is to make sure your materials reflect ALL aspects of the required qualifications noted in the job posting. Some applications will request a resume, others will not.  Your cover letter may be viewed as a writing sample so have a friend or family member check it for typographical or grammatical errors.

If you’re not sure the higher education work environment is the right place for you, consider scheduling an informational interview with a current college or university employee. In addition to talking about the nuances of the job, he or she can explain the differences between higher education and industry or non-profit positions. Tips on informational interviewing, as well as networking, can be found in an excellent job search guide prepared the Office of Career Services in  the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health.

If you don’t have a Ph.D., don’t count yourself out. Your current skills, or the degree you’re working toward, may be the right answer to the question of who to hire.


Mary Everley is the Director of the Relocation Assistance Program at the University of Minnesota and the Upper Midwest HERC.