Relocation 101: Three Things to Consider When Job Searching Nationally (Guest post by Adrienne Boertjens)

January 5, 2016

Student Affairs Job Relocation

Job search season is right around the corner, and as colleges and universities across the country prepare their search teams for trips to the various student affairs job placement events, the time has come for aspiring graduate students, new professionals and some seasoned professionals alike to face the inevitable question: “Where do I go from here?”

When it comes to job searching in Student Affairs, career progression is the obvious primary consideration. As a field, we also talk a lot about “Institutional Fit” and how to identify an employer that aligns with your professional values, desired culture, and educational philosophy. All of these are incredibly valuable factors in the job search process, however even if you find your “dream institution” it’s important to consider geographical fit, and how adjusting to life in a different regional culture may impact your overall transition. What kind of move will both challenge and support you in your professional growth? To get started, here are a few things to consider when determining your geographical fit:

1. Consider the basics, but don’t stop there!

  • Geography: Everyone has their geographic deal-breakers, and while it’s best to minimize them when it comes to these basic considerations for job searching, some things just can’t be avoided. For some people, certain geographic regions simply don’t agree with their lifestyle, whether it’s because they can’t stand the heat of the Deep South, or because shoveling snow off their car at 7am just doesn’t sound like a good time. Either way, knowing the extremes of what you’re willing to handle is a good place to start, but shouldn’t be the end-all, be-all of your search.
  • Personal support system: When it comes to a dual-job search or considering the needs of your dependents, there are a ton of factors to consider. If you’re moving on your own or if your job is the main factor in a move, as is the case for many new grads and new professionals, it’s helpful to identify just how far you’re willing to move away from your loved ones. Thanks to technology, staying in touch with your personal support system is easier than ever, however when you live far away from the people you care about, you have to consider how far and how often you’re willing to travel to be with them. Are you willing to miss out on a holiday or two for the sake of landing your “perfect fit?” Are you prepared to shell out for a plane ticket should a family emergency arise? While we can always hope for the best when it comes to these situations, it’s good to know literally how far you’ll go for your dream job.
  • Pro-tip for aspiring graduate students: These basic considerations may be better off on the back-burner when you’re searching for graduate assistantships and choosing your graduate program. While it can be tempting to continue your studies at your undergraduate alma mater or to stay close to home, graduate school is a wonderful opportunity to step outside of your geographic comfort zone. Your graduate program is probably only 2-3 years long, and it will be over before you know it! Take advantage of this short amount of time and consider moving somewhere you normally wouldn’t live long-term. Your resume and your professional network will thank you!

2. Consider your professional networking goals. For new grads and professionals especially, growing and developing your professional network in the field of Student Affairs is a must. Now is the time to establish a strong and positive professional reputation, which can present a challenge if you’re not willing to leave the comfort of your alma mater or home state. As a Student Affairs practitioner, growing and maintaining a strong network will contribute to your own professional development and can even assist you in future job searches. On the flipside, maybe you’ve already spent some time away from your Student Affairs family or a special mentor, and you’d appreciate being within regional conferencing proximity to them. When starting a new job, having an existing professional network close by may provide a certain level of comfort and support that can make your transition easier. If maintaining close ties with your existing professional network is important to you when it comes to relocation, consider moving to a region where you’ll strike a balance between having lots of new networking opportunities, and where you’ll still feel the support of your existing professional relationships. There’s nothing like a good ol’ regional conference reunion!

3. Consider state/regional professional development/involvement opportunities. Each department in each institution is going to have a different opinion or level of financial support for their professionals’ development opportunities. Regardless of whether or not your department has the financial means to send you to a national conference each year, it’s important that you’re able to seek out your own professional development opportunities in order to continue to grow in the field. As such, consider researching state/regional professional organizations or chapters of national organizations as a way of determining whether or not there will be opportunities for you to join committees, attend conferences, network, and take charge of your own professional development outside of your place of employment.

While this list is certainly not the end-all, be-all of relocating, these are some important things to think about as you begin applying to jobs and considering where you may want to spend the next phase of your career. What are some other things that you’ve considered when making a decision to relocate? Please share your thoughts in the comments below, or tweet me at @aboertjens.

Adrienne Boertjens is a Residence Director at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, and a proud alumnae of Eastern Michigan University (2015, M.A.) and Minnesota State University, Mankato (2013, B.A.). She is passionate about travel, arts and crafts and all things technology! Connect with Adrienne via email, Twitter, LinkedIn.

