Episode 147 is live! This week, we talk with Dr. Shirley Raines in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
Dr. Raines is a speaker, author, and consultant. She was the first woman President of the University of Memphis, and successfully served for 12 years. Dr. Raines began her career as a preschool teacher before becoming a Head Start Director, a founder of a community child center, a teacher educator, a department chair, a dean, a vice-chancellor and then The University of Memphis President. Dr. Raines is the author of 17 books on children’s literature, literacy, creativity and curriculum development.
On today’s episode, Dr. Raines shares:
- How to succeed at our job search when we’re different than the competition
- How to make major career change, and reinvent yourself
- How to take on a job that covers skills outside of your area of expertise
- How parents can best help their adult children job search
- And, Dr. Raines answers your listener questions!
Thanks to everyone for listening! And, thank you to those who sent me questions. You can send your questions to Angela@CopelandCoaching.com. You can also send me questions via Twitter. I’m @CopelandCoach. And, on Facebook, I am Copeland Coaching.
Don’t forget to help me out. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts and leave me a review!
Copeland Coaching Podcast | Episode 147 | Career Reinvention – Dr. Shirley Raines, University of Memphis
Airdate: October 17, 2017
ANGELA COPELAND: Welcome to the Copeland Coaching podcast. I’m your host, Angela Copeland. On the phone with me today, I have Dr. Shirley Raines in Oakridge, Tennessee. Dr. Raines is a speaker, author, and consultant. She was the first woman president at the University of Memphis, where she successfully served for 12 years. Dr. Raines began her career as a preschool teacher before becoming a Head Start director, a founder of a community child center, a teacher educator, a department chair, a dean, a vice chancellor, and then the University of Memphis President. Dr. Raines is the author of 17 books on children’s literature, literacy, creativity, and curriculum development. Shirley, thank you for joining me today.
SHIRLEY RAINES: I’m excited to join you and to know that I am interacting and will be interacting with some of your listeners through the questions they’ve submitted.
ANGELA COPELAND: Yes, as I mentioned before we got started, people are so excited about this interview today that I got an overwhelming number of questions. I’ve cut it back to three. At the end, hopefully we’ll have a chance to cover them, but everyone was so excited to hear that we’d be chatting.
SHIRLEY RAINES: Great.
ANGELA COPELAND: Well, you know, when I look back on your career, it’s been so impressive, and one of the themes that really stuck out for me was being the first person to do something, and it seemed like you were very often the first person, including as I mentioned the first woman president at the University of Memphis. And I’m just wondering if we are job seeking and we feel different, you know, maybe we’re the only woman or maybe we’re different in some other way, what advice would you have for us and how can we succeed when we are different.
SHIRLEY RAINES: It’s really critical to go ahead and try, declare yourself as wanting that position, and make a match between what the position requires and what your knowledge and qualifications are, and then go for it. If we continue to wait for people to tap us on the shoulder to take a position, then we may be waiting for a long time. I had that experience. I was a department chair in three different universities, but I didn’t apply to be a department chair. I waited until someone said, why don’t you do that? But eventually when you want a job, you have to say, yes I want that job, and we as women often wait for someone to say you’d be good at that. But you have to look at yourself and say, would I be good at that?
ANGELA COPELAND: Oh that’s interesting. What made you kind of change your own thought process between when you were kind of waiting to be tapped and when you decided to sort of tap yourself, so to speak.
SHIRLEY RAINES: Well I didn’t realize at first that I was waiting to be tapped. It was only after two experiences, one where I was the youngest faculty member and I was asked to chair a department, and the other when I was asked to chair a department that was undertaking a very different reorganization that involved several [[INAUDIBLE]]. So I began to say, what is it about myself that they think I could do a good job? And frankly, in the first instance, it was because everybody else had turned them down.
ANGELA COPELAND: Oh no!
