“Coordinator,” “Assistant Director,” “Executive Assistant.” Everyone in Student Affairs probably knows a colleague who’s title has included this kind of job title terminology (or, be honest, you’ve looked at applying for jobs with these titles). The job title and job description that you inherit upon being hired form a two-fold conundrum: on one hand, you’re probably thinking about the methods in which you’ll go about completing these duties as described, and on the other you are probably (hopefully) thinking about what job descriptions you would like to add to those listed in order to develop yourself and the workplace. So, here’s food for thought: If one of our duties to students is to make the college process as absolutely transparent as possible, why does it seem like job titles sometimes obscure our role?
I recently received an email from the Human Resources department stating that job titles were changing as part of a larger “Job Title and Compensation Project.” That’s the foundation that made me start thinking about our job titles within higher education. Frankly, I don’t think that many job titles in the working world ACTUALLY convey half of what you do as a professional, and the job titles in higher education frequently seem like a nebulous cloud of acronyms. Titles mean everything to the classification of our jobs and how we move within the work force, but at the same time these titles mean nothing. You may have a lateral position to a co-worker, but because your title isn’t the same you aren’t treated the same. The situation is mirrored with our students. The term “freshman” often holds pejorative connotations that mark an X on the hand of the first-year student walking on campus before they’ve even hit the first day of classes. If you ask a senior student, they would likely tell you that they can spot a freshman, or “freshperson” to be politically correct, from a mile away. The students combat these stereotypes and titles just as we combat our way up the totem pole of higher education. My role in admissions includes assisting high school and college students with our process, navigating their future goals, and helping them build themselves from the bottom up.
In my career, I should probably listen to my own advice, and keep these tips close to the heart.
Tip #1: Dream Big Yell this across campus to one of your students, if you must, but also internalize this notion. Sure, titles will earn you the experience that can give you an edge with your next move (which is important, don’t get me wrong); however, titles can also trap you.
Example problem: Currently, your position as a coordinator does not have any direct supervision, and you know that direct supervision is going to be a necessity in the future.
Solution: Create your own level of supervision. You may not be able to gain a direct report, but you could take on a mentoring role with a new employee, build a student club from the ground up and advise them through their struggles, or take care of the intern next door when they mention how lost they are on a project. It’s all about the baby steps.
Tip #2: Redesign Your Job Description (or dream job description) You may have a certain job title that you have currently or are aiming for, but what would be your ideal duties of that job? Combining your favorite aspects of previous positions, browsing responsibilities of those on a similar team, or having the self-insight to tell yourself that you, for example, really want more student interaction than administrative duties can go a long way in helping you determine which job might be a best fit. Partaking in these mini-mental activities could also open up possibilities for approaching those around you and proposing new extensions of duties or transitions and trades within your network. From my opinion, the job description that you see at the time of application does not have to be cage, and I choose to view it as a platform for much more.
Tip #3: Be Effective at What You Do There’s no such thing as multi-tasking. This is a pretty hot topic nowadays, and since we as student affairs professionals have a constant to-do list, it’s important to listen up. The Mayo Clinic has been a forerunner in recent conversations regarding the dual between multi-tasking v. mindfulness. Start with reading this article, and learn how to focus on the every day, the near future, and the long term in unique ways. We’re all “busy.” Take a deep breath, focus on your breathing for one minute out of your schedule, and come back refreshed and able to make the best decisions for your current job, your future job, and all the students in between.
Effective leadership has everything to do with our work as student affairs professionals, and training our mind muscles to realize that will help us grow and build our professions to exactly what we want them to be. Sure, your job title might not explicitly allow you to explore responsibilities that you’d like to have in the future; however, you can always be searching for engaging and educational opportunities to put yourself one step ahead when that magical job posting comes along. I would encourage all student affairs professionals, myself included, to think of your position not as a title, not as a trap, but an opportunity to reframe your aspirations and align them in practice. Actions really do speak louder than words (and job titles).
Image source: http://www.medixteam.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/dream-job.jpg