Love of one’s job is something many seek in higher education, if the recent #sachat discussion on the subject was any indication. There are many reasons for this according to the chat’s feedback, ranging from bringing joy into other people’s lives to vindication that one is on the right path in life. As someone new in higher education this goal of job love sounds excellent, but a thought came to mind. What if, while job hunting, you become infatuated with the prospect of a job and not actually in love with it? Think about it — you go through all the effort, the regional or national job exchange, the on-campus interviews, the follow-up interviews and you take the job. Then, it all falls apart. That’s a very pragmatic scare and I was sure I wasn’t the only to have thought of it as a budding professional in the field.
So, I asked two experienced professionals about it — Gavin Henning and Kimberly White. Their answers provided a wide range of useful advice to reflect on from record checking to accidental tunnel-vision.
Gavin Henning is president of the ACPA – College Student Educators International as well as the director of New England College’s master and doctorate programs in higher education administration. The situation of infatuation while job hunting didn’t sound all that out of place to him.
“This happens to many job searchers,” explained Henning. “They immediately fall in love with ‘everything’ about it. Maybe it is the perfect job or maybe it just ‘seems’ like the perfect job on the surface. Inside, not so much. In my experiences the biggest factor in job success and satisfaction is fit. The same thing happens with clothing. A top, pants, or suit looks perfect on the rack or shelf, but when you try it on it may be too tight, too lose, feel prickly. Sometimes almost everything feels good but the sleeves or the pant legs. How do you make the decision if a job is the right fit?”
Fit’s the right word. And it’s a two-way street, I reflected. The university, after all, is trying to find the best person to fit it and like young love you both are likely putting your best foot forward.
Henning suggested several tips. To protect yourself from making the wrong decision, based on emotions and snap judgments consider these issues and questions to ask,” he noted, advising:
- Do an internet search for the college and see what is out there. Look for patterns of negative issues such Title IX accusations, discrimination charges, for example.
- Ask everyone you meet what they like about working there and what they don’t like.
- Also, ask them what they would change about their job or institution.
- Ask about the values – as a follow-up ask if these are seen in action and not just posted on a webpage. Ask for concrete examples of those values being portrayed.
- Ask people who are supervised by your potential supervisor how they like working for the person. Ask for concrete examples, not abstractions.
- Do an internet search on your supervisor. The supervisor is Googling you, too.
- Observe everything – are office doors open, are students around, do people bolt out of work at 5 p.m., how do people interact with each other? All of these can give signs about the work environment.
“Like clothes, sometimes a job can be altered. Sometimes it can’t,” he explained. “Ask about that. Sometimes a job can be altered slightly for a better fit. A job doesn’t have be a perfect fit. It doesn’t have to be tailored, but it does have to feel comfortable. You will be wearing that job for at least eight hours a day, five days a week – maybe more.”
Also, I would add to Henning’s observations that your supervisor isn’t guaranteed to be a mentor — they are exactly what they are suppose to be, your boss. If you find a mentor in your supervisor, and they’re okay with it, that’s fine, but if not I recommend finding your own mentors outside of your workplace. NASPA, ACPA and other higher education organizations, for example, have mentorship programs for professionals of various levels.
The second expert I asked, Kimberly White, is best known to me for her constant, digital contributions to the higher education community. These range from her blog “Leadership Development & Life In The Yellowhammer State,” to writing for SAC, to being a guest on several higher ed podcasts as well as being an avid tweeter on #sachat. An Internship Coordinator for the rise3 Initiative at Birmingham-Southern College, she shared some advice involving how to job hunt — in part reflecting on past experiences.
“So, how do you know if the job you’re applying for is the one? It’s so easy to get caught up in the highlights of a job description, romanticize the day-to-day of the position and convince ourselves that this position and this school are it,” explained White. “I did this a lot in my first full-time search, but upon further reflection realized that a lot of my excitement about specific positions was laser-focused on one or two aspects of the job.”
She stressed focus on the daily events, saying about jobs in students affairs that “there’s more to it than the one major project or program that the person in this position is responsible for. I challenge you, when you begin to get excited about a specific full-time job in student affairs, think about the daily life of this position. Think about the hardest aspects of the job. Think about what a bad day might look like. Think about the hard decisions that you might need to make. Reflect on what will leave you feeling engaged and fulfilled when times get busy.”
“Do you still love the job?” she asked. “Then, go for it.”
White, like Henning, stresses looking at perspectives from a practical view and not a romantic one. Her day-to-day takeaway, to me, was very important. If you don’t feel like you fit, or at least mostly fit, into the place you are, I could easily imagine obstacles becoming unbearable.
What I took away from these experts, and I hope you do as well, is sound advice that can summed up with one word — pacing. Don’t rush in; use your eyes and critical mind, not daydreams, to picture what it would be like to work at that location and in that environment with the work and supervisor(s) it assigns. While it can’t guarantee happiness, it can give you awareness so that you know ahead of time what you’re committing to, like any relationship.