Mission Accomplished: Words of Wisdom At the End of My Mid-Level Search

congratsonnewjobWelcome (or welcome back)! I honestly did not intend to leave this space untouched for nearly six weeks, but I hope that the news that I’m back to share as well as some of my personal advice will more than make up for my protracted absence.

So… remember my first real post of 2015? The one in which I shared some of my personal and professional resolutions for the year (and royally put my foot in my mouth)? Remember my top professional resolution? Let me refresh your memory:

Move to the next level in my career in Student Affairs- a mid-level position. 

I’ve been doing Student Affairs professionally for about three years now, and I’ve had the opportunity to really develop my skills over the years, particularly in staff supervision, crisis management, and counseling and advising students. Part of the reason that I started GotDegrees was a desire for something more professionally, and over the past semester I’ve realized that it may be time for a new professional challenge. In the coming months, I’ll be taking some of my own advice regarding the job search and advancing in the field, so stay tuned to hear more about what happens in this arena and where I end up. If you’re reading this and know of mid-level positions in Residence Life, Student Support or Student Activities, let me know!

To be quite honest, part of the reason I haven’t been on GotDegrees is because I’ve spent much of my free time seeing to fulfill this resolution. As we all know, the job search process is inherently stressful- spending a great deal of your time putting yourself out there for the judgment of others can wreak havoc on your spirit if you have to do it long enough. Working, applying to jobs, trying to have some semblance of a social life in March snow/April downpours did a number on my motivation to write.

May, however, is only 1/3 over and the moment I’ve been waiting for months to share with you is here- I can finally announce here that I will be moving into a new mid-level role at Brandeis University in Community Living!! I’ll be the Assistant Director of Operations and Community Development– which means overseeing people (4 entry-level professionals, 70+ undergraduates), programs (the Community Advisor program) and processes (operations work like opening, closing, room selection, social media, website updates, etc). The role is exactly what I’ve been looking for, and I can’t wait to get started in early July. Thanks again to everyone who provided advice and support, helped me make connections, read resumes and cover letters, etc.- couldn’t have done this without you!

I know that there are a number of people out there who are going through the same search process for a mid-level role that I just finished, so in addition to using this post to share my exciting news with you, I wanted to share some quick tips on what helped me in this process:

  • Apply early and often- but don’t be afraid to submit an application later in the game. Most positions begin review of applications two to three weeks after the initial public posting, so you want to get your materials in quickly. However, getting something in later than that doesn’t mean you can’t make it- on the contrary, spending time tailoring your materials and proofreading them can make your application stand out from the earlier submissions.
  • Tap into your network- make sure your friends, mentors and sponsors can speak about your current abilities. I did this more gradually than I probably should have- in my prior post on seeking jobs, I noted that many positions are achieved in part due to networking and I still assert that this is the case. My colleagues and mentors provided immeasurable support by sending me postings, telling me about jobs that were about to open up, giving me advice on how to talk about my experiences- but none of this would have happened without me reaching out to them and without me keeping them updated. It truly takes a village to find a new job, so find your people early and tap into them.
  • Practice, practice, practice for phone and on-campus interviews! I know that my tendency is to be way too wordy (I do that in my posts here too occasionally…), so I tried to come up with short responses that used examples as a way to get my point across. Make sure that you can easily answer questions about why you want a position, why you’re ready to move up, and how you handle topics like: supervision, budgeting, collaborating across campus, working in teams, organization, how you deal with failure, finding your own work/life balance (as opposed to someone else creating it for you), your personal student affairs philosophy, and how you see the role you’re going for fitting your overall trajectory. Get someone to do mock interviews or practice out loud and time yourself at home if needed.
  • Ask for feedback when things don’t go your way. This one can feel awkward- the last thing I want to do when someone tells me I’m not a good fit for something is to ask them what I could have done better. However, you get a better sense of how to go forward and in turn become a better professional. Don’t always expect feedback, though- sometimes hiring managers aren’t allowed to share it out with candidates.
  • Remember that YOU are interviewing THEM as much as THEY are interviewing YOU. Ask good, solid questions about the role, the office, division, institution, students, stakeholders, etc. As I said in an earlier post, first impressions and behavior shown during the search can be indicators of what the environment would be like- so if you can’t see yourself there, it’s probably an indication that something might be off. Take time to be reflective and to listen to that “inner voice” when you’re walking on campus- it can pay off big time!
  • Give thanks- and not just to your potential supervisor. I like to write thank-you notes to everyone I interact with during an interview- even students if I can- and to reach out and thank those who helped in the search. It shows that you’re interested in the institution and its people and are more likely to be a gracious colleague/supervisee. I usually go with e-mail because you never know how fast people plan to move (in my case, I found out VERY, VERY quickly). Not writing notes probably won’t keep you out of a job- but writing them (WELL) can never hurt your case.
  • Finally, BE PATIENT and DON’T SETTLE FOR LESS! I was soft searching for a while before I officially announced my search here in January, so it’s been a long time- there were definitely weeks that my friends and family can tell you I was in a funk because of the challenges of this search. I was selective about what I applied to- a specific area, functional areas, salary, and set of responsibilities- so it took some time to find what I wanted. I could have easily went for another lateral move or taken a position that didn’t necessarily fit my needs- but I guarantee you I would have likely been looking again soon. Know what you want, and go for it- it will be hard, you will have crappy days, but when you least expect it the chance you are looking for will come by and move faster than you ever expected. Stay focused, humble and ready for your next opportunity- it’s coming!

