January 22, 2018
Part I: Preparing for the Search Process
I clearly recall my first time sitting at an interview table to chat with a prospective candidate for an entry-level student affairs position. I was in my first semester as a master’s student and at my first professional association conference; my supervisor had invited me to sit in on candidate interviews to give me insight into the process. We reviewed resumes together, he identified folks to interview, and there we sat, awaiting the first candidate conversation. I was nervous and I had nothing on the line! Now, 12 years later, I have had the opportunity to engage in the #SAPro search process as a candidate, employer, book author, and currently as a faculty member supporting graduate students.
First and foremost, I want to honor that the job search is both a privilege and a process. As someone from a working class background, I am keenly aware that it is a privilege to have the opportunity to search for a position that aligns with one’s values and goals, rather than having to take whatever job happens to be open at the moment despite the tasks, environment, or compensation. Many of us, myself included, have the opportunity to be choosy and that is a privilege. And, I know that the job search is quite the process—a roller coaster of sorts—that can be exciting and nauseating, simultaneously. There are highs and lows, twists and turns. The search can also be complex in a multitude of ways, which may limit the aforementioned privilege; someone may have to make significant compromises in their search process or take whatever offer is made in order to meet their basic needs (or those of their family).
So, let’s start with this: The job search can be both a privilege and a process and it comes with many—literal and figurative—costs, including but not limited to time, attire and appearance, and documents.
In my opinion, the most noteworthy (figurative) cost of the #SAPro search is time. The search process can feel like job in itself! Looking for open positions can be time-intensive. Not all openings are on the “umbrella” sites like HigherEdJobs.com or Chronicle Careers. Some institutions cannot pay the costs to post on these sites and, thus, you may have to visit individual institutional human resources websites for postings. Social media sites and organizational listservs should also be monitored for marketed positions. It is important to monitor for openings frequently in order to stay abreast of the opportunities that exist, particularly because some positions are only posted for 1-2 weeks before the application deadline.
Once you have found job postings that interest you, you will need to (a) conduct some initial “research” on the position and institution to determine if you are truly interested in working in that role at that place and (2) craft the documents necessary for the application. Why do research this early, you ask? Well, because you do not want to waste your time or the institution’s time if you have no knowledge about the position, institution, or location outside of the job description. Peruse the office and university website, look up information on the town or city, inquire with some folks who might have attended, worked, or lived there. Gather enough knowledge to assess if the initial “oh, this looks cool” can translate into a “this has my sustained interest.” Once you have solidified your interest, you will need to prepare your application materials. This will generally include a resume or curriculum vitae, cover letter or letter of interest, and reference list. For some roles, you may also need to supply documents such as transcripts, recommendation letters, work samples, a teaching philosophy statement, prior course evaluations, or assessment data. It can take serious time to create, review, revise, and submit these documents. You may want to give yourself at least 7-14 days to move the documents from draft to finalized materials. Then there is the pesky task of completing all of the online components of the application, which can sometimes feel like a restatement of your resume! You should consider planning 1-3 hours for each application submission.
Now, let’s assume that you are asked to interview for one of the positions to which you applied. Congratulations! And, plan to block off more time. Since you are moving on in search process, you will need to engage in some detailed background “research” on the position, institution, and location. This will serve as foundational material for assessing alignment with your own professional values and goals, your interview answers, and questions you ask the committee during various interview stages. Check out websites (again); gather information on potential colleagues; read office, divisional, and institutional strategic plans; review employee benefits; etc. It is very obvious to a committee who has done their “homework” on the position and institution and who has not. Be the former.
Finally, do not forget the time consideration of taking leave from your current role or missing coursework. Attending an on-campus interview will often require at least 1-2 days of your time so you may need to take leave and/or miss classes in order to carve out that time to visit the other campus and engage in the on-site meetings and conversations that comprise the final interview stage.
I want to start off this section by saying that you are enough. You do not and should not have to look any certain way for the search process. This includes your hair, clothing, shoes, bag, or any other part of your outward presentation of self. You do not have to have new stuff to get a job. And, let’s also acknowledge that some folks prefer to have fresh items and feel better when they do. So, do you—do what you need to in order to feel like yourself as you engage in interviews.
What I will offer if you decide to purchase items is to look for cost-effective options (for example, I buy my blazers at Target and H&M) and try to have some essentials on hand:
Costs here are really your call, ranging from $0-$100 to some ridiculous amount.
In addition to costing you time, your application materials may also cost you some cash. You may want to bring some hard copies of resumes or cover letters with you to an on-site interview experience (placement program or on-campus interview) or you may need to make additional copies during the event. In addition, you may want to possess business cards for networking and connecting purposes. This is not a requirement at all, but if you want business cards and your institution does not provide them for you, you can consider creating your own through Word templates and printing them or using online providers like Vistaprint. Depending on how many copies or cards you want, this venture will probably cost $20-$100.
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Sonja Ardoin (@SonjaArdoin) is a learner, educator, and facilitator. Currently serving as Program Director and Clinical Assistant Professor of Higher Education at Boston University, Sonja is a proud Cajun, first gen to PhD, and scholar-practitioner. She authored The Strategic Guide to Shaping Your Student Affairs Career (2014) and serves with organizations such as NASPA and LeaderShape. Sonja enjoys traveling, dancing, reading, writing, sports, laughing, and spending time with people she loves.
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