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In our series “Jump-start Your Job Search,” BU Today brings you short interviews with BU alums who are leaders in their fields, such as banking, advertising, tech start-ups, journalism, or nonprofit organizations.

They talk about how they got to be where they are and what they’ve learned from their mistakes. They tell us what they look for when hiring and offer advice for those just embarking on a career.

This week our featured alum is Art Bettencourt (SED’81), executive director of the nonprofit New England School Development Council (NESDEC), a private educational organization that helps local school districts with management, executive searches, professional development, and more. He coordinates the council’s executive search and planning projects, and has worked for the firm since 2004.

Prior to joining NESDEC, Bettencourt first worked as a teacher, an assistant school principal, and a principal, then was a school superintendent in several local communities. He has been a lecturer at Simmons College and is active in training educators at the graduate level. He is a member of the Boston University Pre-K through 12 Educational Advisory Board. He is on the board of directors of the National School Development Council and on the editorial board of the Journal for Leadership and Instruction, a peer-reviewed international research journal for education professionals.

Bettencourt earned a bachelor’s from Salem State College, a master’s from Tufts University, and a doctorate from BU’s School of Education.

  1. BU Today: At what point did you know that you wanted to pursue a career in education?

    Bettencourt: As an undergraduate, I majored in biology, minored in education. I think I planned to be a teacher for quite some time because it was something that came naturally to me and I was comfortable in that role.

  2. How long were you in the classroom?

    About five years, and then I moved on to an assistant principalship, then principal, then I became a superintendent in Massachusetts schools for over 20 years. What I really enjoyed was helping teachers do good things in the classroom for kids. I think creating an environment where the adults can grow as teachers professionally, and kids can grow and develop is very fulfilling.

  3. What are the qualities you look for in people you hire?

    In education, you look for people who love working with young people and who are also well prepared and confident. From a personal standpoint, I look for individuals who seem to be comfortable engaging in self-reflection in order to improve and grow. When I look at folks who might be employed by my organization or an organization I’m working for, I think it’s important to be a good listener, and to understand you don’t have all the answers. I’ll look for someone who displays humility, and doesn’t have to be the smartest person in the room. They should also have the ability to communicate and nurture professional relations.

  4. What kinds of questions do you ask during an interview?

    The questions I tend to gravitate towards give me some indication of how the candidate might relate to other people, some of the ways in which they build on relationships, and their ability to work as part of a team. I might ask how they would motivate people to grow and to contribute to the overall mission of the organization.

  5. What are some common mistakes that young job candidates make?

    One mistake candidates make is not researching, in an in-depth way, the organization they are looking to be employed by. It’s very important to know who the folks are that you are hoping to work for and to know how the organization functions. Find out as much as you can about the organization so when you are in an interview, you can talk intelligently about yourself and your skills.

    The other thing is to be honest about the ways in which you work, the kind of environment that is comfortable for you, and how the organization you are looking at might help you in terms of your ongoing development.

  6. What advice would you give an employee for the first six months on the job?

    My advice with any job would be: you have to go in in learning mode. You want to contribute and take on the challenges that the organization has in store for you, but my advice would be to do a lot of listening, and find colleagues who can be helpful to you as you learn about the organization and learn how your skills and background can be advantageous to that organization.

  7. Are there mistakes you’ve made during your career, and if so, what lessons have you learned from them?

    I don’t think I could begin to count the number of mistakes I’ve made. You are bound to make mistakes, and one of the reasons, in my case, was I perhaps moved ahead not knowing all of the implications of what my decisions might be. Before making important decisions, get other people’s point of view. Get a diverse array of opinions before making decisions that can affect other people’s lives and affect the future of an organization.

  8. Who has had the greatest influence on your career—teacher, colleague, boss, family member—and what did you learn from that person?

    As clichéd as it sounds, I’m thankful for the stable home that my parents provided for my brother and me. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for them—parenting is hard—and requires a lot of thought, time, and sacrifice. My dad was a disabled veteran who had served in World War II, and while he was serving, he met my mom in Italy. My parents worked very hard and they were both good role models. They frequently talked about the importance of education. They didn’t go to college, but they had that in mind for me.

    Another influence is my wife, who has had a long and distinguished career as an educator in public schools and at the college level. We frequently have conversations about trends and issues in education. I’m always learning from her.

    I’ve also had the good fortune of working with many talented colleagues through the years, and that includes my colleagues at NESDEC. I continue to learn from people around me and I’m grateful for that.

Are you an alum who would like to be interviewed for BU Today’s “Jump-start Your Job Search” series? Email John O’Rourke at orourkej@bu.edu.

Read other stories in our “Jump-start Your Job Search” series here.

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