poussey-chill-job

I hope this was helpful! As I make my transition over to my new role and institution, I’ll be writing more on the move to the middle and will probably make a series dedicated to some of the issues related to becoming a mid-level administrator, so keep an eye out for that. I won’t promise an influx of posts this summer, but I can definitely commit to at least popping in here once to twice per week.

GotDegrees is back, with new energy and with new purpose- and I hope to have you all along for the ride!

J

What I Learned About Student Affairs From… Downton Abbey

What I Learned About Student Affairs From... Downton AbbeySPOILER ALERT: As per usual, there may be spoilers if you haven’t caught up with the show- and as usual, I take no responsibility for that… 🙂

After surprising you with my first “What I Learned About Student Affairs” post of the year on Friday, what’s our second destination for my student affairs tutorial in 2015? England, circa 100 years ago. The fifth season of Downton Abbey just began airing on PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre last week, so what could be more appropriate?

Since 2010, Downton Abbey has brought the English aristocracy into our homes by allowing us to watch the lives of the Crawley family play out with major events in 20th Century history as a backdrop. Change is a constant houseguest at Downton- dealing with the sinking of the Titanic, World War I, Spanish Flu, the Roaring Twenties and the Jazz Age in rapid succession would make anyone’s head spin and the Crawleys are no exception. In addition to challenges that many families face over the course of time (difficult in-laws, tragic deaths, feuds, etc), the residents of Downton Abbey fight a losing battle with the winds of change that often echoes the challenges we face in the field of higher education- so we can learn a lot from how they try to cope, what works and what doesn’t.

So what did I pick up during my time watching Downton Abbey? Oh, not too much- just a few things:

What I Learned About Student Affairs From... Downton Abbey

Class issues are ever present- trying to ignore them is foolish and a waste of time.

One of the major draws of Downton Abbey is that you get two shows for the price of one- not only do we get to see the lives of Robert and Cora Crawley and their extended family, but we get access to the lives of the many servants that support the daily functions of their household. While both servants and aristocrats dwell in the same large house, great care is taken to make sure that the paths of both groups cross only in ways that are supported by the society at large- so servants aren’t allowed in the main quarters without permission, aren’t expected to fraternize with their employers, etc.