SHIRLEY RAINES: So sometimes it is taking that difficult job that it seems like nobody else wants, but you have something special. Either people trust your or you’re a good communicator, but they’ve found something about you that says you could be good at this. So after I’d been a department chair twice, I eventually said, you know, maybe I’ll apply for the next job, and that’s what happened. So look at what you know, what you want to do, but be willing to declare yourself.
ANGELA COPELAND: Oh, that’s great. So is that the main way that you declared yourself, by just applying for the job and putting your hat in the ring?
SHIRLEY RAINES: Yes. After two times of being tapped for the position, then the third time, at another location with a much more ambitious set of responsibilities, I decided to declare myself.
ANGELA COPELAND: I like that. It’s so straightforward. It doesn’t sound like it was that complicated, but it was more just recognizing in yourself what you wanted to do.
SHIRLEY RAINES: Well I think it’s complicating when you look at becoming self-aware. That’s the complicated part. Then once you are self-aware of your talent, your skills, what you bring with your background, then you have to declare yourself. But some self-analysis goes along way, and that’s why a good career coach could be a great asset.
ANGELA COPELAND: Well, that’s a really good point, and as we kind of talk about your career background, another theme that really popped out for me was major career change. I mean, even in the introduction, I mentioned the number of different types of roles you had as you kind of reinvented yourself over and over, and I’m curious what you learned from your own career reinvention that you feel is helpful for job seekers who are looking to reinvent themselves.
SHIRLEY RAINES: Well, one of the first things you may find interesting is that I had to reinvent myself because I needed to make more money. I was divorced and had a young son, and a preschool teacher’s salary was not going to get us what we needed as a family, for the two of us. So I looked for a position in the same field that paid more money. And I think there are a lot of people out there who are like that. They may love their present job, and I loved every job I did, but they need more money, and so you have to look at what is the next step up, and what does it require. Now that wasn’t the case for all the steps. I was remarried and very happily remarried and supported in my career by my husband. It was not true at that point, but some of the earlier changes were made because frankly I needed to make more money. Many people in education do, and other careers as well.
ANGELA COPELAND: I do think that really drives a lot of our desire for change, you know, if we’ve found ourselves in an uncomfortable situation.
SHIRLEY RAINES: I think the other part that is involved in career reinvention is simply a thirst to know more and learn more. That thirst to learn more after I became a Head Start director, it was to learn more about child growth and development and to learn more about the strength of people who come from poor backgrounds and to help teachers to understand and not [[INAUDIBLE]] their children just because they’re poor. But there are sometimes motivating factors that you just want to learn more, know more, and then when you know more, sometimes the thing one has to realize is, in order to do more with what you’ve learned, you need a different position, and so that became a driver for me. But I have to say, my career, I never imagined becoming a university president or a Head Start director or a teacher-educator. I think my life unfolded, and many people’s do, and it evolved over time, my thirst to know more, my desire to do more was a natural evolution of being someone who was a learner but also just trying to seize opportunities that came along. So I must say I was not a long-term planner, except for a few times, when I decided to do a doctorate, when I decided to move to different parts of the country to pursue my goals, but had they not worked out, I would have been content where I was because each position—I’m very fortunate—each position was very meaningful in my life.
ANGELA COPELAND: I think you make a really good point. You know, I speak with job seekers very often who feel discouraged because they look around them and they assume that their friends have a grand career plan that’s been planned from the beginning and they feel like they’re the only ones that things are just kind of evolving for over time, but I don’t think it’s that unusual actually. I think when you look back, it makes perfect sense to me how a career could have evolved. But we don’t always know in the beginning what the end will look like, I guess.
SHIRLEY RAINES: No. No. And I think there are some people who know at a very early age. Maybe they pursue a medical degree, or whatever. But even with those people, there’s a huge length of time in their education, they may not know that they’re going to evolve from private practice to hospitals to managing a health care system. There are evolutions that happen that seem right for us at the time until we are what we’ve learned and frankly what society has to offer for us.
ANGELA COPELAND: Oh, that’s so true, because timing and society, kind of what’s available at that given moment in history makes such a big difference too.
