Your first job in student affairs is going to come with challenges for which your graduate program couldn’t prepare you. It wasn’t long ago that you excitedly told anyone who would listen about the job you just landed. Now when people ask, “How’s the new job?” you muster an unconvincing “It’s ok.” Sound familiar? Office politics, too much or too little to do, early mornings and late nights can leave anyone disenchanted. The truth is, sometimes your first job isn’t what you’d hoped it would be. But before you make a move, give these three tips a try:
State Your Interests.
Here’s a story about Chris. Chris was a freshly minted M.A. in higher education administration who joined the office in an entry level position. After a month, he announced that he was leaving because he wasn’t fulfilled by his day to day responsibilities. I thought that he was content, happy even, so this announcement took me by surprise. No one knew that he was bored out of his mind. Don’t be like Chris. Talk with your supervisor or colleagues about your interests. You may learn about upcoming projects that correspond with your professional passions.There are always working groups, committees, and research teams that need eager, fresh minds.
Ask others what they like about their jobs and working at that college. Selection is key here. Identify 2 or 3 people who are engaged with their work. Ask them what they do, how they got there, and what keeps them there. A colleague comes to mind who worked in an institutional research office. Many would find the work that she did tedious at best but she found great satisfaction in knowing that what she did was central to the school’s long term success. Learning about what motivates others can help you develop your own sense of purpose in the workplace. Plus, your conversations might yield other information, like tuition or loan forgiveness benefits, that make staying a good option for you.
Complete a Cycle.
I mentioned that Chris announced his departure in a matter of weeks, in fact, it was less than a semester. Most offices have actions performed on a regular cycle, like at the start and end of semesters. You need to live through a full cycle, an academic year in the case of my office, to understand why we do, what we do, the way we do it. Tasks that seem monotonous or a even a waste of time may not be once you see the whole picture. Right now you are living one note at a time when there’s a symphony happening. Stay long enough to see a beginning, middle, and end. Your perspective about the office and your role within it will undoubtedly change, hopefully for the better.
Early in my career, I found the pace of work to be slow. It felt like I had few opportunities to use what I learned in grad school. I worried that I wasn’t having meaningful interactions with students. I didn’t stay in that position very long. In retrospect, the work was deliberate not slow, research was used all of the time but I had to work my way up to the projects that required it, and every interaction with a student mattered, every single one. You will feel better about your role in time. But if you don’t, the experience will have shown you what you want to give and get from a job. I’ve found my place in higher education. Hang in there; you will too.
Are you new to student affairs and already thinking about making a move? Do you have advice for those in their first job? I’d love to hear about it, leave a comment below.