It is hard to believe I began the search for my post-graduate school professional position a little over one year ago. I find it refreshing to look back on the last year and the many things I have learned about myself and this profession. Graduate school taught me the theories, applications, history, current events, terminology, and other pieces connected to the realm of higher education; however, to my surprise, the job search experience taught me valuable lessons about myself and this field that I had not seen on a syllabus. I updated my resume (almost daily) and tailored it to each school. I practiced interviewing with a variety of people from different functional areas. I narrowed down the region, functional areas, and institutional size/type I wanted to work at. However, there was still a lot to learn from my job search.
Here are 5 discoveries from my search:
By no means did I have a perfect job search. There were many moments when a friend of mine had early morning phone calls of me overthinking things. I feel very fortunate, however, that I had a strong support network guiding the direction I took in my search, my thought process throughout the experience, and the decisions I made. I thought of myself as fairly prepared for the search, but looking back I can now recognize a few things I would like to share that I did not prepare for. By no means are these suggestions the best, most effective, or possibly useful for each individual. I hope to share some thoughts I discovered along the way and spark at least one thought to consider after you close this page.
1. First off, remember that you are still a graduate student-It can be easy to get lost in the world of job hunting. Before you get there, you still have responsibilities to your current institution. Your coursework, assistantship, practicums, relationships, and wellbeing should not be put on the backburner because you are job searching. I experienced a few weeks with some of these components of my life on the backburner to my job search and it was difficult. You are still completing your graduate school experience. While I may have enjoyed three semesters of coursework and one semester of the job search, it is not necessarily set up that way. Yes, the job search is a component of the graduate school experience, but remember that it is just that – a component of the experience.
2. Reflect at the beginning, the middle, the end, and during the credits- I was given this advice by a mentor of mine who shared that what I did as an undergraduate and graduate student did not determine my professional career. It was important for me to recognize the experiences I had gained, but more important to recognize the experiences I wanted to gain. I never worked in Residence Life but knew that was where I wanted to go as a new professional, so I took a leap of faith and went for it. Especially during the interviews, don’t forget to take a little bit of time — or in my case a five hour car ride home — to reflect on what just happened and how you see yourself aligning with that institution.
3. Assemble your team and let them know they are your people – In my experience it was important to have a few people close to me that I could talk to sporadically during the job search, but I also wanted a few people who were removed from the Higher Education world and could help me process things on more of a personal level. The team I assembled included two close cohort members, my current supervisor, a former supervisor, two close friends back home, and my parents. It was beneficial to tell these people that I valued their opinions and support during the search. I also let them know I may or may not always be positive and might need a nice pick me up. Assembling my team of people offered multiple perspectives, experiences, and a chance to talk to someone different as experiences happened.
4. Find your person- Many people have their person they turn to for answers, advice, a kick back into reality, or just to go eat pizza with. This person also proved to be very beneficial in the job search as well. My person was in my program, actively job searching, and lived right across the street. It can be refreshing to get things off your chest and tell your person everything, but be prepared that your person might need to get everything off their chest as well. Talking with your person about the important components of your job search can help when things advance to the position offer stage or if it is time to reevaluate your search criteria. I thought of this person as an accountability buddy to bring me back to reality when things became fuzzy.
5. Remember that each institution, position, and offer is different – Your resume and cover letter should be customized to each institution and position you apply for. Similarly, expect the interview structure and accommodations to be different based on the institution, department, position, and location. It is difficult to prepare your answers to be the same, because different questions are being asked by different people in different locations. There are so many different factors at each institution to keep you going, which also means extra preparation time may be needed. I did not search for my dream job. I knew the position I accepted after graduate school would be for a few years and then I would need to move on to new experiences. It’s important to ask yourself: “If you were to search for your dream job right now, where would you go after that?”
Support When You Need It
Stay positive because it can be exhausting. There is no doubt this process is exhausting, time consuming, and mentally draining process. However, think about all the great opportunities you are getting to meet other professionals, visit different campuses, learn about other institutions, get a significant amount of personal thinking time with all that traveling, and have a lot to talk about with family and friends. Know that you’re not alone in your search and there are many people in the field to lift you up for support.
Best of luck and have fun!