Being a Resident Director, you have probably heard over and over how when trying to move up in the field of residence life and housing you must deal with “the pyramid effect”. There are a lot of RD positions, fewer area coordinator and assistant director positions and even fewer director positions. When working with new professionals, I am often asked “What do I need to do to move up; how can I stand out?” The advice that I always give is: professional development. Let’s face it, a resident director is a resident director is a resident director! No matter where you work, the basic job responsibilities are pretty much the same. When looking at resumes for mid-level positions, I often start by looking at the “extra” things that a candidate has done, and then if the experience grabs my attention, I give the entire resume a closer look.
The term “professional development” can mean different things to different people – for many they mistakenly believe that “professional development” only means going to conferences and being involved with various professional organizations. I would like to challenge readers of this article to broaden your thinking when it comes to “professional development” because it encompasses so much more.
I would like to discuss 4 different methods of professional development:
1. Keeping Up with Current Trends in the Field
Of the four methods that we are going to examine, this is perhaps the easiest and the least expensive. READ! Read, journals, books, “The Chronicle”, newsletters etc. Talk with colleagues about “hot topics”. Commit to yourself to becoming more educated on the trends that are going on within the field of residence life and housing.
Even if your department has “zero” budget resources – you can go to your campus library and gain access to countless books and journals that focus on higher education and the work that we do. Can’t get to the library? Many journals and newsletters are available on line. Need motivation to get yourself reading? Start a reading group on your campus; invite some of your co-workers and discuss current issues over lunch. Start small, perhaps an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education and then maybe over the summer when things get quieter you can work your way up to a book.
Perhaps finding time to read just isn’t going to work for you. You can also “keep current” with hot topics by joining an email discussion list. Are you currently a resident director with aspirations to be a director of residence life some day? You might want to subscribe to a list that is targeted to chief housing officers (CHO’s). Find out what directors are discussing and then you can learn more about that topic as well.
Another option is taking a class. Many of us receive tuition remission as a benefit. Identify an area that is weakest for you; maybe it’s developing and managing budgets… your institution probably offers a course that can help you to develop that skill.
2. Getting Involved Departmentally
This method keeps up with the theme of making yourself stand out so you can move up to mid-level management. To be successful, you need to go beyond your job description. If you read just about any job advertisement for an assistant director position it will list central office responsibilities as a preferred qualification. Getting involved within your department can give you an edge. When you are sitting in your staff meeting and the director is looking for volunteers for office projects, get used to putting your hand up.
Start out small, perhaps you can ask your supervisor if you can help with staff training or staff selection. He or she may not be ready to turn over the entire project to you, but you can probably be responsible for a significant portion of the project. There may be an opportunity to co-advise residence hall association or maybe you can co-advise a departmental committee.
If your supervisor isn’t able to share his or her central office responsibilities, you might want to think about creating a new project for your department. You can create a specialized programming series, develop a speaker’s list of faculty and staff who are willing to come into the residence halls to do programs or work with your RA staff to do a major theme-programming week. Use your imagination, find your strength, do things that you are passionate about and make yourself the department “expert”.
3. Getting Involved On-Campus
If your campus is like mine, your director is often getting contacted by various campus constituencies asking for a residence life representative to sit on a committee. Make sure that your supervisors know that you are interested in getting involved in the campus community. Once your name is out there and people see your good work, you will find that you get asked to be on a lot of committees.
College campuses have a lot to offer. Read your college’s campus calendar; be aware of events, trainings and workshops that are happening on your campus. Computer skills are becoming more and more important and our campuses become more advanced technologically. You can probably go to computer training at no extra cost to you.
Another great opportunity to get involved on-campus is to advise a student group. Talk to your student activities staff; they probably have a list of student groups that are looking for advisors.
4. Getting Involved Through Professional Organizations
The first step to getting involved with professional organizations is to make sure that you have support from your supervisor (both financial and time away from the office). Once you get the green light; the possibilities are endless. You can start by attending conferences, both regionally and nationally. There are many different professional organizations out there; find the one that is right for you.
Once you find the organization that feels like home to you, start to get involved. Consider presenting at conferences. Speaking in front of an audience is a very necessary skill if you are going to advance in this field; and presenting is a great way to develop this skill. If the thought of presenting scares you, you could start out by presenting to para-professionals perhaps at a RA conference, or start out at a regional conference but ask a mentor to present with you for the first time.
Many professional organizations depend on volunteers to make them successful. You can get involved by volunteering to be on a committee and when you are ready you can consider running for an office.
Creating Your Own Professional Development Plan
Now that I have outlined some of the different types of professional development out there, you need to think about what makes sense to you. You need to commit to your own professional development. A good way to do this is to create a professional development plan.
Here are some things to consider:
1. You should create a Professional Development Plan on an annual basis.
2. You should create your plan in consultation with your supervisor or your mentor.
3. Your plan should address what new skills or areas that you want to focus on during the next year.
4. Your plan should address what committees/activities that you want to get involved with in your department, on your campus and within professional organizations.
5. Your plan should address what conferences if any that you wish to attend.
6. Your plan should address how you plan to accomplish these goals.
Some Tips for Success
Once you have your plan laid out, there are several things that you can do to help you be successful.
1. Ask Questions! Make every opportunity a learning opportunity.
3. Do your best! Always give 110% as opposed to the minimum that is required.
5. Take risks; try new things and work outside of your comfort area.
6. Start small and take on more when you feel you are ready.
7. Take responsibility for your own professional development; don’t expect your mentor or your supervisor to do it for you.
8. If you don’t already have a mentor, get one. Make sure it is someone that you respect and who will tell you when you do a great job AND tell you when you mess up.
As always – there are some Don’ts!
1. Don’t forget that whatever you do, you represent your department and your institution.
2. Don’t join more committees or get involved with more projects than you can handle.
3. Don’t forget to do your job!
Submitted by Beth Moriarty, Director of Residence Life and Housing, Bridgewater State College