Reflections from graduate students and their job search process

PJ Martinez, New Professional and Graduate Student KC Representative

May 10, 2019

Four years ago, I graduated with my Master’s from the University of Nebraska with a degree in Educational Administration. Those two years were by far the most challenging and rewarding years of my life. Of course, during the last two months of completion, so many thoughts and questions crowded my mind. “Is my thesis good enough? Are all of my final assignments submitted? Did my assistantship prepare for me the work I may do the rest of my life? Wait, I don’t even have a job! What am I going to do next? Thinking back to your own personal experience, did those thoughts ever cross your mind. If not, then I applause you and would like to know how you did this. For those of you who this rings true, trust me you are not alone, and I hope this blog helps validate the feelings that are causing you stress and hopefully insight into the fact that you are not alone.

While writing the blog, I thought it would be best to go straight to the individuals who are experiencing these exact thoughts and emotions. What better participants to have than some of the graduate assistants in my office, all standout students who are excellent professionals (wink wink to the colleagues needing to fill roles). They are currently in the job search process and as a new professional in the field, I have the opportunity to assist them along the way. They are the reason as to why this blog came to fruition. It allowed me to reflect on my own personal experience and how new professionals during my time served as resources and guidance during my job search process. I thought it would be fitting to highlight their experience (as they are both different) and validate the feelings other graduate students may have while being in the same situation. Here are the questions and their responses:

What has your first job search process looked like?

Participant #1:

My job search process felt like it was different than everyone else’s. In HIED, people often say that nation-wide searches are the only way to go. That you cannot expect to find a job you love and also be bound to a location. You also hear that working in housing is almost inevitable. Well. I am both location bound and not willing to work in housing. I’m happily location bound to my current institution, as I share a house with my partner, who is finishing up his grad degree. We have no intention of leaving Northwest Arkansas anytime soon.

Going against this common narrative was scary. Is scary. I’m graduating in 16 days and I honestly have no idea what my next step will look like. Other classmates are searching general higher ed job sites and applying to dozens of jobs everywhere. I’m checking three times a day.

Granted, I knew my restrictions would be in place when I started my program. I’ve been intentional during my time in my program to reach out and get connections in every functional area and department I can.

I still don’t know what’s next for me. But I do know that because of my intentional work throughout campus, I have a ton of people on my team. It’s just a matter of time before I land something.

Participant #2:

The best word I could use to describe my job search is a little spotty. I began applying to jobs in February, and to be quite frank I really had not applied to many. However, I did get an interview and even made it through as a finalist, which had me feeling pretty confident in the process (which is funny to think about now). I did not receive that job, which I was actually thankful for, it did not feel like the right fit. After that interview process, I had a dry spell if you will. It was a period of time where I did not have a lot of interviews. One did come along eventually (in early March), and I was really looking forward to it. It is safe to say it I felt prepared and confident, but the interview did not go well (at all). After that, I had another month where I applied for quite a few jobs and hadn’t heard anything, which was frustrating because internally I felt that I should be constantly having interviews and be closer to having a job. Especially since I had applied to 38 jobs at that point and only had one interview. Fast forward to today. I had one final round interview, and I have an on campus coming up. Although I am grateful for interviews and overall happy with the institutions, I am not as confident as I was when I first got all these interviews. Final interviews mean it is my last chance to sell myself and find if that institution is the right fit. That in its self is enough to stress me out. Plus, the time commitment of working 20 hours a week for my graduate assistantship (which has been busy these past two weeks) and putting in 10 hours a week for my internship, then factoring in the time to prepare for interviews and participate in them has proven to be a challenge. Overall, my feelings and thoughts on the interview process is that nothing is the same and no institution, even if you are applied for similar positions, goes by one timeline and there is no way to know how an interview will go no matter how prepare you are.

Has advice from new professionals in the field helped you in the process?

Participant #1:

Yes! I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to be supervised by a newer professional. I’m in an office with mostly professionals that have been in the field for a long time. Their advice is really helpful, as someone who is seeking a job at this university. They can help me know how to navigate institutional norms and what politics I may need to be aware of. Having a new professional to talk to helps me feel more comfortable challenging those norms. He also has been through the job search process more recently, and has more insight on what questions are being asked and what is trendy in the field. He has materials from his recent searches that have been super helpful for me as I find my own voice within job applications. I think it’s important to have both perspectives.

