The Job Search & Reflection: Know What You Need and Want


Author
Sonja Ardoin

Published
April 3, 2017


I shared part of my job search story with NPGS last spring, acknowledging how I’m a “Two & Out”-er. This means that I have changed jobs every two years, which also means that I have engaged in the job search process every two years as a candidate, in addition to the times I have served as a search chair or interviewer.  While I have job searched a lot and written The Strategic Guide to Shaping Your Student Affairs Career (Ardoin, 2014), I am not an expert in job searching and I doubt anyone can be.  Because, while procedurally similar, job searching is a personal process.

And when processes get personal, my dad’s repetitive advice to me as a kid—that I better learn the difference between my needs and wants—comes back to me.

But I digress …

As we enter the typical spring job search season in higher education and I work with graduate students in their transition to full-time work, I think about how we can best support folks in their job search process.  And I know that, often, one of the most helpful forms of support is not giving advice.  It is asking good questions.

  • Who are you?  How do you identify?
  • What do you care about and value?
  • Why are you choosing a career in higher education?
  • How do you want to contribute to a college, university, or educational non-profit?
  • Where do you believe your skill sets will be most utilized?
  • Where do you believe you can learn and grow the most? 

But, more than anything, I believe the job search process is about self-reflection and a process we call “finding your filters” in The Strategic Guide to Shaping Your Student Affairs Career—knowing what you need and, then, what you might want. Because let’s be clear—you do not just want any job (although sometimes life creates situations where any job will do). In an ideal world, you have preferences that align with your needs and wants.  Most of us would prefer certain kinds of jobs, in certain kinds of places, for certain amounts of money.  We may want to be near family or friends or explore a new part of the country or world.  And, most of us would prefer an opportunity and location that allow us to, well, be us. 

A colleague and friend of mine—Jesse Downs—who directs the LSU Olinde Career Center shared a job search chart with me a few years ago.  The chart prompted me to reflect on what mattered to me most in the job search process.  With my own adaptations, the chart is as follows:

Rank Order
(1 being highest need)

Factors to Consider

Must-Have
(needs)

Could Live With
(wants or compromises)

Deal Breakers
(absolute no’s)

Location
(city, state, country)

Salary & Benefits

Type of Institution/Org
(public/private; size; other classification designations; mission; values; etc.) 

Dept. or Office Attributes
(mission, values, programs, services, colleagues, etc.) 

Job Duties

Opportunities to Engage in Campus or Broader Community

Overall quality of life
(for you and/or family)

I complete this chart every time I engage in a job search or career planning process; I also use it with higher education graduate students in my professional development seminar course.  We reflect on and complete the columns on our must-haves, could live withs, and deal breakers for each factor first, then rank-ordering the factors in order of importance to us.  What we end up with is a chart that is rank-ordered by factors that we need most and gives us food for thought in each row about what we must-have, could live with, or would be a deal breaker for us. 

For example, this was part of my personal chart from my last job search in 2015:

Rank Order
(1 being highest need)

Factors to Consider

Must-Have
(needs)

Could Live With
(wants or compromises)

Deal Breakers
(absolute no’s)

#5

Location
(city, state, country)

coastal state

Want: southeast region

Compromise: any coast

Land-locked states

and “not for me states”

#4

Salary & Benefits

Something that allows me to pay my rent, bills, student loans, and some spare money to travel home to see friends & family

Want: more than I made at my current job

Compromise: something relatively equivalent to my current job but willing to take a pay cut to try out full-time faculty role

More than a $5000 pay cut

#7

Type of Institution/Org

(public/private; size; other classification designations; mission; values; etc.)

Higher Ed or Student Affairs program

Want: public institution

Compromise: private institution

#3

Dept. or Office Attributes

(mission, values, programs, services, colleagues, etc.)

program that has some direction but would allow for some ideas/creation

want: colleagues 

compromise: building program from scratch

#1

Job Duties

Teaching!! 

Time for research.

want: 4-5 classes a year 

compromise: administrative duties

more than 8 classes a year; no time for research; only admin duties

#6

Opportunities to Engage in Campus or Broader Community

Catholic churches

Alumni Orgs

want: sports teams (college or pro); large airport

compromise: smaller town/city in driving distance of mid-size airport

#2

Overall quality of life
(for you and/or family)

Place where partner can have career options 

Ability to be as much of my full self at work & in community as I want to share

want: rental that allows pets

no Target in 50 miles or more

  

Let’s keep it real.  Completing this chart is not easy.  It involves considering your needs, values, passions, and relationships, which requires critical reflection and assessment.  And, there will be some comprises to make because one job will probably only meet some of the must-haves (or needs) but not all of them … because, spoiler alert: there is no perfect job.  However, there are jobs that may be excellent matches for your needs and wants, and considering and writing down what matters to you—personally and professionally—(aka: your filters) in the job search can help you find that excellent job.

Nor is this chart static.  My #1 of job duties may drop if a need arises to be near my family or if I cannot seem to find community in that location. So, this is not a one-time reflection process.  It is something we should revisit each time we approach the job search process.  Why?  Because it is highly possible that some of our needs, wants, and deal breakers can, or will, change over time.  For example, I strongly valued direct contact/advisement with undergraduate students as part of my first few positions, but now I am okay with only occasional contact with undergraduates.  Other needs will retain throughout our careers.  For example, being in a coastal state is a must-have for me; I find that the ocean keeps me grounded and rejuvenated and I like being close enough to drive to it.

However, one ultimate must-have, or need, that always persists for me in the job search is being who I am.  In my case, I identify as a white, 30-something, Cajun, Catholic, straight, temporarily able, cisgender woman from a working class background with a middle class income who was first in her family to attend college.  And I long to be able to be me in addition to being a higher education professional.  So, I am clear that a significant need in my job searches is trying to find an environment and job that embrace me being me.

All of this reflection ultimately boils down into one overarching question in my job search processes: Who am I—as a human, as a professional—and where can I both be me and make a contribution? 

So, I ask you to consider: What is the guiding reflection question for your job search?

Do you have thoughts on this blog post? Share them with us on Facebook @NPGSKC, on Twitter @npgs_kc, or on Instagram @npgs_kc!

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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