If you’re reading this, you are imaginably in the same boat as me: currently working on a master’s degree in some aspect of higher education, expecting to finish soon but have no inkling as to how to begin your journey to your dream student affairs (SA) job. This describes my situation in a nutshell. I will be graduating in May 2019 and have started preliminary thinking about my job search, causing my mind to now run at the speed of light.
This job search is imperative to me for various reasons. Of course, the first reason is that I’ve worked hard for the last two years. I balanced working full-time and being a full-time graduate student, with a stellar GPA. I deserve and want an ideal job in my field of choice, but this is easier said than done. The odds of this happening might not be great the first time around but we can at least strive to achieve this. I’ve wanted to work in the field of student affairs since I was a junior in college and the time has finally come for me to start my career.
Another reason that the job search is important is to define my “career non-negotiables”, a concept I learned in an undergraduate communications course. Career non-negotiables are the factors in a job opportunity you will not sacrifice. No job opportunity is going to be perfect or offer all that you are looking for; if you’ve found this, then kudos to you. You might need to weigh different aspects of a job opportunity as some things might be more important to you over others. For example, you might have a sibling who is pregnant and lives outside Philly. It might be your goal to be an amazing aunt or uncle and watch this child grow up. In this case, one of your “non-negotiables” might be location; you aren’t willing to take a job outside a 20-mile radius from Philly. In my case, this is a work in progress. What I considered to be “non-negotiables” two or three years ago have changed, so I need to take time to really think about this.
The last reason that this job search is important is my tendency to fall under a “Type A” personality, perhaps more often than I’m willing to admit. I am a planner and I don’t always enjoy not knowing what is next, especially when it involves big life decisions. So, you can imagine how well I might be dealing with the fact that I have no idea where I will be come this time next year. I can try to make plans, but the job search and what I am offered might dictate otherwise. To cope with this, I am trying to keep an open mind and trust the process.
Where do I go from here? Good question; your answer is just as good as mine. I’ve asked around; I’ve talked to people in the field; I’ve talked to fellow students embarking on this journey; and I’ve even talked to someone in the Career Center at the institution where I currently work to ask the burning question: When do I begin? I’ve gotten a variety of answers but most helpful was to just start now. There is no harm in it, and heck, you might even land something way sooner than you thought, taking all the stress off the table. So, start I will. Remember, I mentioned I was organized and a planner? You bet I already created an Excel file to track jobs I apply for. I included important information such as job title and institution to information like location, requirements, and if available, salary. Remember to include those non-negotiables on there to see how each institution where you apply compares with what you are not willing to sacrifice.
The next step to tackle is your resume. My resume is in order, is yours? If you are looking to get a head start on this whole job search thing that should be one of the first places you start. If you want to get started on the search, yet think it is too early to start applying, fixing your resume is the best place to start to feel ahead of the game. I got this taken care of this month and I feel a slight sigh of relief about it, especially since if I come across an absolute dream listing, I am already halfway through the application. Tackling a cover letter is going to be a bit more difficult. I like to believe my cover letter significantly aided in being hired for my current job. The language was clever and made quite the impression, but, if you’ve ever stepped foot into a Career Center or Googled “how to write a cover letter,” you know then that each letter should be tailored and specific to each and every individual job. Sure, this can be tedious but if you’re starting early, you’ve given yourself enough time to take your time with it.
The next step for you might be registering to attend a national conference or placement exchange. These are great ways to network and begin really applying for jobs, especially with The Placement Exchange (TPE), a resource for the student affairs job placement process. NASPA’s and TPE’s conferences for 2019 both happen to be in LA. Unfortunately, being on the East Coast and being a graduate student working full-time, I am not able to attend these, but if you can, great! You’ve got the advantage. Even if you can’t attend, you can still network. Often, programs are recorded and there is a virtual option for the conferences. From what I’ve heard, you can take place in the TPE online. There are also a number of different resources with higher education job listings. Facebook is another great resource. I posted in a group with many other current grad students in Higher Education/Student Affairs, as well as new professionals, asking for information about the job search. I was connected with an individual who really helped my fine tune my resume. There are thousands of others going through this process too, and some might have really sound advice for you so don’t be afraid to ask!
So, you’ve read all this and perhaps you feel a little better about the job search. After all, you’re not the only one going through it, right? Right, but another thing I learned from asking around about the job search is that your job search is your own; don’t compare it to others because everyone is at a different level and everyone is looking for something different. How can any of this be helpful then? Well, use it as a starting point. Start really thinking about what you want and go from there! Good luck!