In my last post, I gave somewhat of an overview of major placement conferences for candidates in Student Affairs. In this post I hope to share a few tips for all you Higher Education/Student Affairs job searchers out there who are attending a placement conference this season.
During my 15-year career in Student Affairs, I was on both sides of the interview table at placement conferences, and can offer you some perspectives that will hopefully set you at ease and help you be more confident, and more prepared.
Save your money now. These things can get expensive!
- Ask your employer if professional development funds can be spent to attend a placement conference. For many institutions, the answer will be “no,” and you shouldn’t be surprised or offended by this. It’s just where many employers draw the line in the sand. Institutions give PD money to help their employees learn new skills and enhance their skills sets, but it’s not realistic to expect your current employer to help you find a new or better job.
- Find a roommate (or two or three) to share lodging expenses. The nightly rates at convention hotels are usually pretty moderate. (For example, nightly rates at preferred hotels for this year’s ACPA convention range from $199/night for a single room to $259 a night for a quad.) And don’t forget about parking, which will probably be in the $35/$40 per night range, or taxis and shuttle service to and from the airport if you are not driving in.
- If you have your own transportation, and can find a less expensive non-conference hotel near public transit, then drive in, or take the bus, and save some money.
- Take advantage of free in-room coffee and free continental breakfasts (if your hotel has them). It’s also easier than you might think to find yourself skipping breakfasts, or unwilling to fight the teeming throngs trying to get breakfast at the same time. It’s also a good idea to bring snacks to your room, in case you are pressed for time and need to eat and run.
- Bring a water bottle and refill it when you can rather than buying drinks at hotel/convention center prices.
Have all your ducks in a row before you get there.
- Make sure your resume is impeccably written, targeted toward the positions you hope to apply for, grammatically correct, well laid-out, and easy to read. Placement centers will give you a candidate number. Make sure it is on your resume and that all pages stay together. Staples are fine at a placement center. Take a stapler and use it. When an interviewer has a huge pile of resumes and interview forms and brochures and giveaways to deal with, the last thing they want to do is spend their time searching a pile of loose papers for one errant page of your resume that got separated from the rest, because your paper clip slipped off.
- Speaking of candidate numbers, many candidates these days make personalized message to employer forms that give a brief statement of interest, and leave room for the candidate to write in the employer number and the posting number on the form. If you do make your own, consider using colored paper. It stands out. As a conference interviewer, I always liked these, as long as messages were brief and concise. They also helped me find a candidate’s packet more easily.
- Make contact ahead of time with potential employers about listings posted before the conference. Ask to pre-arrange an interview for your position of interest. Many employers pre-arrange a significant number of their interviews when possible.
- Make sure all your references have been prepped about your goals for the placement exchange, any positions you are planning to apply for, and your reasons for applying for certain types of positions.
Be on Your Best Behavior. At All Times!
- It won’t matter how you are dressed or how you interview if you make an ass out of yourself in some other way. Some do’s and don’ts:
- Come prepared for each interview
- Be friendly to the interviewers and to other candidates
- Stay positive
- Thank your interviewers for their time at the end of the interview
- Network with other candidates and encourage them in their job search
- Use the preparation table areas to organize your thoughts and your materials
- Wait a few minutes if the interviewer is running late. Since most interviews run about 30 minutes, you should feel free to go after 10 minutes. But these are very busy days and people do get off-course. If you have back-to-back interviews, let the interviewer know.
- Schedule back-to-back interviews (if you can help it). You’ll need time to get from one place to another and you will periodically need a break.
- Badmouth, make fun of, or make rude comments about an interviewer, a university, another candidate, your boss, your current employer, or basically, anyone. This means in the placement center, the hotel, the lobby bar, the McDonald’s across the street…wherever. If you need to vent or talk out frustrations, go to your hotel room and talk with your conference roommates or call a friend or family member on the phone. For everyone else, act like it’s raining daisies and nothing could be finer.
- Stay in the placement center all day (especially if you are not especially busy at some given time with interviews.) This can lead you to think too much, stress out, and get down on yourself. You will need fresh air and walking-around time. Take it.
- Flirt with your interviewer or other candidates, make inappropriate jokes or off-color comments, or go on and on and on about how many top scholars you know in the field. It’s boorish behavior and it will count against you in the eyes of many employers.
- Expect to leave the placement center with a job in hand. Most universities just don’t work that way. There are human resource guidelines to follow, and many student-services positions really like to involve students, colleagues in related departments, and upper administrators in their selection processes, and it’s unlikely that all of these parties will be represented on the interview team.
- If the placement center is part of a longer conference with professional development sessions, go to some! They are great places to network, you might learn something new that leads you to explore additional opportunities, and you will need a break from the placement center.
- If you have the option of talking about your career or some topic of interest with more experienced professionals, do it. Sometimes, these opportunities come up in sessions. Sometimes, they come up on the sidewalk, in a restaurant or at a volunteer post.
- Volunteering is a great way to get informal opportunities for networking, to learn how the conference is organized, and to be of service to other candidates.
- It’s also fun. Did I mention that you are likely to need a break from interviewing? This is one way to take a break but depending on what you volunteer for, you may end up volunteering in the placement center. Just be sure that you are doing it during an actual opening in your interview schedule!
Best of luck to everyone interviewing this season!