SHIRLEY RAINES: Right. Don’t wait for the perfect job. Take one and do it extremely well, because that’s what opens the door to the next one.
ANGELA COPELAND: Absolutely. And you also mentioned sort of lifelong learning and I think paying attention to where you have that interest and where you are interested to learn more. I think that’s really helpful as well.
SHIRLEY RAINES: Yes. Absolutely.
ANGELA COPELAND: Well, so as I was kind of reviewing your history in more detail, I realized, and it’s obvious I guess, but when you were a university president, your responsibilities were gigantic. I mean, it encompassed things like finance, marketing, communications, student affairs, I mean, all these different departments—
SHIRLEY RAINES: Academic affairs, athletics, buildings, facilities, yes, all those things.
ANGELA COPELAND: Right, right, and when I talk to job seekers, one of the things that often scares them from applying to a job is they say, I don’t know about this particular part of the job. And I have to think that when you started as university president, you may not have had experience in all of those areas.
SHIRLEY RAINES: No, I did not. What I did have was I had viewed other people who had done that job. I was close enough to the president of the University of Kentucky and the vice chancellor there that I had seen them work in these areas, and so I knew what the responsibilities were. But I also knew that there were gaps in what I needed to learn, but also that no one knows everything about these very all-encompassing jobs, and you depend on the people you appoint as vice presidents or directors to have the depth of knowledge that you may lack. However you do need to know something about all the areas so that you’re not totally naive in those various areas. For instance, I tell the story in this book that I’m writing about my leadership along my career path, and it was, what do people think you won’t know something about? For instance, people would often ask me, the woman in the search about, did I know anything about athletics? Well, I was married to an athlete and I formerly had been married to an athlete and I had been very involved in athletics all my life, but they assume if you’re a woman you don’t know about athletics. So I could learn more and to convince them that I knew more. And the other thing that they ask you about a lot was finance and business. Well, I had grown up on a farm where everybody’s budget means everything, and directed programs, federal programs, and started an independent childcare center, and while the finance and business operations grow larger with every job change, the reality is you know the basics, but I decided to steep myself in the university’s budget and actually during the interview process requested a copy of the university budget, and I was the only one who did. And one of the things that helped me there was, by studying the budget, I could see the university’s priorities and sources of funding and look at it from a variety of ways, and I got help from the University of Kentucky by asking them some questions that related to budgets. So you have to figure out two things: one, what you really don’t know anything about, and two, what you think people will be worried that you don’t know enough about, and find out more information, what the priorities are, what the attention is, the attentional problems that are needed to be solved at that point in time in that particular area.
ANGELA COPELAND: Oh, I really like that. I think you make such a good point about what do other people worry about you, because you know, when you’re getting hired it’s very much about perceptions. And so you’re kind of addressing that perception. And I think those worries come up even more when you’re the person who is different. So it’s very smart. It’s a really, really smart strategy. Well so, if we are job searching, and we’re looking at jobs that maybe stretch our skill set or maybe are outside of our comfort zone, what advice would you have for us in terms of how to pursue those opportunities? Like, should we apply to something if we don’t meet every requirement? Based on your experience, what would you recommend?
SHIRLEY RAINES: I think you do apply if you meet most of the requirements and if you can show in your documents or in your interview that you’re gaining experience in the other area or areas, so that obviously you’re going to be evaluated on whether you’re a match or not, so you’ll get pluses all along the way because you’re a good match, but in an area that may be very important in the job that you don’t know, you need to help them understand how you’re learning that area, and that will usually satisfy people. They’re interested in someone who can do the job and grow with the job. No one is going to have everything in perfect order. All jobs these days are multidimensional. So that’s my best advice, at least.
ANGELA COPELAND: I totally agree. I really think it’s better to apply and give it our best shot, especially if we think we can probably do the job, then to not even put our hat in the ring, so to speak. Well so, on a kind of a different note, I’ve noticed a trend lately that I’m guessing that you may have seen before a little bit, and that is, I’ve had a lot of parents reaching out to me and want to help their child to get an interview for a job and wants to really be involved in the child’s job search, and the child may be 25 or 35, so they’re maybe not so much a child anymore, and I know that they want to help, and I’m just curious, from your view, how can parents help their adult children to grow into the successful person that they want them to be without going maybe too far, I guess.
