Reestablishing and understanding your personal brand as a new professional
March 27, 2017
I have successfully navigated my first job search as a graduate student turned new professional into a position that has helped me grow in ways that I could not have imagined, but so has every other person who works in student affairs. During this time last year, I had more phone and Skype interviews than I care to share (33 to be exact) with some phenomenal institutions that had opportunities I could easily see myself working in. Granted, as a graduate student, I would have accepted almost any job that allowed me to work with students and paid a decent salary.
I had a few really solid interviews with some promising prospects, but with my situation starting the search process (soon-to-be married with a partner in student affairs), I had to give up on some of these opportunities because my partner was able to land her position first. I will say that was not the scenario that either of us anticipated, and to be honest, I was pretty beat down by this because I had been working so hard.
Reflecting back on this time last year, I realized that because of my situation, I lost sight of who I was and the brand I offered to future employers. Don’t get me wrong, I have a good job that allows me to work with students, but because of my geographical limitations, I applied for almost any job that would consider me. Now, eight months into my position, I have had some time to reflect on my experience as a professional and devote time to reestablishing and understanding my professional brand. After reflecting, I have some tips and thoughts about how to maintain who you are and the brand you offer.
Know yourself. Why did you decide to pursue a degree in student affairs? How did you get to where you are today? What motivates you? Out of the hundreds of other opportunities, why this field? A common story we share with our colleagues is how we got into student affairs, but there is more to that question. Take the time to really think deeply and analyze within yourself what truly motivated you to go into this field? On the surface level, it is to help students succeed, but what else? During my first year in my role, I had to hone in why I do the things that I do, and I realized that my passions don’t align with the typical student affairs professional. I enjoy working with other professionals who can help out students such as employers and faculty, and that’s great. I have begun to understand that I don’t have to be that direct impact on students, but I can do this in other ways.
Know what your limitations are. Thinking back to this, I knew exactly the types of positions, institution size (small or regional), and geographic location (southeast) that I wanted to be in. My goal was to work in residence life. I wanted to work at a mid-sized regional institution or something smaller. My partner and I wanted to move to the Southeast for a few years before moving back to the Midwest. Here is what happened: I realized that I was not meant to work in residence life; therefore, my during my residence life interviews, my demeanor in my interviewing style changed, because I wasn’t genuine and actually turned people off to being interested in me. We moved to the Southeast, but I started a position working at a large institution in a position outside of my desired functional area. I enjoy my job, but I have learned that understanding what motivates you is one of the most crucial pieces in the job search that we may ignore. I learned that if you are in the middle of your search, and you are in a position where you might need to sacrifice a few of your requirements, make sure that these are the things that are not most important to you in a new position.
Know where you want to improve yourself. As you begin interviewing, you see themes that arise in your interviews. You have certain qualities that set you apart from others and strengths that you know help students. What we don’t necessarily take into account sometimes is identifying where we struggle. Typically we view them as weaknesses, but I see these as areas for opportunity to grow. Find a position that will challenge you to grow professionally and communicate this during interviews. This shows our colleagues that we have really thought about how these positions will develop us into the professionals we believe we can be. As a developmentally focused profession, we also need to recognize this in ourselves.
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Alex Blauvelt is currently a consultant at the University of South Carolina focused on promoting integrative and experiential learning to students on campus. He also serves on the NASPA New Professionals and Graduate Students Knowledge Community (NPGS KC) Leadership Team. Alex can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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