Occasionally we see that the working class and ruling class cross paths- war in particular seems to be the great equalizer and is the source of the relationship between Bates and Lord Grantham in the past and between William Mason and Matthew Crawley during World War I in Season 2. In comparison, chauffeur Tom Branson and Sybil Crawley’s relationship in Seasons 2 and 3 highlight just how important the unspoken rules about class interactions are to those on both sides- and just how uncomfortable everyone can be when individuals choose to ignore them and try to have relationships across classes. By the end of the fourth season, some of the rules of the game are changing, but for the most part servants and aristocrats are still divided.

I’d like to think we’re better with discussing issues of class and socioeconomic status in 2015 than they were in 1915- and in some ways we definitely are- but we still have a great deal more to do. Our students come from all across the spectrum of class statuses- from working class to upper middle class- and to pretend that their circumstances are the same or are irrelevant to their college experiences because we don’t want to talk about them would be doing them a great disservice. Are we thinking critically about the out-of-classroom experience we offer and if students who are less well-off can enjoy all of it? Do we discuss class privilege and help students who are privileged understand and challenge their assumptions? If we don’t, we run the risk of being stuck in the past like the inhabitants of Downton Abbey.

What I Learned About Student Affairs From...Downton Abbey

Beware the wrath of the bitter internal candidate.

Bates’ arrival on the scene in the beginning of the show is a complete surprise to footman Thomas Barrow- and not necessarily a good surprise. Young Thomas thought he was next in line to become Lord Grantham’s valet; when Bates comes in and takes the role, Thomas becomes incredibly bitter and with the help of his “office pal” Sarah O’Brien seeks to screw Bates over in every foreseeable way possible. Eventually, Thomas ends up in the role for a time when Bates ends up in a particularly awful predicament, but has to give it up and ends up in limbo. This situation repeats itself to a lesser degree later in the show when O’Brien’s nephew Alfred has to compete with new recruit James for the role of first footman; Alfred has to compete for the role and eventually gets a more lucrative opportunity, but Thomas’ bitter influence rears its ugly head again in this situation (which leads to a split between him and O’Brien).

While it’s less likely that someone would be bold enough (and soulless enough) to ruin your life in the way that Thomas would if given the chance, it is important to remember that occasionally you may be brought in to take a position that had an internal candidate. Being an internal candidate usually gives you an advantage, but it doesn’t mean a automatic hire- sometimes internal candidates forget this and become upset about losing out on a new opportunity. If you find yourself in this situation, be cordial but guarded at first until you can determine that you’re not dealing with a Thomas- in many cases after the initial disappointment you’ll find the internal candidate will be a great resource for you when it comes to learning the ropes of your new institution. If you do have someone more vindictive and vengeful on your hands, it’s best to steer clear of them- with any luck they will get the hint after not being promoted/reassigned and will look for employment elsewhere. If you sense you’re being bullied, make sure to address the concerns directly if you feel comfortable, document everything, and share your concerns with your supervisor- no one should be allowed to make you as miserable in your new job as Bates was by the end of Season 1.

It’s OK to put the Social Justice Warrior baton down sometimes.What I Learned About Student Affairs From...Downton Abbey

Tom Branson certainly wasn’t shy about sharing his extremely liberal political views while he was a member of the household staff at Downton, and he didn’t necessarily get the memo to tone it down when he eloped with Sybil. While his intentions were good and he meant well, his fervor often made for some uncomfortable moments in Seasons 3 and 4. Tom’s rash behavior climaxes in an incident in which he plans revenge on a decorated general- an incident which alarms many in the house and is one of the moments that highlights just how crazy he might actually be. Right up there with the moment where he leaves Sybil alone in Ireland after being pursued, and the multiple moments in which he offends someone after moving in at Downton… point being Tom tends to take it a bit too far in the name of equality and justice. When he takes on the position of agent of the estate, however, he has to question some of his previous assumptions and proclamations; he also has the opportunity to hear the side of the aristocracy he’s spent years railing against and learn that he may not be right about everything he says.

