I’ve been nervous about the dreaded job search since before I sat in a classroom as an #SAGrad last Fall. As a child of the Internet, I spend some of my free time online reviewing the narratives of others in this field. Post after post warned about the arduous job search ahead if you want to go into higher education and student affairs. Horror stories readily appeared with a quick web search or review of various student affairs Facebook group pages. I can’t count the number of anxiety-ridden conversations I’ve had with other graduate students, both at my institution and from others, about how afraid we were about having to seek employment at the end of our respective programs. And after witnessing TPE as an on-site intern in Indianapolis, the outlook didn’t look any less grim. I watched and listened as the graduating cohort struggled and triumphed with their own search processes, and wrestled with the reality that the following formula doesn’t necessarily work for everyone:
Experience + Masters Degree + Determination + Job Search = Employment by Graduation
Of course, the formula is much more complex than that. There’s also knowing the right people, having enough resources to afford job searching, investing in professional development, seeking mentorship, knowing yourself deeply, carrying various forms of capital…the list goes on. All the same, I found it difficult to swallow the potential outcome of my own path as being a long period of underemployment or unemployment. How is it that such great, competent practitioners follow all the rules and come out with less than they hoped for immediately following grad school? When did I learn these largely unspoken rules of job hunting in student affairs, and who gets to set the rules?
I had lots of questions that were materializing into fear. My greatest nightmare, one that I’ve had since the beginning of my undergraduate experience, was coming out of grad school unemployed, carrying loads of loans, and not enjoying the work I engage in. I was determined to do everything in my power not to make this my story. And even if this came to pass, I would have known that I did everything I could to avoid it.
Then, I internally applied for a full-time position in residence life before the end of my first year as an #SAGrad.
Simply submitting my application felt like a huge milestone in itself. Full of nerves, I gave it my very best shot, asking colleagues for tips on professional documents, seeking advice from mentors, and leaning on my partner and close friends for support. Everything happened quickly from there; I got a phone interview offer, studied for it as hard as one would for an exam, reached out to experienced practitioners, reflected on my own experiences, and crossed my fingers. My excitement was palpable. Post-interview, I felt confident, though aware that my status as an internal candidate might be more of a disadvantage than anything else.
Soon thereafter, I got a phone call.
Sure, I was disappointed, but my upcoming ACUHO-I internship cushioned the blow. At this point in my grad school journey, the stakes were low and I didn’t have much to lose by trying. Even though I didn’t move any further in the process, I would recommend that other graduate students apply for full-time opportunities if they feel ready, as there’s many lessons to be learned along the way. Nevertheless, a familiar fear crept up, a voice in my head asking a heart-wrenching question: What does this mean for my future job search? Will I be good enough when it comes down to the wire?
At this point in the story, I’d like to pause and recognize that my experience as a professional candidate flew in the face of the aforementioned rules I’ve come to understand in student affairs. For many, the path involves going to graduate school for two years, gaining valuable experience the first year, beginning to think about the “job search process” in the Fall of the second year, applying to loads of positions and potentially attending TPE as a candidate, and eventually scoring a position in the Spring around graduation season. While this isn’t everyone’s path, the majority of people I’ve interacted with seemed to follow this flow. In beginning to apply for full-time professional positions at the end of my first year, I disrupted the timeline and felt like I was doing it “out of order.” I questioned what I perceived to be the status quo and wondered, “If I know I’m ready for the next step in my career, what am I waiting for?”
And so I freed myself of the cultural norm that I needed to wait until a certain time in my graduate school career to begin job searching.
Very soon after receiving the disappointing call about my first attempt at becoming an #SAPro, I came across a newly-posted position in Marketing Communications at my graduate institution. Because my two preferred functional areas are residence life and university marketing, I knew I had to give this a shot, too. Learning from my recent interview process and summoning my confidence, I applied yet again to a full-time position.
This process moved a little more slowly. A couple weeks after applying, I received a phone screening interview. Afterwards, I was called to come in for an in-person interview. At this point, I was elated to have made it further in the process than I had before. I gathered my wits and interviewed the day before I left for ACUHO-I. I left it all out there on the proverbial interview battlefield. The same day I interviewed, I was called for a second interview. After some logistical adjustments due to my internship, I interviewed over Skype. My heart was in my throat at this point, knowing that this meant I was a top candidate for the position. And on June 17th, I got the big call: a full-time job offer as the Social Media Marketing Manager at Seattle University’s Marketing Communications.
Relief doesn’t even come close to describing what that day felt like. I share my story on here because I want to remember my journey, but also because I wanted to add a hopeful tale to the mountain of fear-inspiring blog posts out there and perhaps inspire others to consider the potential fluidity in timing for a person’s job search journey. Readers should take every story with a grain of salt, realizing that someone else’s story is just that- someone else’s story, not yours. With that in mind, I share my job search story in the hopes that it’ll show someone else that success can be achieved, even if it means interrupting what feels like a professional timeline set in stone. This one especially goes out to fellow practitioners who identify as marginalized in terms of their socioeconomic status and age, as these were two of the identities most salient in my process.
Status as a graduate student and a full-time higher ed student affairs practitioner do not have to be mutually exclusive.
As I enter the last four weeks of my ACUHO-I experience, I look forward to embarking on a new kind of journey in my second year of grad school as I take on being an #SAGrad and an #SAPro at once. I’m ready to get back to a functional area I already know I love and I’m thrilled to call the Emerald City my home for a long while.