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Tricks and Traps of Student Affairs Hiring

May 25, 2014

HR_Tricks_Studentlife

Over the past two decades I have been involved not only with my own personal job searches, but have also been a participant in university search committees and have have hired full-time staff myself as a supervisor. In that time I have witnessed, personally experienced, and have had friends and colleagues deal with many unscrupulous and, in many cases, misleading hiring practices in student affairs, particularly because an institution already has a candidate in mind.

Below are some “Tricks and Traps” in Student Affairs hiring practices that you should be on the lookout for. Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that a school could still be running a legit search even if they display some of the following methods. “If it looks like a duck and smells like a duck, most likely it’s a duck. But it could be a goose.”  

Suspicious Position Description – Be weary of position descriptions requirements that are out of the norm and seem to be crafted for a specific individual or do not properly align with the norm for that position nationally. Generally there is a standard by which various requirements align with corresponding positions. For example, an entry level resident director at a public institution typically needs 1 – 3 years of experience with a degree in student affairs, counseling, higher education or closely related field. So if you see requirements for an RD position listing a degree in business management, accounting, nursing or something else unfitting, don’t get your heart set on it.  Or, more simply, steer clear of this position. Granted, if the position is related to a particular academic college / department and / or specific living-learning community you could see requirements that are out of the norm.

Position Inflation – Recently a colleague shared a personal example in which he applied for an assistant director position at a brand name institution. When having an initial phone interview, it was revealed that the institution was paying $24,000 for the position, which was totally unexpected considering that it was “master’s preferred” and two years experience. As someone once told me,  position titles come cheap. It doesn’t cost an institution anything to change a title and make it sound more prestigious or higher up in the organizational food change even though it doesn’t pay much and / or have any broad supervisory authority.

Fishy Application Timeline – Application and interview timelines can give a clue whether or not a college or university is serious about hiring someone from outside the institution. A public posting that has an application deadline of less than 14 days (and especially in cases of only 7 days or less) should raise suspicion. Additionally, an institution that only posts a position on their own human resources website, but not in nationally-recognized venues, such as the Chronicle of Higher Education, Higheredjobs.com, and / or regional publications is probably a strong indication that they are only hiring internally.

No Response – Worse than getting a “no” is getting zero response from a college or university. After putting the time and effort into crafting a cover letter and possibly a lengthy online application process, the least they could do is give you the boilerplate “Thanks, but no thanks” email or letter.  With the economy being what it is, it’s an employer’s market so colleges and universities can pretty much handle searches how they like (without doing anything grossly illegal of course). Right, wrong, or indifferent, you need to be able to stay resilient and move forward with any offers that do come your way. Don’t wait around for something that may ultimately end up in a failed search or a hire that they simply didn’t inform all applicants of.

Internal Candidates – There’s nothing more unnerving than finding out that someone on the search committee is also candidate for the job or was a candidate that was recently rejected. Not only is this clearly unethical, but causes an unfair and biased opinion against your candidacy for the opening. I’ve also heard colleagues share stories of being interviewed by a search committee with an internal candidate who was clearly adversarial during the interview process by asking over-the-top questions and being generally unfriendly. If you experience this, don’t take it personally. Be prepared, give your best effort, and stay professional. If there is a nasty internal candidate, don’t engage them. Remain calm, answer their questions, and proceed with grace.

Artificial Community Visits –  While it’s typically customary for a campus host to give you a tour of campus, there is also the possibility that you may be invited to dinner or evening events with some of the members of the search committee. Additionally, depending upon the culture of the institution’s search protocols, you may be given a tour of the local community to get an idea of what the surrounding area looks like, which becomes particularly important if they offer you the position. However, don’t put too much credence into this process because it does not necessarily mean they are going to give you the job. Unfortunately, this can simply be an exercise to kill time rather than having you sit in the hotel (or whatever accommodations they may give you) or to keep you occupied while they interview another candidate they have there the same day. During one campus interview a few years ago, a university actually had a real estate agent take me on a tour of the community and show me various houses in their market that were for sale. Unfortunately it ended up being a waste of time, particularly for the real estate agent, because not only did they not offer me the position, but they didn’t offer it to any of the candidates interviewed, but rather offered it to someone on the search committee. (Yes…that’s a true story!)

