TPE 2016: Insights from an #SAGrad On-site Intern

The reputation of The Placement Exhange (TPE) reached me long before I was enrolled as a first-year graduate student. During preview days sessions over a year ago, I remember my continuing student colleagues preparing themselves for the job search. While trying to remain present for us prospectives, it was clear that a handful were getting ready to take a long-distance trip to this event called TPE.

Fast-forward one year later and you would find me at the registration and scheduling front desk at TPE On-site in Indianapolis. At the beginning of my first quarter of graduate school, I heard about the opportunity to become a TPE Ambassador from previous Assistant Resident Directors who used to hold my graduate assistantship position. Because I value my professional development and jump at most opportunities I can find, I applied and accepted the position to represent TPE for my campus. After a couple months, TPE reached out to the current Ambassadors calling for applications to become a TPE On-site Intern. I applied and excitedly accepted an offer. I was going to see the legendary TPE with my own eyes as a first-year grad.

Nothing could have prepared me for the grandiose nature of TPE 2016. Though we had weekly phone conferences as ambassadors and interns, there was nothing quite like seeing the event in action. With thousands of interviews being scheduled and hundreds of TPE candidates hoping for success, many of whom are graduating grad students, the emotions in the space are palpable. Folks are nervous, excited, supportive, professional, and on their A-game. This is it for so many, after all; the culmination of their graduate experience has led them to this moment.

As a prospective candidate for 2017, I took many mental notes for my own experience next year in San Antonio. Understanding the process and best practices for TPE was one of the major takeaways of this experience. For example, knowing that the candidate and employer mailboxes are key for communication about interviews is essential to making the most of the TPE experience. Employers use the physical inboxes to invite candidates to schedule first-round interviews. If interested, the candidate then takes the notification to the scheduling area and finds a time to meet with the interested institution. Following the interview (usually 30 minutes for a first-round), institutions may issue a second-round interview notification (sometimes for 60 minutes) or a flat-out rejection to a candidate.

The actual interview space features more fold-out tables in one room than I’ve ever seen before. Every interview happens simultaneously in the same massive room at the conventions center. This means the space is loud and different from the traditional interview setup. Candidates wait in waiting areas according to last name and the employer comes to summon their candidate, sometimes toting campus swag to make for a fun entrance. Some waiting areas cheer for one another; others sit in stiff silence.

Over the course of a few days, this back and forth between employers and candidates takes place in the inboxes. Something like a dance, the process moves differently for everyone. Some cabdidates schedule four interviews across the three days and others schedule twenty. Some institutions you applied for before TPE do not ask to interview you, while others flood your inbox without you knowing about them before. Even more interestingly, a select number of institutions invite candidates to a social after a successful second-round interview to mingle with the employers after interviews conclude for the day. This is a great sign about your candidacy, but it’s also high-pressure for many. Disguised as a simple hangout, these socials are just as important as the formal interview. How you proceed may determine your status as a candidate. From the moment you get on the airplane to the moment you get back home, you’re always on. Employers are watching and listening.

It’s insights like these that make me feel better prepared for TPE 2017. Knowing what I know about TPE, I understand that this will be one of a few ways I plan to conduct my job search. With only half as many jobs available on-site as here are candidates, I know I’ll have to avoid putting all of my eggs into the TPE basket if I want to ensure my employment immediately after grad school. The job search needs to be aggressive and varied. Thankfully for me, I intend to search for Resident Director positions, which comprise a strong majority of the positions available at TPE. This makes TPE worth it for me. But it’s important to note that TPE isn’t for every #SAGrad. While useful for some, TPE may not fit the search needs of everyone.

Even with an insider experience, I still feel nervous about the job search next year. This is good because it means I want it. Until then, though, I’ll be hard at work making sure to engage in rich experiences during graduate school that are worth sharing during my interviews in TPE 2017 at San Antonio.

Next year’s going to be interesting.

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