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3 Tips for Preparing to Become a College President

By AACC Staff

Ascending to the community college presidency is quite an accomplishment. It’s also tough work. Here are a few tips for transitioning to the top spot.

This article originally appeared in AACC’s Community College Daily

What do future presidents need to know? Brenda Beckman, senior leadership consultant with the League for Innovation in the Community College, offers some advice for community college leaders who may want to become college president.

Beckman, who has served as president of two colleges, has more than two decades of experience in providing leadership for the League’s Executive Leadership Institute and 10 years as a presidential search consultant with the Association of Community College Trustees.

1. What do future presidents need to know to be successful when interviewing?

Be prepared for several rounds of interviews, first with a search advisory committee including students, full-time and adjunct faculty, student services and other staff members, administrators, one or two board members and several community representatives.

Speak slowly to the whole committee, remembering each member has different interests and levels of knowledge. Avoid abbreviations and acronyms. They may be unfamiliar to committee members.

Answer each question completely, staying focused on what was asked and illustrating the answer with examples of what has been done under your leadership, and with what results.

Give credit to others, budget your time and, above all, be yourself.

2. What are the biggest mistakes when interviewing for the presidency?

Failure to answer questions directly is a quick way to lose committee or board interest, and interviewees are inclined to speak faster than their listeners can absorb the information.

Avoid talking about what you think, as interviewing committees and boards want to know what you have actually done, and with what results.

Most interview processes include an open forum of some kind. Watch out for “what if” questions, particularly in this setting. You are not in a position to make decisions until you have all the information available. Instead, outline the process you would use to make an appropriate decision.

3. Could you offer a few quick tips for prospective community college presidents?

Make sure to discuss your intentions, the college and the area it serves, as well as the time demands of the job with your spouse, partner, children, etc., and have their understanding and support before you apply for a presidential position.

As a new president, make a thorough job of getting to know the college and the community before making major changes. Successful change will come when others have been deeply involved in the strategic planning process and feel legitimate ownership of proposed changes based on a thorough knowledge of relevant data. This supports intentional decision-making and dispels myths.

Learn as much as you possibly can about finance. Not truly understanding fundamental and often complex financial issues has been the Achilles’ heel of all too many presidents who get in trouble. You need to be able to ask really probing, informed questions of your chief financial officer.

Be open, honest and keep your ethical compass firmly in place, setting the tone for high institutional standards. If ethical standards are violated, that is a time to act swiftly.

Get to know your board, if you report to one. Understand them as individuals and invest in their development.

AACC Staff

contributed to this report.

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