I’ve been told that I’d know when it was time to move on. And after living in residence halls for five years, I knew that I was ready to start a new chapter in my life. While I loved the institution where I worked, I was in a long-distance relationship and I wanted to live in the same zip code as my partner. So I made the decision to move thousands of miles across the country to be with him- and to secure a job once I was settled into my new home. I’m going to be honest with you: I didn’t think the job search would be difficult. I thought that if I chose to leave higher education it would be easy to return to the field. I thought it would take—at most—three to four months to land my next Student Affairs dream job. I thought wrong.
It’s been two years since I’ve left the field. Since then I’ve applied to countless jobs, said an infinite number of prayers to the job gods, shed many tears from stress and frustration, and interviewed at a variety of schools—all in a very concentrated effort to return to higher education. These are the big lessons I learned while interviewing and attempting to get back to where I once belonged.
- Practice, practice, practice! Before going to any interview, I enlisted my partner to run questions over and over with me. I wanted to make sure I had particular situations and qualities in mind to mention during the actual interview. The more I practiced, the more confident I felt, even if I was internally freaking out about the process. I recommend running a few—if not a few dozen—interview questions the night before the interview to help quell the nerves and bolster the spirit.
- Trust yourself. I interviewed at a school where everyone was friendly, but I could sense a lot of stress as I toured the offices and talked to both professionals and students. I wanted nothing more than to be working with students but I left with knots in my stomach, knowing that I’d be unhappy if I accepted that position. I declined the job—then later learned that the school laid off a large portion of their employees. If I hadn’t listened to my gut, I could have been right back to square one in my search.
- Don’t be afraid to open up your search. I had a feeling that it could be a while before I would be working on a college campus again. So I sought out opportunities that would challenge me to grow as a professional. I temped for an investment research firm and learned how to work within demanding, tight timelines; I became a more detail-oriented individual in the process. I also worked at an employment agency where I interviewed, coached and placed people in jobs. Staffing was an industry I’d always wanted to explore, so I was happy for the opportunity. While I wasn’t working in the field, I knew that the jobs I held would help me become a stronger professional. Being able to articulate the unique experiences I brought to the table gave me an edge and made me a memorable candidate.
- Take charge of your professional development. One of the great things about Student Affairs is that there is an abundance of opportunities to learn and grow while working. This is one of the things I missed most once I left and was searching. I wanted to make the most of my down-time, so I developed a professional development plan to challenge myself to grow. I read books, stayed up to date on trends and reflected with mentors. While it was a stressful time, I felt more in control because I intentionally took control of this aspect of my life during a time of many uncertainties. It also gave me direction when I was inevitably asked the question about what I’d been doing since leaving higher education.
- Try not to get too nervous about hiring timelines. True story: I applied for a job two days after it was posted online. I didn’t hear a peep from the institution until nearly two months later and didn’t interview until three weeks after that. Then I wasn’t offered the job until almost a month after that. From application to acceptance, the timeline took well over three months. Higher Ed is infamous for slow application processes, so try to just trust the process.
- Lean on people. Job searching and interviewing can be incredibly stressful and frustrating. There were days when I felt hopeless and moments when I thought I’d rocked an interview, only to learn that it didn’t go as well as I thought. I was intentional about reaching out to my network. They were my outlet to make meaning of interview experiences, cheerleaders before big interviews and my soft spot to land when I needed to vent or sob. They were necessary for my sanity. Without utilizing my support systems I know I would not have presented my best self in interviews.
It took over two years, but I’m finally back in the field that I love. I didn’t realize how challenging returning to the field would be—but it is possible. While my Student Affairs sabbatical was unintentional, I learned so much from the multiple interviews and experiences I’ve had. So to everyone out there searching and interviewing and maybe feeling frustrated, know that you’re not alone. Persevere, trust the process and reach out to me if you need to talk to someone who’s been there.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Patrick Love on Strategic Planning in SA