SHIRLEY RAINES: Well, I certainly did have that same dilemma, as people wanted me to encourage their children to go into this or that field or to apply for law school or whatever, and I would always say to them as parents, have your child call me and let’s talk, but I would not give the parents advice. So I would say to parents, it’s okay for you to reach out to someone, but back off quickly, and let the child or the young adult take the initiative, because one of the things we know is that if people aren’t willing to take the initiative, they’re probably not going to be successful in that degree or career. So these parents can encourage and if they’re determined to reach out to a career coach or a university professor, that’s fine, but immediately expect that the career coach, the university professor or administrator is going to go right back and say, have your child call me.
ANGELA COPELAND: I totally agree. I actually had two parents reach out to me last week and I had a very similar response to each one, where I said, “Hey, have your child contact me. I’d love to chat with them.” And one parent immeidately sent an introduction between me and their child, and it was very positive, and the other parent was actually very offended, and said, we choose not to talk to you because I will be the one footing the bill and I’m not interested. I understand that, but at the same time, the whole goal, right, is for the child to be self-sufficient.
SHIRLEY RAINES: Right.
ANGELA COPELAND: And if you do everything for them, I don’t think they develop their own sense of what they want to do.
SHIRLEY RAINES: That’s absolutely right, and I think there are ways in the background for parents to help, to give your name to them, to say here’s what I’ve found out about possible jobs in the area, what can I do to help you get your materials together, not do it for them, but assist in getting them together, and if they have experience themselves in those areas, to say, here’s what I think people are looking for today. Those are just good parent advice, but initiative-taking is really the young adult’s, it’s really their responsibility and it shows a lot more about whether they will be successful or not.
ANGELA COPELAND: Yeah, I totally agree, and I kind of wonder if this is a new phenomenon because I don’t remember this from 20 years ago or so.
SHIRLEY RAINES: I think it is.
ANGELA COPELAND: Okay. I was curious, because I don’t remember when I was coming out of college that my parents weren’t trying to find a job for me or my friend’s parents weren’t doing that either, so I think it’s maybe a new thing. Well, in terms of sort of steps in our career, the next step that a lot of different people I speak with pursue is they want to pursue an advanced degree, so something like an MBA, and they come and they have a lot of questions about, you know, which school they should pick, which program they should pick, and I think that they often initially feel that, for example, every MBA is the same, and when you talk to someone who is considering going to graduate school to pursue an additional degree, what advice do you have for them in terms of picking the right school or picking the right program?
SHIRLEY RAINES: Well you know I’m going to say go to the University of Memphis.
ANGELA COPELAND: Right. Of course!
SHIRLEY RAINES: But I think what they need to consider is the MBA differs, if it is an MBA, differs in different schools and there are different opportunities within those degrees. And so one is to be sure to look on the website and also talk with other people who are in that program, particularly if it’s a local program. Talk to other people to be certain that there is a good match between what the possibilities are. And counselors, graduate counselors, graduate professors, love to talk with people who may be interested in their degree, so make an appointment with someone and talk with them about the degree and understand what you’d be getting into. The other is if you’re planning to transfer and go somewhere else, or your spouse has moved somewhere else and you want to pursue a program, I would have a similar approach in that I would find out as much as possible online, but then I would get the personal touch, not just on the phone, but asking for an appointment to see a counselor and, if possible, even in a new community, find someone who is studying in that program and get the inside view.
ANGELA COPELAND: I think that’s a great point, and, you know, the thing that you mentioned about having meetings with the professors, I think that’s a new one. Even when I was applying to school, I was just beginning to realize that that was even an option, because when you’re an outsider to the school, it feels I think a little bit like you would be imposing on the professors or that they wouldn’t have time to meet with you.
