Nine Questions

The next participant in The Field Guide's interview series - "Nine Questions" - with HR thought leaders is Nancy Aebersold, Founder and Executive Director of the National Higher Education Recruitment Consortium. Below, Ms. Aebersold gives us her thoughts on everything from securing a seat at the proverbial table, the challenges of HR in higher education, the how and what of leadership, professional regret and the joys of gourmet dining, and much more...

Tell me why what you do is rewarding, challenging, and I suspect in your opinion (and mine) quite awesome?
As the founder of the first Higher Education Recruitment Consortium (HERC) in Northern California and now as Executive Director of HERC’s central headquarters, the most rewarding aspect of what I do is knowing that each and every day highly qualified and diverse jobseekers are finding positions that interest them on the HERC jobs websites and that we’re providing free, easy-to-use job search tools and a gateway to some of the best jobs at over 600 of the best institutions in the U.S. At any given time there are over 18,000 jobs available on the websites.

HERC has also put a spotlight on the critical need to provide opportunities to dual-career couples. Over 72% of faculty members are partnered. We’ve been a leader in this area and have made a measurable impact. HERC recognizes that we’re not just recruiting individuals anymore, we’re recruiting families.

I also find it personally rewarding when I meet jobseekers and dual-career couples in person (often at conferences) who have found their “dream jobs” through HERC. I’ve always worked in “helping professions” and having an opportunity to interact with individuals and couples who have been helped by HERC is a HUGE source of inspiration.
Do you believe in the notion of professional regret? Why or why not? If so, what's been your biggest professional regret?
I tend to look forward and not backward in both life and in work, except during those important moments that need reflection so that you can improve and “do better next time.” I can’t say I have many professional regrets except possibly one…when I was 21 years old I was introduced to culinary legend Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. We immediately hit it off and soon after she offered me the very coveted job to be her #2 in her administrative offices. It was a flattering, exciting, somewhat mind-blowing offer that certainly would have been life and career changing. Working closely with someone who started a world-wide movement with the somewhat straightforward idea of preparing the freshest, most unadulterated food and paying homage to those who grow the food would have been inspiring. She surrounds herself with an incredible team and being part of that team would have been transformative in ways I can only imagine.

In the end I turned down the opportunity to pursue a MA in Counseling Psychology. I have to admit, one aspect I probably regret most is all of the gorgeous meals I would have enjoyed because the illustrious kitchen was just upstairs from my would-be office.
What do you think has been the most significant game changer in your specialty area of human resources over the last 5 years? Over the course of your career?
HERC helps campuses collaborate on recruitment and retention issues. The hiring slowdown, shrinking recruitment budgets, and inadequate funds for staffing in many HR offices have all posed significant challenges. In some respects, HERC has been an anecdote to some of these stresses since we use collaboration and the pooling of resources to help campuses get more done with fewer resources. In fact, the first HERC was founded in Northern California in 2000 during one of the worst economic downturns in the state and those original 19 founding institutions saw the wisdom of banning together for a common purpose – to recruit and retain the most outstanding and diverse faculty, staff, and administrators and assist dual-career couples.
Where do you see your area of specialty heading in the next 5 years? Do you think that’s a good or bad thing?
Higher education will continue to be hiring and in fact, employee recruitment needs are on the rise. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that between 2010 -2020 post- secondary faculty employment will rise 17% (that’s 3% higher than the growth rate for all occupations) and an estimated 305,000 new faculty jobs will be created. An additional 2.5 million faculty will be hired to replace existing faculty members. Those numbers don’t include the many staff and administrators our campuses will also recruit. For HERC this is a good thing. We have laid the groundwork to help our member institutions be more effective in tapping into a pool of diverse and highly educated candidates and help jobseekers with associated needs such as finding a job within a commutable distance for a dual-career partner and providing relocation resources.
In your opinion what’s the most important part of the talent management puzzle: attracting talent, acquiring talent, developing talent, or retaining talent – or something else entirely? Why?
I find it difficult to isolate any of these important pieces of the talent management puzzle. To complete the puzzle, you have to have to invest in them all and have the institutional vision, leadership, commitment, systems, cooperation and well trained employees on the front line to be effective as an organization. I also am a big believer in collaboration. HERC plays a critical function in this regard and brings organizations together that don’t otherwise have an opportunity to join forces on addressing talent management issues.
What do you think is the biggest failure of most organizations when it comes to their talent management strategy? Is there an easy fix, a difficult one, or can it be fixed?
I find it a bit hard to globalize because there are institutions doing great things in the talent management area. As far as challenges I’ve observed, I’d say: limited budgets, HR staff turnover, inadequate strategic planning, and HR being perceived as transactional paper pushers and not transformative talent management leaders and therefore isolated from institutional leadership and institutional-wide planning. In fact, there’s a great book related to this topic that some colleagues within the HERC community wrote entitled, Human Resources at the Cabinet's Table: A Guidebook for HR Transformation in Higher Education, Heuer, Danielson, and Robole (2012). Check it out for great ideas for addressing some of these challenges.
In your own words, define what it means to be a leader?  Do you think anyone can become a leader? Why or why not?
First, leadership means being a sponge. As a sponge, I am always taking in new notions, best practices, visual information, cues from my colleagues, and great ideas from other organizations. For me, it’s important to steep myself in all of these things and use what I learn to be effective in addressing our organizational vision and mission, communicate with our many stakeholders, and advocate for what I feel is best for our organization.

