She entered university as a psychology major and had hoped to go to law school after graduation. In her psychology 101 course, she realized that she did not like the subject and could not see herself studying it for four years. She changed her major to history and received an honours BA in History and English. As an undergraduate, Kate served as a Resident Assistant and then went to teachers college to complete a Bachelor of Education. In Canada, it is rare to go to graduate school to study college student personnel directly after completing an undergraduate degree. Graduate programs that focus on student affairs are starting to become more popular in Canada, and so Kate is in the process of completing a Master of Education in Educational Leadership. She entered the field as a student affairs professional in 2006.
I had the chance to Skype with Kate and talk about the job search. Here’s what she had to say.
What should I do before I jump into the job search?
Write a list of the things you are looking for, your non-negotiable –both job specific and community specific. What type of community- city, small town, etc. – do you want to live in? Do you want to work for a large institution where you may have a very specific area of focus or a smaller school where you may have the chance to be a “jack of all trades”?
Kate says that many new professionals spend 2-3 years in their first position, so choose an institution and department that will help you to learn the trade and that will help you grow. Salary is often a non-negotiable. You may have student loans or other expenses that you need to consider in your overall budget.
Professional Development is also important to consider, especially when you are starting off in your career. Do you want to work for an institution that is able to support your professional development needs or are you ok with funding your own PD?
Resumes & Cover Letters are tough to get just ‘right’, what are some pieces of advice you have for grads in the search process?
Read the job description carefully and highlight the requirements and/or qualifications they are looking for. Make some notes on the skills and experiences you have that match those requirements. Be sure to explain why/how you are competent in those required areas and how you will apply your skills/knowledge to the position you are applying for.
The cover letter should be unique to each position. Kate says that spelling and grammar are very important and can be the deciding factor in whether or not you are called for an interview. It seems like a no-brainer but you’d be surprised at how many careless mistakes people make! … Have a trusted friend, colleague or mentor read through your cover letter to catch any minor mistakes you may have missed.
I’ve received word that I am up for an interview, so what should I be doing to help myself prepare for it?
Find out as much as you can about the institution and department. If you know someone in the department or school, reach out to them to see if they’re comfortable sharing their experience, to give you an idea of what it’s like to work there.
If there is anything you are uncertain about (specific job duties, campus culture, etc.) ask questions! Keep in mind your list of non-negotiable.
Be yourself and do what feels right for you.
On campus- what’s it all about?
It is often a full day affair, where you meet a number of people at the institution. You might meet with many of the professionals you will work with including campus partners.
The on-campus interview is your chance to determine your “fit.” Consider how you feel with staff from the department and institution, on campus and in the community.
Remember, you are interviewing them too. Will you be comfortable living and working there?
Keep in mind that there might be a presentation component to the interview. The topics may vary so stay current on the trends and hot topics in the field.
A Kate Tip: You’re probably going on a campus tour, so ladies- pack a pair of flats!
Describe some of the toughest situations you’ve faced in the job search.
Going up against the internal candidate. Especially if you do not know that an internal candidate is interviewing. It’s a tough situation to be in.
Kate told me that in Canada, because Student Affairs is a small field, it is challenging to move up into mid and senior level positions. When those positions come available, the competition is fierce!
Sometimes being over qualified is a tough situation to be in. At many institutions, you need to “break-in” by obtaining an entry-level position, but if you appear to be over-qualified for the job, it can be hard to catch that break.
Hearing “no” is never easy. Although it does make hearing that “yes” that much sweeter!
When you were going through your job search, what were some resources that you found helpful?
Where to find postings- Association websites and HigherEdJobs.com.
Connect with the people that are in positions that you would like to be in.
Most importantly, rely on the people you trust.
What advice would you give to a graduate student who is in the job search?
There is a tendency to get stressed out about landing a job by a certain date. Try your best to trust the process.
If you want it bad enough it’ll happen. Be persistent. It might not happen on your timeline, but it will happen.
Be mindful of your brand and what you are sharing on social media. .
Don’t bad mouth institutions. It’ll get back to them and will impact your reputation.
Most importantly, stick with it. Don’t get discouraged. Good luck!