This post is an edited version of a similar one originally posted to my personal blog, GotDegrees.org- check it out today for more pieces like this one!
Thanks for clicking on the link to this post! At this point, you’re probably wondering why I’ve titled this post: “It’s (Not That) Complicated.” I didn’t do it just to be catchy. There is a method to my madness. I view the search process as being complicated because finding an internship or job in student affairs really can be complicated. You’re competing with hundreds of others for few positions in an increasingly global market, and institutions/organizations seeking applicants ask more of each new wave of bright-eyed, eager recruits that come across their desks. All of this happens as student loans skyrocket and schools are asked to do more with less (and prove that they need it through assessment). The changing face of the average college student requires our field to think in different ways than we ever have before.
Complicated enough for you yet? Don’t despair. I titled this post “It’s Complicated”, not “It’s Impossible” for a reason. It really is possible to find the internship or the job that you want. As someone who has found 2 great positions at very good schools and who has worked a variety of undergraduate and graduate internships in education over the years, I’m here to not only tell you that it all will work out, but to give you some tips to make the process of getting where you want to be in 6 months less complicated (thus we’re back at “Not That Complicated”- see what I did there?). This post will give you 4 tips on the application process. I’ll be back with more tips on the interview and campus visit process in a subsequent post.
***For those who are unfamiliar with the various organizations that offer summer internships for student affairs undergrads or grads, here’s a quick list that is by no means all inclusive:
- NASPA for undergrads and grads
- ACUHO-I for undergrads and grads
- NACA for undergrads and grads
- NODA for grads
- NACADA for grads
- ACUI for grads
James’ Top Four Tips to A Great Application:
1. Start by taking yourself on a first date.
You need to think of the position you want as if it were a second relationship, because it will be. Sounds crazy, right? Think about it. You’ll likely spend 6 to 8 hours in this place per day, interact with people from opening to closing, and build bonds. If you are in a real relationship, chances are you’ll probably end up spending more time at your job than you will with your partner when you work in Student Affairs (not that I encourage that because balance is critical).
In order to avoid disliking your colleagues or going crazy when you get to where you want to be, set a time to sit down, be introspective, and think about your next step. Go to your favorite place and get comfortable. You can even take a weekend trip and hang out in a hotel if you can afford it. Set aside some time to think about your current skills and what you want to gain. Where do you want to be geographically? What functional area would you like to work in? What kind of school do you want to work at? It’s important to be flexible and to have some wiggle room. Taking something that you don’t want will only make you and the folks you work with miserable. Once you’ve figured it out, it’s time to reach out and share your insights.
2. Build a Coalition of the Willing.
Studies show that people don’t get internships or jobs on good grades and experience alone. There are far too many intelligent people and far too few positions out there for that to ever happen. Successful candidates often have some connection to hiring managers or others in the department, either by knowing them personally or knowing someone who knew them. Networking is essential even if you hate it like I do.
Networking doesn’t just mean walking around a crowded room at a conference social and handing out business card after business card. It also means telling everyone you know that you’re looking. This includes supervisors past and present, professors, former colleagues, fellow grads, family members and friends both inside and outside of Student Affairs. You never know who will give you that next opportunity. Both of the 2 most recent positions I’ve had were a result of former supervisors reaching out to me; it definitely happens. Look into the internship programs listed above or sign up for job alerts on sites like HigherEdJobs, Academic360, The Chronicle of Higher Education, HERC, and InsideHigherEd Jobs as well as on the HR sites of the specific schools you’re interested in. Reach out to staff members in schools to do informational interviews, and use tools like LinkedIn to meet people and build connections early (a.k.a BEFORE the job you want gets posted, like NOW). When the time comes, you can easily reach back out to these folks and see if a position is available.
3. Clean up your virtual house.
Your digital presence is critical during the job and internship search. I participated in a Twitter chat a while ago and half of folks who were looking to hire candidates said that they check candidate’s social media pages. I suspect the other half who say that they don’t because of institutional policies may be doing it unofficially, so it’s important to make sure that you are your best self online. You can take some concrete steps as you prepare for your job search: making your pages private, untagging yourself in compromising photos, and refraining from making comments or uploading posts that could come back to bite you later (particularly if they are about previous jobs or supervisors).
Cleaning your virtual house is not just about getting rid of negative items. You should also be looking to bolster your positive presence by creating a LinkedIn page and filling it out completely, using social media to post professionally -like participating in student affairs Twitter chats or joining Facebook groups – and posting examples of previous work or writing for blogs or creating your own.
4. It’s the resume (and cover letter), stupid!
In case you didn’t catch the early 90’s political reference (since I’m assuming most people reading this were born during or after it happened), I’m not actually calling you stupid, but you will be if you don’t spend time on perfecting your resumes and cover letters. Both should obviously be free of spelling and grammar errors, be short and sweet, and be tailored to the role and school you apply to, and highlight your special skills that employers would be looking for. Typically, new professionals and graduate students should keep resumes to 1-2 pages and cover letters to 1 page.
Your cover letter should introduce you as a candidate and be a roadmap to the highlights of your resume. You get extra points if you take the time to look up the hiring manager/supervisor and address the letter to them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen “To Whom It May Concern” and rolled my eyes. Take the 5 minutes to look and find a name or address to the hiring manager or committee if you absolutely can’t find one.
These tips should give you a leg up on the competition as you apply to positions of interest. They are helpful whether you’re searching for an internship to augment your portfolio of experiences or for that first professional experience. My next post will give you a few pointers on what to do when you make it to that next step:the interview and campus visit phase. Stay tuned for more!
SA Grads or Fellow SA Pros- any additional tips you have to share? Thoughts on my list of four? Please feel free to comment below- would love to hear from you!