My First Professional Job Search

As many of you know, I have been job searching for a cumulative nine months now, and I can FINALLY say that this search has come to a close. This weekend, I moved to Owings Mills, Maryland, and tomorrow I start as a Resident Director at Stevenson University. Located just outside Baltimore (and 20 minutes from my aunt, uncle, and their adorably squishy baby), Stevenson is a private university that enrolls about 4,500 students. The student body is made up of 84% Maryland residents, 39% non-white students, and 57% of the whole student body live on campus. While I’m very excited about this opportunity, the job search process has been full of ups and down, and though I had a decent idea of what I was getting into, there are still some thoughts I think are worth sharing.

There Are No Guarantees

As a housing professional, I have heard about placement exchanges since undergrad. I went to one for grad school and had a job in 3 weeks, so of course I was going to follow the same path for this search. I registered 2 weeks after TPE opened in October and started doing my homework about schools almost immediately. I had a spreadsheet that was color-coded, used the Live-In/Live-On report damn near daily, and sent my first email to a school in December. I did Skype and phone interviews before going to the conference, jam packed my schedule (more on that in a minute), bought all kinds of snazzy new clothes…basically, I did the most. And guess what? My job isn’t one I interview for at the conference. All that planning and preparation and I found my job on higheredjobs.com in April. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that you can get $1,000+ invested in a process that isn’t going to pan out. Nothing in your search process is guaranteed.

Don’t Overdo It

I did over 25 interviews at TPE. Everyone told me not to do it. “You’re going to burn out.” “You’re going to miss out on other opportunities.” Did I listen? Nope. I went about my shotgunned job search and guess what? I was exhausted. By the time socials rolled around, all I wanted to do was curl up in bed for a week. Instead, I trucked through the end of TPE and all of NASPA and caught one mother of a cold when I got home. Do I think this post is going to persuade someone like me into not shotgunning their search? No, probably not. Instead, I’ll recommend (in no particular order) the follow recovery tools: bandaids, cough drops, emergen-C, water water water, and lots of sleep if/when you can get it. Or, on the flipside, you could listen to everyone who tells you not to overdo it.

Your New Least Favorite Word: Transparent

Everyone says they are transparent in the job search process because it’s what every candidate wants to hear. The reality is that some schools can’t be transparent because of HR, some just aren’t for whatever reason, and others share too much. In many cases, a school can’t respond to an email from you if they don’t have an HR application, so you might feel like you’re getting no where when their hands are tied. Others will say that they’re very transparent and you never hear from them again. I don’t know if that’s really transparency, but the message is certainly clear. Finally, there will be schools that overshare about the department. I thought I really wanted all the nitty gritty details of a department I was coming into until it actually happened. When I tell you that every little detail was thrown out on the table…I mean everything. It threw off my whole day of interviews because I couldn’t think about anything else. All in all, I realized that when I asked the, “What does the process look like from here?” question at the end of an interview, 95% of the time, the answer included the word transparent, when in reality, probably 15% of schools are appropriately transparent in their processes.

Your Search Doesn’t Stop

You get home from a conference and are ready to hibernate for a century. Too bad because you’ve still got work to do, and by “work,” I mean both at your current job and in your quest for a new one. If I’d stopped searching after TPE, I’d be in a bad way right now. Instead, I allowed myself to get my life together for about a week and then continued to search. While I say your search doesn’t stop, I want to point out here that it’s imperative that you take some “you” time. My parents came to Texas for graduation, and 3 days after the ceremony, 2 friends and I went to Disney for 5 days. In that time, I scheduled two on campuses, but for other than that, I took that time to enjoy the moment. Is this search important? Obviously. Is it so important that you should lose yourself in it? Not at all.

You’re Going to Hear No…A Lot

In hindsight, this makes sense. If you didn’t get all the “No” responses first, you wouldn’t be job searching anymore. But when you’re up to your elbows in cover letters, higheredjobs.com is your homepage, and you’re trying to plan steps B through P of your life without knowing what step A looks like, those “Thanks but no thanks” emails can really deflate your sense of self. Don’t let them. You cannot be everyone’s cup of tea. Spoken by someone who marches to the beat of her own drumline, I can tell you that if someone doesn’t like what they get from me in 30 minutes, they probably aren’t going to like what they get for the next 3 to 5 years. Take the rejections for what they are. We preach about “fit” in this field, and that’s what your search is about—finding somewhere that you fit. If you get a rejection from a school you really thought you were vibing with, you can always ask why, but I personally opted to just keep it moving.

All in all, I think what I’ve gleaned from this whole process is that the post-grad school search, at least in student affairs, is the most stressful search of your budding career. For the most part (not all the time), people searching from one full-time position to another have some kind of backup plan. When you’re graduating and leaving an assistantship, there is no backup plan. An assistantship requires you to be enrolled in school, and since you just busted your tush for 2 years, enrolling in classes again just to keep your job is most likely waaaaay on the bottom of your list of priorities.

The search is stressful. If you’re searching solo, you can end up feeling completely alone. If you’re searching alongside friends, you have to watch out for strain on those relationships. If you’re partner searching, you have to weigh all your decisions with someone else (one time I’m totally okay with being on team #foreveralone). You’ll get angry. You’ll probably cry. You’ll consider going back to the grocery store cashier job you had in high school. And guess what? That’s all okay. In the end, it’s worth it when you find a place you’re super jazzed about for the jump off of your career.

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