Perfect Match: A Step-by-Step Guide to Landing a Leadership Position in Higher Education

Looking for a job in higher education these days is not unlike online dating. Maria Thompson and Susan C. Turell’s Perfect Match provides a unique, step-by-step guide to “dating” your prospective institution effectively and landing a leadership position in higher ed.

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by Maria Thompson, Ph.D. and Susan C. Turell, Ph.D.
ISBN: 978-1-948658-23-2 | 180 pages

Searching for a New Leadership Position?

Looking for a job in higher education these days is not unlike online dating.

Each process raises excitement and requires care and forethought in how you present yourself as a candidate, stand out from the crowd, and manage the earliest steps in the possible new relationship. Maria Thompson and Susan C. Turell’s Perfect Match provides a unique, step-by-step guide to “dating” your prospective institution effectively and landing a leadership position in higher ed. You will also find in this book samples and templates for an effective cover letter, a curated CV, and an assessment of your prospective institution’s degree of commitment to equity and inclusion.


From the Authors

“We wrote Perfect Match as a comprehensive guide for those seeking a leadership position in higher education. You may have noticed that most other tips and guides are written generically. Often, guides assume a “one size fits all” approach, and sometimes ignore the needs of candidates who come from groups underrepresented in leadership. Unexamined, leadership is often defined from the perspective of those who hold identities with privilege: whiteness, maleness, straightness, able-bodiedness, and more. While the concepts and ideas in Perfect Match are applicable to everyone, we wrote this workbook with a lens to specifically support people who are underrepresented in leadership positions. Higher education needs leaders who bring expanded and more inclusive leadership styles, and who enter from different pathways—along with those who enter from more traditional ones. We include supportive ideas to assist underrepresented leaders in finding institutions that help them to thrive. From department chair and director to positions at the cabinet level, we need people new to leadership who bring inclusive perspectives. We hope this guide provides practical tips and insights on how to present yourself in the best possible light during the job search process.”



“Maria Thompson and Susan Turrell have created here a very pragmatic tool that can help higher education professionals who are thinking about next career steps. The format used provides concrete exercises and insightful questions that can help rising professionals learn more about themselves, focus on opportunities that likely will be most fruitful and rewarding, while at the same time avoiding career missteps.”
—L. Jay Lemons, President, Academic Search

“This outstanding publication serves as a literary coach and guidebook for career planning of any higher education administrator or leader. It provides a blueprint for self-assessment, goal identification, and aligning personal career aspirations with the right organizational environment for leadership success. It has been extremely helpful for me as I make my own transitions in the higher education arena.”
—S. Keith Hargrove, Ph.D., Provost, Tuskegee University

“In Perfect Match, Maria Thompson and Susan C. Turell draw on decades of experience in higher education leadership to offer welcomed, practical guidance for those seeking to navigate the sometimes turbulent waters of the academic leadership search. Utilizing the metaphor of dating to demystify a complex and sometimes vexed process, this book is a timely guide that covers topics often left out of recruitment ‘checklists’: considerations of special interest to diverse potential leaders, focus on emotional and mental health and wellness, advice on assessing the climate and culture of an institution and its community environment, to name a few. In this sense, Perfect Match presents a holistic, empowering framework, complete with case studies and reflective worksheets, that will be invaluable to assist any future academic leader to find their institutional ‘fit’ and to thrive in their important roles.”
—Dr. Katherine Clay Bassard, Professor of Africana Studies and English, former provost, Rhodes College

“In today’s rapidly changing higher education landscape, the quest for the perfect leadership role can feel like navigating the unpredictable world of online dating. Perfect Match: A Step-by-Step Guide to Landing a Leadership Position in Higher Education demystifies the higher ed job search experience and provides leaders with the ultimate playbook for finding and securing their dream position at an institution where they can thrive.”

“Drawing parallels between the online dating experience and the higher ed search process, Thompson and Turell offer a refreshingly candid and practical approach to securing your next leadership role at an institution whose values and mission resonate with yours. Offering support and key insights for historically excluded candidates, this book is designed to help all job-seeking college and university leaders—whether aspiring or established—find their best match in role and institution where their experience, talents, and expertise are recognized and appreciated.”

“This book isn’t just about swiping and matching – it’s about finding a rewarding leadership role where you can have a meaningful impact at an institution that will help you meet your career goals and unleash your potential. Through step-by-step instructions, self-reflection exercises, action items, and case studies, Perfect Match empowers readers to identify their leadership priorities, assess institutional culture compatibility, and ultimately make informed decisions about their career trajectory.”

“From crafting a compelling professional profile that captures the attention of search committees to leaving your current position and negotiating the terms of your new dream job, Thompson and Turell provide you with the tools and strategies you need to navigate the higher ed job search process with confidence and clarity. Whether you’re a seasoned administrator looking for a new challenge or a rising star eager to make your mark, Perfect Match is your trusted companion for landing the right leadership role at the right institution for you.”
—Shannon B. Lundeen, Ph.D., Vice President of Programs and Operations, HERS (Higher Education Resource Services)


About the Authors

President and CEO, Retired, Coppin State University

Maria is a career educator whose work experience spans a variety of institutional categories, including research universities, comprehensive universities, land-grant universities, urban-located, rural-located HBCUs, and PWIs. She was president and CEO of Coppin State University (CSU), Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at the State University of New York (SUNY), and Vice President for Research and Sponsored Programs at Tennessee State University. Maria earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Tennessee State University, a Master of Science degree from the Ohio State University, and a doctorate from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Former Provost, Marywood University

In higher education for 31 years, Susan brings a passion to her work for supporting people and designing and implementing effective processes. She served in leadership as a department chair, associate provost, dean, and provost. She brings those experiences, as well as her training and practice as a psychologist, to synthesize best practices and approaches in a new paradigm about what it means to be an effective leader in 21st-century higher education. A seasoned administrator who is a teacher at heart, Susan welcomes the opportunity to share her learnings with new and aspiring leaders to strengthen their leadership skills, encourage their optimism, and support their vision for new possibilities. Susan earned her Ph.D. and M.Ed. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Houston, and her B.A. in Plan II (Honors Program) from the University of Texas-Austin. She has worked at regional comprehensive universities in both large and small state systems, and at a private religious university.


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