While going through a student affairs search process may be a daunting process, don’t lose hope. Keep applying and making yourself more marketable by expanding your skills and experience. While there are some dirty tricks out there related to the hiring process, there are also many other institutions that run a fair and ethical search looking for the best candidate.   

 


5 Career Mistakes to Avoid in Student Affairs

November 18, 2013

Mistakes in Student Affairs

1. Job Hopping – While switching jobs is endemic in higher education, job hopping is typically not a good idea. Chasing money, position titles, or trying to find the perfect institution that emulates your alma mater can unintentionally make for a sketchy-looking resume to prospective employers down the road. A resume that illustrates a job for every one or two years can communicate that you are hard to get along with, never happy, or “too big for your britches.” No one goes from being a resident director to a vice president of student affairs overnight. Promotions, responsibility, and a higher salary come from experience and patience. “Paying your dues” is very true in our field.

Friendly Advice:

  • Do your best with where you are at. While your current work situation may not be the best, use it as an opportunity to further develop your skills and your experience. If it is a negative experience, do your best to turn it into a positive for you (no matter how difficult that may seem!)
  • If you are excelling in your current role, ask for more responsibility without the expectation of increased income, which typically should not be expected anyway given the current financial climate of higher education in the U.S. This can only help you in the next step in your career path. Create the experience you want to showcase on your resume and portfolio.

2. Getting Involved in Negative Politics – Colleges and universities are rife with politics in both academic and student affairs. Unfortunately, negative politics can consume your time and energy and get you away from your department’s mission and vision. While it’s easier said than done to avoid the politics of your institution, ultimately you are in control of how to interact with your colleagues and contribute to the success of your students. That’s why we do what we do, right?

Friendly Advice:  

  • Simply put, stay away from those who exhibit negative energy. There’s enough challenges and complications within the institution outside of negative attitudes and drama. Contribute your time and energy in creating solutions and not more problems.

3. Negative Social Media Presence – Social media is now ubiquitous and entwines both our personal and professional lives. Gone are the days when all that a prospective employer knew about you was from what you listed on a paper resume. Many employers screen your online presence, and in some cases, will expect that you will have a positive and impactful presence online related to your department and the field in general. We should be role models for our students after all, right?

Friendly Advice:

  • Understand that it is extremely difficult to have a completely separate personal and professional life online. Given this, the best practice is to keep your online presence as positive, professional, welcoming, and “restrained” as possible.
  • Social media outlets are not the place for uninhibited opinion and “diarrhea of the mind,” particularly if you are looking to land the next best position in student affairs.

4. Failing to Seize Opportunities – There will be the proverbial “two roads diverged” at some point in your career in which you will be faced with a choice to participate in various opportunities. This could be anything from committees, travel, presentations, grant writing, and other institutional initiatives. It pains me when I hear colleagues complain about such opportunities and whine about extra work or not getting compensated for projects outside of their normal workload. By failing to seize these types of opportunities, you limit your exposure to meet new colleagues across the institution, share resources, and impact students on a larger (or simply different) level.

Friendly Advice:   

  • Don’t be the person who said, “Man…I wish I would have been a part of that!” Hindsight is always 20/20 so take on the prospective of keeping your eye open for opportunities as they arise. Even better, create opportunities rather than waiting for them.
  • Keep in mind that NOT every opportunity is a good one nor has to be pursued. Keep your options open and take advantage of those that will fulfill your department’s mission while also appealing to your own interests and expanding your student affairs experience.

5. Failing to Make a Difference – You are what you do; And if you’re not doing much, you’re not making a difference. I will share the same message with you that I try to impress upon student leaders: what are you creating, what are you changing, and what are you influencing? If you don’t have much to show during your next job interview other than a bland job description, others who have made an appreciable impact upon their institution will clearly win out.

        Friendly Advice:

  • Like Stephen Covey stated, start with the end in mind. What difference do you want to make? Figure that out and work toward that end. Develop goals, write them down, and display them so you can see them daily. Also, create initiatives that you can assess. This way you can qualitatively and quantitatively illustrate the difference your work has made.
  • Don’t spin your wheels to impress colleagues. You’re there to impact student learning and retention (among other goals) and not create a club of cronies. As was the case with #2 above, stay clear of drama and concentrate on your work.

* Photo courtesy of Zsuzsanna Kilian


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