SHIRLEY RAINES: They’re very eager to get new graduate students and to get the best graduate students, so for them it’s an opportunity.
ANGELA COPELAND: So would you recommend, like, if we were interested to set up a meeting with professor, that we just sort of like search online for their email address and email them, or what’s sort of the best way to do it?
SHIRLEY RAINES: Well, I would certainly do that, but what I would want you to do is do your own background work first, review the website, look at the requirements, so that you come with very specific questions you want to ask, and the other thing you need to know is quite often, professors will invite you to sit in on one of their classes, so that’s another opportunity, especially for graduate school.
ANGELA COPELAND: Oh, that’s interesting. That’s very interesting. I don’t think I did that when I applied. I’m sure it would be very helpful, though. I mean, graduate school is such a big commitment both financially and time-wise. You definitely want to research the programs. Well, as we talked about in the beginning, I solicited listener questions, and like I said, I got too many to ask, but I’ve narrowed it down here. The very first one is, what is your perspective on female leadership in higher education, and is the gap widening or closing?
SHIRLEY RAINES: Well, the gap is closing. There are many more female administrators in higher education starting at the community college level, and recently there have been more women appointed in four-year graduate universities. I feel privileged to have been the first woman president at the University of Memphis, but now even as you work at Memphis, you see a woman president at Rhodes, a woman president at [[INAUDIBLE]], and a woman president at Southwest Community College. So the gap is closing. Opportunities are rising because as women are successful leaders then it paves the way for other women to follow.
ANGELA COPELAND: That’s a really good point, and that’s great news.
SHIRLEY RAINES: Right. One of the disappointments is, there are fewer women faculty members than there are male faculty members.
ANGELA COPELAND: Oh really.
SHIRLEY RAINES: But as that changes as well, there will be more of a pool of women to choose from who have higher education experience.
ANGELA COPELAND: That’s true. That’s a very good point. I suppose the changes, it just takes time.
SHIRLEY RAINES: It takes time, but I just think women should be very encouraged that the demand and problems of supply of higher education and higher education funding are complex, and I think that people are looking for good leaders regardless of whether they are male or female, and I’m just really thrilled to see what’s happened in Memphis.
ANGELA COPELAND: Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. Well so the next listener question comes from a lady named March, and she says, I was so impressed with her partnership that she formed between the University of Memphis and the small community colleges. This program is a win-win for everyone. And I just wanted to ask why you think this type of partnership is so important between the University of Memphis and the small community colleges?
SHIRLEY RAINES: The University of Memphis and community colleges were in the same system, the Tennessee Board of Regents system at that time. They were together, and it just made sense to me that if people were going to start their academic careers at the community college level, they needed to be sure that all of the credits that they were earning at the community college level were accepted at the University of Memphis, and this actually, we started this in Memphis, but it also later was a program that the Tennessee Board of Regents adopted to go statewide, and eventually after TBR had been successful, the University of Tennessee did the same thing. So Tennessee as a state was ahead of its time, but we knew that there were a lot of people at Southwest Tennessee Community College who could be good students at the University of Memphis, and we were always looking for where we could find good students. And we also had a lot of students from Jackson State Community College and actually Dyersburg State as well. But of course being in Memphis, Southwest was critical for us. So it was to find a good pool of students but it’s also to give good opportunity and to make sure their education dollars and credits worked best for them.
ANGELA COPELAND: That’s great. That’s such a good point, and I actually when I was in high school took a few community college classes, and I remember talking about that, whether or not they would transfer, because it’s just so important when you spend the money to take the class to know that it will ultimately be able to go to your final degree.
SHIRLEY RAINES: Right. And we encouraged people to take college classes in high school, and those opportunities have broadened actually as well.
ANGELA COPELAND: Absolutely. So another listener wrote in named David, and he said, I am interested to learn more about her perspective on the traditional campus versus online education and how she sees the growth, accessibility, and employer acceptance of the latter, particularly related to working adults. So I think David is just asking to compare online versus traditional education, and whether companies are willing to accept online education or not.
