How to Land Campus Emergency Management Jobs

Properly crafted cover letters and resumes help get your foot in the door.

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I recently had the opportunity to hire an emergency management (EM) specialist and thought I would share some of my experiences in hiring under a stressed job market.

An EM colleague assisting me with the candidate interviews commented to me, that in 10 years of participating in EM hiring interviews, this candidate pool was the best she had ever seen. Eighteen months ago, few qualified applicants were applying. Today, applications are plentiful.

Several researched-based career sites rate emergency management jobs in the higher education, civic and public safety fields as one of the “top 7” emerging job trends over the next several years.  U.S News & World Report rates emergency management as one of the 50 best careers for 2010.

For those seeking a job in this emerging field, candidates need to be competitive, especially in a higher education setting.

Applications Must Be Detailed, Concise
I posted the position nationally, and over 60 applicants applied. One of the first challenges I had was reviewing and rating the applications, resumes and cover letters. I used a scoring matrix that evaluated education, previous training in incident management and a myriad of online EM courses, experience in response, recovery, mitigation (grants), writing plans (preparedness) and past/current affiliations with an EM program.

Fifteen applicants made the initial cut for further review. Of the 15, eight were invited to oral interviews, and I held two online “Skype” interviews (out of state), a new experience for me. The majority of candidates had an undergraduate degree. Many had experience or internships in local EM program offices.

Of the candidates that made it through the initial screening review, one of the first elements I looked for was applications that were detailed, concise, and outlined the candidate’s overall experience. They presented themselves well and stood out. The ones that didn’t were moved to a rejection pile. Many candidates had resumes that were three or more pages long. I found that the candidates with well-prepared two- or three-page resumes did the best overall.

Proofread Your Resume Carefully
I was surprised to find a good number of the applications had poor grammar, spelling and punctuation errors in the resumes and cover letters. These mistakes moved otherwise good applications into the rejection pile (because they indicated the applicant didn’t pay attention to detail). I cannot emphasize the need to have an application and supplemental materials proofread prior to submission or prepared by a professional resume building or counseling service. Attention to detail is part of the basic job duties.  If a candidate can’t take the time to present an error-free resume, it isn’t worth the recruiter’s time to interview them. Quality counts!

In reviewing cover letters, the ones that stood out as excellent and engaging made it through the review. I examined how the candidate concisely outlined his or her accomplishments, responsibilities and experiences that described an exceptional entry-level candidate: How did the candidate prepare for this opportunity? What value does the candidate offer the organization? The good candidates qualified their statements, “I am the person you are looking for because…” rather than unqualified statements such as “I am the person you are looking for.”

I examined how the candidates marketed their personal skills. The candidates that were successful were able to quickly capture my attention, providing something tangible that moved them into the finalist pool. The best cover letters stood out among the competition and drew me to their resume. The good resumes captured a skill set that aligned strongly with emergency management. Many resumes listed job experience, but they did not strongly convey the experiences or skills the candidates could actually bring to the table. Many were just a compilation of jobs, dates, and basic experience - very average and hardly compelling. 

Explain How Your Skills are Transferable

In today’s job market, candidates are competing against people with many years of experience, training, and education. Many people have been recently laid off, so the talent and competition for entry-level jobs in this field is very strong. The EM has a very unique skill set. Did the candidate fully realize how the job worked on a day-to-day basis? With the limited time and space available, why not take the effort to make yourself stand out?

Many of the candidates did not fully articulate their skill sets by generalizing the transferable skills they possessed that could have been applied to the position they were seeking. Many had skills in sales, marketing, customer service, networking, etc. in their cover letter or resumes, yet failed to align these talents with emergency management. Two years as a sales associate equals two years of customer relations, heavy public contact, marketing, processing customer care issues and more. Doesn’t that sound better than just two years of sales experience?

Resume Embellishment Can Hurt You
I encourage those seeking jobs as higher education emergency managers to focus on making their skills stand out in their applications, resumes and cover letters, but don’t embellish or provide misleading information. Make sure the resume and cover letter are accurate, concise and clear. In today’s market, it may only get a casual glance; does your documentation make you stand out?

My new EM specialist is now on board: two years experience in an EM setting, EOC experience, two degrees, and an Associate Emergency Management (AEM) credential, I got the right person for the job.

In my next article, I will outline the AEM and CEM credentials, two of the best national certifications issued by the largest emergency management association in the world.  These credentials are emerging as the newest hiring standards nationwide.


David Burns
With more than 30 years experience, David is a Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) currently administering the emergency management program at Santa Clara University in the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area's Silicon Valley. David managed the UCLA Office of Emergency Management for seven years and pioneered the development of the campus' award-winning "BruinAlert" system. David championed development of emergency plans, policies and procedures in the aftermath of Virginia Tech in 2007 and consults higher education institutions on emergency management issues. David is a subject matter expert in mass casualty incident management, emergency notification systems, comprehensive plan development, emergency organization, EOC design and operations, crisis communications, threat and vulnerability assessment, disaster recovery, grant administration and auditing. In 2009, David and other campus emergency managers provided consult in the development of the first incident management course developed by FEMA/EMI specifically for higher education (IS-100HE, Introduction to the Incident Command System (ICS) for Higher Education). Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.
Contact David Burns: burns.gsmblog@gmail.com
View More by David Burns
Emergency Management, Officer Recruitment

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