In May 2013, I graduated with my Master of Arts in Community Counseling from Slippery Rock University of PA. During my time at Slippery Rock, I worked as a Graduate Assistant Career Counselor in the Office of Career Education and Development. Through that experience, I discovered my passion for student development and career development and I decided to pursue a career in student affairs. Long story short, after a few months of job searching during my last semester of graduate school, I accepted a position at Kent State University in July 2013 as a Career/Academic Advisor and Internship Coordinator for nearly 1,000 undergraduate psychology students.
Like most people, I expected the job search to be stressful. However, I did not expect my first year as a new professional to be as stressful as it was. Last year, there were times I felt like I was barely keeping my head above water, so to speak. I found myself juggling the stress of learning about Kent’s culture, understanding the Department of Psychological Sciences’ organization and student population, building relationships on campus, advising, networking with local employers for possible internship opportunities, and figuring out my identity as a professional. On top of that, I moved out of state, lived an hour away from work, and struggled to adjust to my new hometown. Is some of this sounding familiar?!
I felt exhausted for the first few weeks at my new job. Eventually, though, I started to understand the campus culture, built relationships, and felt more comfortable in my role. As I reflect back on my experience last year, I realized that I did not survive; I thrived. I was so focused on surviving and figuring out how to manage all the challenges I was facing, that I failed to notice how much I had developed personally and professionally through my experience as a new member of the student affairs field. As a result of my experiences and realization, I wanted to write this entry in an effort to highlight five tokens of advice that aim to help you thrive in your new role.
1.) Cultivate professional relationships at work. During my first week of work, I made the mistake of eating alone in my office. I eventually gained the courage to ask a co-worker to eat lunch with me one day. She introduced me to other staff, which quickly led to group lunches. Reach out to a co-worker and ask to have lunch—it is so much better than eating a turkey sandwich alone.
2.) Lean on your mentor(s). There are three individuals I have known for the past couple of years that I consider to be my mentors. These individuals helped me through my job search, expanded my professional network in student affairs, and have given me the confidence to progress professionally. I owe a lot of my “thriving” last year to these individuals.
3.) Make a strategic plan for yourself. My life at work last year was chaos. This year, it is still chaos (let’s face it—we are in higher education), but it is organized chaos. The change from the former to the latter was a result of developing a personal strategic plan. I was trying to do everything last year. After I attended the ACPA conference in March, I realized I need to take a step back, prioritize, and set goals.
4.) Take initiative. Be the person that asks questions, volunteers for committees, and attends a professional conference. Show that you are passionate and are willing to learn. Yes, you have the job, but someone will always be fighting you for it.
5.) Give it at least two years. I think it takes at least a full year to determine if the job is the best fit for you, as well as to understand the campus and your role. It is during the second year that you have a clearer vision of your role and expectations, and as a result you can figure out the most effective strategies of meeting your goals.
I hope some of my story and suggestions resonates with you and helps you through this exciting and challenging experience. I will leave you with some parting thoughts my faculty supervisor gave to my stressed classmates and I as we were job searching: “This journey you are on right now is like a rollercoaster; it is exciting and windy. You will make it through this, and hopefully you don’t throw up at the end!”
This post is part of our #SACareer series, addressing careers in student affairs, careers outside of student affairs, and the work of career services professionals. Read more about the series in Jake Nelko’s intro post. Each post is a contribution by a member or friend of the Commission for Career Services from ACPA. Our organization exists to benefit the careers of career services professionals, student affairs professionals, and anyone supporting students in the career endeavors. For more information about how to get involved with the Commission for Career Services or the #SACareer blog series, contact Jake Nelko at firstname.lastname@example.org.