2014 was the year of the first mid-level job search for me and my family. I had over five years of experience in Residence Life and was ready for a new position. It was an exciting time, yet I was not prepared for the challenges ahead. After reflecting on the many months I spent in the whirlwind of job searching, I would like to share the challenges I faced so we can all be better prepared.
My spouse and I are both adventurers. As we scrolled through the job openings across the nation we began dreaming of a new chapter where we were whale watching off the shores of Alaska or hailing Taxis in New York City. Actually, at one point in the search, I had an on-campus interview in the Rocky Mountains and was practically drooling looking out my airplane window envisioning our new life. However, as we have started having children and investing more in our family, our quest for adventure has become less of a priority and proximity to family is of the greatest value. Once we set physical boundaries, the job possibilities grew thin and we accepted challenge #1.
In the past six years, I have worked for very small and very large universities, for-profit and non-profit universities, and public and faith-based universities. We talked about finding your institutional fit in graduate school and my response back then was, “I know exactly what my institutional fit is – an institution that will pay me!” Now that I’ve been around the block a couple of times, I can tell you that institutional fit is a real thing. However, you may need to work at a couple different institutions to discover what that means to you. For me, Belief is one of my top five strengths (Honk if you love Strengths Finder!). My Belief strength is in full-force when I am at work, which means that if the department and institution I work for do not align with my personal values and beliefs, I will completely disconnect and struggle to stay motivated. Challenge #2 accepted.
In Residence Life, we joke about those 3am duty calls and having to ask the students above us to turn down their Taylor Swift fourteen times a day, but I didn’t realize how good we have it until this latest job search. Once salaries were mentioned, I began factoring in rent, utilities, cell phone bill, cable, internet, groceries, furniture, and a second car. The end result? In most cases, the same or less than I currently make. I underestimated the expenses. Once I realized this, I mentioned it in conversation to the director of our department, Tiffany Lowe. She said that a mentor once told her to buy one big piece of furniture every year you’re a hall director and by the time you’re ready to leave your on-campus position, you should be able to avoid taking out a loan for IKEA expenses. Additionally, not every university pays for relocation expenses. Challenge #3? Prepare financially.
I also learned that moving from an entry-level position to a mid-level position takes immense courage. Are you ready for some vulnerability? I didn’t have that courage. I was offered interviews for Assistant Director, Associate Director, even some Director positions and, ultimately, I caved under the pressure. I let fear step in the way and that fear picked up my confidence by the collar and threw it out the window. I was afraid that I didn’t have what it takes. I was afraid that I would just get a rejection letter regardless. I was afraid that I wouldn’t like the position and be stuck. So, I chose to stay where I was comfortable and accepted a position at another institution doing exactly what I already did. At the end of the day, I love my job. I have always loved being a Residence Hall Director; however, I have goals I want to reach that simply will not happen if I stay comfortable. Truthfully, I know I have what it takes and I know I have so much to offer. I just need to put it into practice. Challenge #4: Kid President videos on repeat: “Life is tough, but so are you.”