Being an entry-level professional staff member can be challenging, exciting, difficult, tedious, and wonderful. Below are some tips that can be helpful to entry-level staff in helping them to overcome some obstacles that most of us have had to face at some point early in our careers.
1. It is important for each of you to examine why you are doing the work you are doing.
• This is hard work.
• Many entry-level professionals live on-campus. You are under scrutiny 24/7.
• Think about why you do this job. What’s in it for you?
2. You must find a job that you enjoy/love.
•”To love what you do and feel that it matters — how could anything be more fun?” Katherine Graham
• If you hate Mondays because it means going to work, you need to find a new job.
• If you enjoy your job, you are more likely to do well at it and have a positive, cheerful attitude, which means you’ll enjoy it even more which will make your job easier. Your heart has to be in your work.
• Think about what you enjoy about your job. What do you dislike or hate about your job? Does your list of likes outweigh the list of dislikes?
3. If you are a recent graduate of a graduate program, you may still be in that “theory” mode.
• Theory is fine for background material. It is a good tool to use in your thought processes.
• However, there is nothing like practical experience to really teach you about your job.
• Avoid quoting last year’s graduate school textbooks to a 10-year veteran.
4. Learning how to delegate.
• Most entry-level professionals are delegated to.
• Once you move into your first mid-management position, you will have to change your thinking.
• You will have to learn how to let go of certain responsibilities and delegate them to someone else.
• Although you might think it is easier to do something your self rather than take the time to train someone else, go ahead and take the time to train the other person.
• Remember to give very clear directions.
• Do not be condescending.
• Ensure the person understands your expectations and give them an opportunity to ask questions for clarification.
5. Learning as much as you can about the financial side of the institution.
• It is very important to learn how the college/university budget is built, how to read a financial statement, etc.
• You need to understand the “big picture.”
•As a mid-manager, you will likely be expected to develop and monitor a departmental budget, understand financial implications of your decisions (e.g., the effect that vacancies have on the operating budget), and the decisions of others at the institution, and ensure that your departments does not overrun its budget.
• Ask your supervisor if he/she can give you the chance to learn this aspect of his/her job.
• Talk to people in your business office.
6. We know that our jobs are important.
• Remember though, student affairs departments exist to support the academic mission of the institution.
• Try to get to know a few faculty members and “teach” them about your area and student affairs in general.
7. When you are an entry-level professional, you dream of the day when you will have the authority to make the important decisions.
• Be aware that as a mid-manager, you will have the opportunity to make a few important decisions for your department.
• Some of those decisions may have an impact on the institution.
• However, in reality, you still do not have a whole lot of authority yet.
• Also, remember that with increased decision-making comes increased responsibility and accountability.
• Be prepared to assimilate lots of new information in a short period of time.
• You must learn when it is appropriate to make a decision and when it is appropriate to not make a decision. (For example, when you should pass a disgruntled parent to your boss, or not make a decision because you do not have enough information yet.)
8. Be prepared for the political environment, even at private schools.
• You have to know who has the power, what the real institutional priorities are.
• Learn about campus politics.
• Who wields the power?
• Who do you need to “kiss up to?”
•Who do you need to know?
9. Fear of change.
• Embrace change
• It happens all of the time.
• Don’t be stuck in the “that’s not the way we did it before” kind of mentality.
• Senior administrators look for visionary people.
• You do not want your program to become stagnant.
• You have to be willing to go out on a limb and try new things once in a while.
• Support those who have new ideas.
• Take some calculated risks.
• Be known for “going with the flow” and not being a “stick-in-the-mud.” However, be sure to recognize when it is right to “stick-to-your-guns.”
10. If you are certain that you want to proceed in this field and move into a mid-management position, you need to do certain things:
• Learn as much as you can about your job, your colleagues jobs, your boss’s job, and related jobs (e.g. food service, conferences, business affairs, athletics, etc.).
• We found in our research that many mid-managers received some type of orientation to their new job (especially if they moved to a new institution. Don’t count on an orientation if you are promoted from within.) However, they did not get much training for their job.
• For many, it was trial by fire, a.k.a. on-the-job-training or learning from your mistakes.
• Get over your fear and become comfortable with making presentations. Mid-managers are often called upon to present training sessions to staff, make presentations to the Board of Trustees, parents, prospective students, etc. If you present a program at a statewide, regional, or national conference, be sure to put that on your resume! People like me look for that kind of information on a resume.
• Learn how to communicate effectively orally and in writing. Have someone read over drafts before sending them out. Learn from the corrections you make.
• Own up to your mistakes.
• Make good first impressions.
• Read. The Chronicle, journals, newsletters, books, etc.
• Look in the Chronicle for the next job you would like to have. Examine what qualifications and experience are required or preferred. Go to your supervisor and ask him/her to help you gain knowledge and experience in the areas in which you are currently weak. Work to develop that weak area into a strength.
Submitted by Joanne Goldwater, Assistant Dean for Residential Life, St. Mary’s College of Maryland