Participant #2:

Quite honestly, I have only spoken with a couple of people about the job search process and the steps I have to take during interviews. One of them was a new professional and it did help a great deal. However, I truly believe it depends on the person/professional. I am trying to move across the country and have worked in a variety of functional areas, so reaching out to new professionals that also have that experience was important for me.

What are some things worth highlighting for the job search process?

Participant #1:

ASK. FOR. HELP. There’s no shame in getting as many eyes on an application as you can before you hit submit. Also, take as much time as you can on your applications. Since I check our institution’s job page multiple times a day, I often see postings as soon as they go up. For the three applications I’ve submitted so far, I’ve taken the full application period to create my application materials and get them reviewed and revised. Not only does it make sure you put your best work out there, but the waiting period feels a little bit shorter than it would have if you had hit submit a week prior to the close date! Also, PRACTICE YOUR PRESENTATIONS. Do a full run through with a friend or supervisor or mentor or all three!

Ask your supervisor how you can sit on a search committee. I was lucky enough to sit on the search committee for my current supervisor during my second year in my grad assistantship! Being on the interviewer side is, admittedly, a little bit scary. It’s hard not to get intimidated by the deliberations. I had a little voice in my head say “See? That will be YOU SOON!” when the committee tossed an application without offering an interview. But it is so valuable to see what people notice and don’t notice. What stands out in resumes and what is perceived as pretentious. Watching others interview and do presentations is one of the best ways to prepare yourself for your future search.

Okay, last one. I meticulously prepared for my first “big girl” interview. I spent hours talking to myself and with my supervisor practicing answers to questions. I felt as if there was nothing more I could prepare. Then, I got in, sat down, and the first question was: “So, tell us about yourself.” I froze. That is probably the ONLY question I didn’t anticipate and practice over and over in the shower and in the car and in my journal. I flopped what should be the easiest question. Please practice talking about yourself. And don’t end any answer with “um…so yeah.”

Participant #2:

It is going to be stressful and confusing at time, and I truly believe that is normal. Institutions are not good with contacting you in a timely manner, and that is also normal. It is important to go in with a realistic set of expectations. That includes you knowing that is also an interview with them and you need to find an institution, a culture, and a job that fits what you are looking for. It might not be the dream job, but as long as you feel comfortable in the people you are working with and it meets the basic needs you have. Also, there is no set timeline for when anything will or should happen. I have gotten calls and e-mails about interviews days after I have applied and an entire month. I would just encourage people to consistently keep applying for jobs even when you are getting interviews.

I learned two things throughout this small interview process.

  1. The feelings I experienced towards the end of graduate school were very similar to my participants, and I would assume similar to other graduate students across the board. I have learned that for most students, the higher education job search process is not easy and that there are/will be times of disappointment. I think it’s appropriate to say that the institution and the people we meet there can serve as the community that helps along the way.
  2. As new professionals, we get the wonderful opportunity to assist our supervisees or other graduate students throughout their job search process. We get the chance to walk alongside them as they reflect on the yes’s and the no’s knowing that we were in that situation not too long ago. We get to reflect and learn from our own lived experiences all while using these lessons as preparation for the next big step. It’s exciting and rewarding, but also a good opportunity for our own personal growth.

For new professionals, I hope this blog serves as a reminder to check-in on our graduate students and let them know that we are here for them. While being a part of NASPA and NASPA IV-W, I have seen the commitment to making sure graduate students and new professionals get the opportunity to form connections and to be heard. From intentional mentor/mentee pairings to coffee with the many members of the group while providing presentations focused on NPGS, I would have to say that IV-W has made an effort in making sure that feelings this group is served. I hope that we can keep the conversation going in Fargo! See you there! 

If you are interested in wanting to join the IV-W NPGS KC please fill out this form:  NPGS Interest Form and follow us on Facebook at @IVWNPGS.

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