This is a great lesson mainly for our students but also for some of us who are still learning the value of tact and timing. Having strong values is great, and sticking to them is admirable- but doing so in a way that openly and unabashedly offends other people isn’t a good idea. For one thing, it severely undermines your message and your ability to get people to actually listen to you. On top of that, when you’re dealing with people who control your destiny even more than the Crawleys controlled Tom’s fate, it can result in job action- and no one wants or needs that. You can still share your views- just pick the right time and place to do so and occasionally put your weapons down to listen to others’ viewpoints- you might actually learn something.

Veterans and the people who love them need our support.

What I Learned About Student Affairs From...Downton Abbey

Season 2 and to some extent the beginning of Season 3 focus heavily on World War I and its aftereffects; we see just how much war can ravage communities in watching how the Great War changes the lives of William, Thomas, Sybil, Matthew, and Henry Lang amongst others. Lang’s struggles with PTSD and William and Matthew’s paths post-injury make it clear that the families back at home and those who return from the front need to be supported. Isobel Crawley’s work in turning Downton into a convalescence home for the war wounded and Sybil’s work as a nurse tending to soldiers at the town hospital are some highlights of how this support was given, but help can come in ways that are as simple as Ms. Patmore and Ms. Bird’s soup kitchen. In the end, Downton reverts back to its pre-war ways for the most part, but many of the effects of the war are felt throughout the subsequent seasons and the Abbey is forever changed because of it.

While our country is not engaged in active combat to the degree that England was in 1915- or even to the degree we were 10 years ago- it’s important to recognize that many of the men and women who went to war and returned still need our assistance. This is particularly true now that they are returning home and choosing to go to (or to return to) school, which puts them in the position of needing our support. Is your campus having the conversation needed to help veteran students? Is there a designated staff member in student affairs to work with these students in your institution? Even if so, are you doing your part in your department to think about these students and are you including them in your programming? Although the battles in Iraq and Afghanistan have ended for the most part, we can’t forget about our veterans- Downton certainly didn’t.

Finally, find the Dowager Countess in your division and stick close to them.

What I Learned About Student Affairs From...Downton Abbey

Seriously- she had money, influence and the cojones (although I should probably say bollocks given we’re talking about an English woman here) to tell anyone and everyone where to go and how to get there at a moment’s notice. This is the person to follow and emulate- in most places I would bet it’s one of your deans or senior directors so seek them out, watch and learn.

Once again, my work here is done- though I’m sure that I’ve left out some lessons so please feel free to share them if you can think of more. Next week’s “What I Learned” post will take us back to the States and approximately 100 years into the future; here’s a hint of where we’re going next…

See you next time!

J

You Got The Job Or Internship, Now What? 9 Tips To Survive and Thrive In Your Role

9 Tips To Survive And Thrive In New Job

OK, before you say it, I know I’m probably jumping the gun- for most of you reading this, the moment I reference in the title is quite a bit off and you probably feel like I’m taunting you. Hear me out for a second. Remember when I said that your job is often like a second relationship at times? How many marriages fail in this country because people spend all of their time planning for a wedding and not an actual marriage? The process of searching for a job or an internship is no doubt important; if it weren’t, people wouldn’t write blog posts, articles, or entire books on the subject. However, it’s also important to recognize that eventually, you will find a place to land- and if you’re not ready to make it work when you do land you run the risk of being forced to search again.

With this in mind, I’m following up my post on how to find the job or internship that is perfect for you with a post on how to keep said job or internship- and, more importantly, how to succeed so you can be in the best place to move forward when the time comes. If you’re still not convinced, fine- skim it now and bookmark it for later. Believe it or not, the time will come when you’ll actually need it- faster than you realize. Even if you haven’t landed that dream position yet, chances are you’re working in a practicum or another part-time position now, and you can still use these tips to get ahead in the work you’re doing- so have a read anyway.

Continue reading You Got The Job Or Internship, Now What? 9 Tips To Survive and Thrive In Your Role