Second, leadership means to be inspired and be inspiring. I’m a big online and traditional print reader, conference goer, webinar attender, and appreciator of art and design. I am inspired by what I learn and sometimes in the unlikeliest of places and try to inspire others by bringing new ways of thinking, doing, and addressing the needs of our organization to those I work with.

Third, leadership means sometimes generating new ideas and making decisions that make some folks uncomfortable. As a leader I’ve learned to be okay with occasionally being unpopular and keeping my eyes on the big picture of the mission and goals of our  organization.

Forth, leadership means knowing when to back away. Sometimes it’s important to pull back and wait to move an initiative forward when the timing doesn’t feel right or the consensus isn’t there.

Fifth, leadership means admitting when you’re wrong or something’s not working. I’m an advocate of the “rip off the Band-Aid” approach when it comes to these situations.
In your opinion, what’s the biggest challenge facing human resources related professions and professionals today?
Simple. Not enough time to do it all.
What words of advice would you give to a college student considering a career in your field? To someone looking to transition careers?  To someone in your field that is feeling burned out or turned off?
What I do is association management in the higher education human resources and faculty development field. There aren’t a lot of advanced degree programs in the association management sector but there are in higher education administration. A great resources for learning more about association management and even becoming a Certified Association Executive (CAE) (something I’m in the process of doing myself) is the ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership, They have great online resources, webinars, courses, annual meetings, books and a fantastic community of professionals with deep experience in association management. They also have a mentoring program. I highly recommend becoming a member and taking advantage of all this organization has to offer. 

In the spring of 2000, Ms. Aebersold founded the Northern California Higher Education Recruitment Consortium (HERC) while working in the Provost’s Office at the University of California, Santa Cruz and she currently serves as Executive Director of the HERC’s central office. HERC is a non-profit consortium of over 600 colleges, universities, hospitals, research labs, government agencies, and related non- and for-profit organizations. Consortium members share a commitment to hiring the most diverse and talented faculty, staff, and executives. HERC offers jobseekers access to over 18,000 jobs at any given time.

Hiring decisions often involve two careers.
HERC provides jobseekers with the most job opportunities and unsurpassed search technology, enabling dual-career couples to find the right jobs within a commutable distance of one another.

Ms. Aebersold is recognized within the Academy as a program expert in the dual-career field and has spoken widely at professional conferences on the topic, including: the A
merican Council on Education, the College and University Professional Association- Human Resources (CUPA-HR), the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education (NCORE), and the ADVANCE Big 12 Workshop on Faculty Diversity to name a few. Ms. Aebersold was interviewed for two of the most influential research studies on dual-career issues in the Academy: Schiebinger, Henderson, and Gilmartin’s, Dual-Career Academic Couples: What Universities Need to Know, published by the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University in 2008; and Wolf-Wendel’s, The Two-Body Problem: Dual-Career Couple Hiring Practices in Higher Education, published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2003. She was also interviewed for articles on the topic which have appeared in the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, and Diverse: Issues in Higher Education and featured in a story about dual-career issues in the Academy for National Public Radio’s nationally syndicated “Marketplace” program.

Ms. Aebersold holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the
University of California, Santa Cruz and a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology from John F. Kennedy University. 

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