SHIRLEY RAINES: Well let me talk about traditional and online, and rather than it being traditional campus versus online, what we found was that many of our traditional campus students who lived on campus or commuted to campus, often also took courses online, because they found what was most convenient for them, or was something they felt comfortable in taking online. So it was not versus one or the other. Often it was that they were doing both. And because University of Memphis has been doing online education for years, even doing partnerships with people on different continents, it was something that is expanding and I believe will continue to expand. I personally do well with some traditional on campus courses because I like seeing people’s faces, having the interactions with them before and after class and so forth, but now, with improved media, those barriers seem not to be as much of a problem as they once were. So I believe that the acceptance of online education now grows. I do think it still matters what the reputation of the university that’s delivering the online education is, and so its acceptability by employers is often related to where that credit comes from. So we know that to be true. So I would say to David and to others who are, I think that online education will continue to grow, I think accessibility will continue to happen, I think employer acceptance depends on the institution awarding the credit, and I believe working adults should pursue online education, and I like the idea frankly of, even if you’re doing online education, if you can find others in your own community who are doing that same online course and get together, that has some merit as well.
ANGELA COPELAND: Oh I totally agree, and I think it goes back to that idea of continuous learning and never planning to just stop growing your knowledge. That’s such excellent advice. Well, thank you. And I just wanted to ask you, what’s next for you? You mentioned that you’re writing a book. What’s going on in your career?
SHIRLEY RAINES: Well, I’m speaking around the country. My background academically, you know, is in early childhood education, so I continue to speak on that topic, mostly with people who are directors and leaders of their programs, and so that is where my leadership training comes in. And then I’m doing some work with higher education institutions where I may run on schedule for next month to facilitate a retreat among the highest levels of the administrators on campus and we talk about what they want to achieve and I am the facilitator for their meeting. And then I do some speaking to women’s groups just on developing their leadership qualities and abilities. So I have a video that’s in the archives in [[INAUDIBLE]], which is a very prominent leadership development group, and it’s on women in leadership roles. So I’m writing, but I’m continuing to consult and do training. My book is “From Preschool Teacher to University President: Leadership Lessons.”
ANGELA COPELAND: Oh, that’s excellent.
SHIRLEY RAINES: So I’m hoping that your listeners and others will want the book once I get it together. My difficulty is I have a lot of book and I need to edit it down. So that’s my stage at this point. But I tell a lot of good Memphis stories.
ANGELA COPELAND: Excellent. Well you have so much good expertise and experience, and I can’t wait to see the book, and I know everyone is really appreciating all this great advice today. Where can we go to learn more about you and the work that you’re doing?
SHIRLEY RAINES: Go to shirleyraines.com, which is my website, and you’ll see a few things. I also regularly write on LinkedIn, so they can seek me out on LinkedIn for information, and I’m happy to answer emails, particularly people who, because of their experiences, want me to relate to them and so if they want to contact me by email, they can write email@example.com. And I’m sure if they wrote you, they would refer them to me as well.
ANGELA COPELAND: Oh, absolutely. And I will put links to all this information in the show notes so that it’s easy to get to.
SHIRLEY RAINES: Great. Wonderful.
ANGELA COPELAND: Shirley, thank you so much. This has been so helpful and so exciting for me. I’m just really honored to have you today.
SHIRLEY RAINES: Well I’m honored to be with you, Angela, and I know that your listeners are going to benefit from your coaching and I hope that our paths will cross in real life soon.
ANGELA COPELAND: I think they will. I think they will. Well thank you again, and thanks everyone for listening, and thanks to those of you who sent me questions. You can send me your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also send me questions via Twitter. I’m @CopelandCoach, and on Facebook, I’m “Copeland Coaching.” Don’t forget to help me out. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts and leave me a review.
Author: Angela Copeland
Angela Copeland is Founder and Coach for Copeland Coaching, a great way to jump start your job search. Follow her on Twitter @CopelandCoach for tips on finding the perfect job for you.