One of the most stressful times can be finding that first job in any field. Residence Life is no exception. There are many questions that go through our minds when beginning this process. “Where do I want to work?” “Do I want to work at a small institution or large university?” “Should I work at a private or state school?” “Will anybody want me?”
All of these questions are valid. It seems almost overwhelming as each institution is quite unique and may contradict our blueprint for an ideal situation. This article will attempt to give those interested in pursuing a career in Residence Life some perspective on the process.
First of all, while it is important to have a clear sense of values and what is important to you while job searching, it is important to realize that no situation is perfect. There are far too many factors that enter into the equation. Location, size of student body, mission of the department and institution along with the individual agendas of each person within and outside of the student affairs division are just the start of the variables that can skew one’s perspective. Thus, it is important to remain flexible when interviewing. If you remain focused on the perfect job, chances are, you won’t find it.
Your first step should be making a rough draft of your resume. It will be important to highlight the talents that make you marketable to potential employers. Remember that the resume is intended to get you an interview, not to get you the job. It is merely a tool to sell yourself. When constructing your resume, remember that an institution may receive a large quantity of people exactly in the same situation as yourself. So, it is critical to articulately state your education, work, and life experiences that will make you a qualified candidate.
Have SEVERAL people review your resume. Give them all a separate copy and have them make notes. Tell them to “rip it apart” based on what they would like to see if they were receiving your resume. Then, compare their notes. Chances are, your will find some common themes. Utilize those corrections and have one or two people you trust most review it with you again to catch any last mistakes.
With each resume sent, a cover letter should be included. The cover letter will articulate the reasons you are applying for that SPECIFIC job. Again, given the potentially large quantity of applicants, it is important to individualize your experiences and relate them to how the institution will benefit through your employment. Through proper research, you will be able to find materials that give explicit details regarding the institution and the department’s mission and objectives. Use that information to your fullest advantage.
The cover letter should not be a duplicate of your resume. Highlight two or three items that you find to be most effective in communicating reasons that you would be an effective educator and/or administrator at the employer’s institution.
When you are applying for a position, it is important to have references available. Most employers will ask for three to five professional references. Depending on the institution and the search process for a given position, it may or may not be necessary to submit these names immediately. If the employer does not ask for references up front, it is probably a good idea to wait until they do ask for them. This way, you don’t burn out your references with constant phone calls over a short period of time.
Be sure to have a conversation with the individuals you wish to list as references. You want to make sure that they will be available within a given time frame (no extended vacations, sabbaticals, etc.) and that they have a clear understanding of your aspirations for employment. Based on this conversation, you should be able to gauge the individual’s level of excitement to aid you in this process.
References are listed on a separate sheet with the person’s name, professional title, address, phone number, e-mail address, and any other applicable information regarding the relationship between the reference and yourself.
Where can I find available positions?
The Chronicle of Higher Education is a weekly publication that has an extensive listing of job openings around the country. Their web site (http://chronicle.com/section/jobs/61) posts the previous week’s listings with the current week’s listings available to subscribers.
A good web site to find information is http://www.studentaffairs.com, has a listing of every college and university human resource page.
To search state by state go to: http://www.hire-ed.org
National Organizations and their Conferences:
National organizations offer placement opportunities and job listings:
College Student Educators International (ACPA): http://careers.myacpa.org/jobs/
Association of College and University Housing Officers-International (ACUHO-I): http://www.acuho-i.org/network/career
National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA): http://www.naspa.org/careers
National Organizations: Approximate Conference Dates:
ACPA and NASPA have annual conference in the months of March/April.
ACUHO-I’s annual conference is typically in June/July
The Annual Oshkosh Placement Conference at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh:
A popular venue for employers and potential employees to start their search: http://www.theope.org/
Either at a conference or at an institution, the interview is where you need to be most effective in selling yourself to an employer. Especially in the field of residence life, it is important to be honest and forthright with your expectations, your expertise, your managerial style, and your philosophy. This is important because, like a Resident Assistant selection process, the employer is looking for the right “fit” into the program. If you are not honest with an employer, this could lead to erroneous expectations once you are in the job.
Although the interviews vary in length, you can expect the process to take an entire day. They will most likely have you meet with various constituents on campus. These people may include the director/assistant director, other hall directors/area coordinators, a group of resident assistants, the dean of students and/or the vice-president of student affairs. They may also have you meet with representatives outside of student affairs in order to get a balanced view of your candidacy.
Like most interviews, it is important to anticipate the kinds of questions that will be thrown at you. You should go into the interview wanting to convey certain information that will make your candidacy appealing. Chances are, the opportunities will present themselves to get your points across. However, do not be thrown if questions arise that you did not anticipate. If you do not understand what the employer is looking for within a particular question, ask them to either repeat it or to elaborate on what they are referring to. More often than not, an employer will appreciate that you either take a moment to think the question out or ask for clarification in order to understand what is being asked.
Remember that you are also interviewing the employer. You should have some questions prepared to ask the interviewer. However, they should not be questions that can easily be found in a college viewbook or on their web site. These kinds of questions will only lead the employer to believe that you have not taken much of an interest in their institution if you have not done your research prior to the interview. Your questions should be more in depth.
When an interview is near the end, make sure that there are not loose ends. Make sure to ask what their time frame is for making a decision or if there is anything else they need for you to do at that time.
Thank You Notes and Follow-Up
Always, always, always send a thank you note. First of all, whether or not you want the job, it shows that you have a sense of professional courtesy. Since the field is so small, chances are that your name will “get around” the more you interview. If you present yourself in a positive light, that is the way you will be seen.
Once you decide to take a position, be sure to immediately call the other institutions that are considering you for a position. Many times, people remember the last contact that they have with you. Once you provide them with that final professional courtesy, you can feel confident that you have done everything the right way. You have treated a colleague with respect and they will remember that when you need to go through this process again and when they see you at various conferences in the future.
Submitted by John Bazin, Assistant to the Director of Housing and Residential Life, Eastern Connecticut State University