Tag Archives: #sawrites

“Do Your Research!” Wait, What Does that Actually Mean?

I was delighted to be asked to write a blog for The Placement Exchange website. My topic was all about being prepared and “doing your homework” for the looming job search. Thanks to Nekesa Straker and the TPE blog for the opportunity to write about researching, while not creeping, on future employers and positions.

 

If your job search turns out anything like mine, you will hear the advice of “do your research” over and over again. You will hear it so often, it may start to lose its meaning, but doing your homework is often what will set you apart from other candidates. Showing off your research will help convince employers you want their job, not just any job.

  • Ask yourself, “What is the university all about?” Community college? Research 1? Liberal arts? HBCU? Religiously affiliated? Urban campus? Showing you have a comprehension of the type of university is the first step to doing your research and showing it off in your cover letter, interviews, and on-campus experience. For example, I have always worked at Jesuit institutions. If a candidate doesn’t mention anything about Jesuit education anywhere in their cover letter, or gives a blank stare during an interview when we ask about their understanding of the Jesuit mission, they will likely not be moving forward in our process.
  • Get the basics right. Nothing turns off an employer more than getting small, easy details wrong like the name of the position. Writing “Residence Hall Coordinator” when the job is actually “Hall Director” shows a lack of care and makes an employer wonder if you can bring an attention to detail to the position. Take a moment to check the spelling and titles of search committee members before you fire off a cover letter or thank you note. This means taking your time, and making sure you are applying to jobs in a slow, methodical fashion and not in marathon sessions, because this is often when details get missed. This also means reconsidering your plan to make a template cover letter and simply cut and paste specific details. Employers can smell a template a mile away!
  • Think about the resources already at your disposal. Reach out to your network, your professors, your cohort-mates, your mentors, and co-workers to ask if anyone has connections at the university. Even if there isn’t a direct link to the specific department, you can still connect with folks to learn so much! You can gain knowledge about campus culture, student life, what it is like to live in the location, or if there are good support networks for your specific identities.
  • Social media is your friend, when done in moderation. There are so many online resources for you to access information about the jobs that make your heart flutter. Official and unofficial Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts, LinkedIn profiles, YikYak, SnapChat, university hashtags, student newspapers online, and don’t forget the tried and true departmental website. If you ask a question for which the answer is easily accessible from online resources, it may give the employer pause and wonder if you are serious about the position. Also, I offer a small caveat around online resources. You can be informed and ask thoughtful questions without coming off as a creep. For example, perhaps you notice an interviewer tweeting on a conference hashtag. Don’t ask them how their dinner was with their grad school bestie, but perhaps ask a question about their favorite session they have attended at the conference.
  • Find a way to keep yourself organized and a way for this to be sustainable. It is great to have your stuff together during the phone interview season, but if you don’t keep this up during the TPE experience, you could sabotage yourself. One method I found helpful was to compile all of the information about the university, department, and position into a comprehensive folder with tabs. I also created a one-page overview of the most important information as a “cheat sheet” which I could quickly review during time between interviews. This helps keep it fresh and at the forefront of your mind to incorporate all of that hard-earned knowledge into your conversation with the employers. Whether it be note cards, file folders, a Google drive, setting up an Evernote account, or Post-Its, do what works for you to feel centered and as balanced as possible as you go into interview season.
  • Allow yourself to be surprised. You should absolutely be prepared, but don’t make the mistake of thinking you know everything about a department or position solely from your extensive research. Ask thoughtful questions and be receptive to the answers. You could find out your dream school isn’t a great fit after all, while an underdog may race to the front of the pack.
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A Love Letter to Housing Operations

On this, the loveliest of days, I want to express my love and gratitude of all those members of Housing Operations teams, particularly those professionals who work in assignments. This week I got a sneak peek of the work that they accomplish, and have more gratitude for our housing assignment team than I ever had before.

This week was one of those where you hit Friday at 5pm and don’t know what happened to you. It was a perfect storm of student staff selection, housing applications and lottery, moving staff office and apartment placements for next year, and approximately one thousand other things. The running theme in my world was the need to collaborate with our housing assignment folks to make all of this work and to be able to forecast problems, issues, and needs for the upcoming year. I feel like I used parts of my brain that I never have before!

The main impetus of this firestorm was the implementation of a new Theme Community program. I am extraordinarily proud that we were able to get this off the ground in only a few months and will have 60+ rising sophomores participate next year! None of this would have been possible without our assignments staff. Our Theme Community program charged current first-year students who are members of existing Learning Communities to propose a theme for the upcoming year, including the need to find a staff or faculty advisor, commit to both on and off-campus activities, and to propose learning outcomes. The benefit to students is additional funding for programming, extra support from staff, and the ever seductive lure to skip the housing lottery and instead be assigned prior to lottery numbers being sent out, thus in theory lessening the stress of all involved.

All of this sounds great on paper. I met with Clair, our assignments guru months ago to plot out a timeline, but when working with students, timelines often need to be shifted at the last minute. I realized this week, when working with the ever emotional, dramatic, and political beast of asking students to choose their roommates, all bets are off.

I was struck this week by how calm Clair, the Assistant Director and Melissa and Kristen, our Housing Assignments Coordinators were during the madness of multiple student meetings and last-minute changes. I felt my blood pressure steadily climb the closer we got to the accept/decline deadline and it seemed like they barely noticed the madness. I was thrown off when a student in one of the groups suddenly disclosed a religious need that required specific accommodations, while our team barely blinked. I felt thrown off when multiple groups of students just showed up to meet with me after the were assigned a hall not in their top three choices, while Clair, Melissa, and Kristen just sort of laughed at the flurry of activity from my office. My eyes started to blur every time I pulled out the floor plans and tried to keep the difference between a bedroom single, bedroom double, studio double, designated single, and other configurations straight, while these three amazing women were able to take one look at a floor and tell me exactly what the occupancy should be. I got a pit in my stomach when we started discussions of lost revenue as we took spaces offline for new student leaders, while Clair said it was par for the course, all the while talking about first-year projections and something called “the funnel” from Admissions, which I’m still not entirely sure I understand. My brain simply shut down when we decided a very complex domino scheme that involved moving, swapping, renovating, and rehabbing seven different staff apartments and offices in four different communities. Clair simply took copious notes and made the changes, without even asking additional questions.

In short, our Housing Ops professionals have skills that I do not. They have the ability be both analytical when looking at occupancy needs and immediately shift to being empathetic when a sobbing student walks into their office because they’ve reaching their breaking point with a roommate, are in the midst of transitioning genders, or have to disclose the need for a disability related accommodation. They have to simultaneously be forward-thinking in order to make occupancy and revenue predictions, while also being nimble enough to respond to a downed server or other technical glitch. They have to be able to understand how physical environments can truly impact a student’s ability to learn, develop, and grow while dealing with the pressure of keeping those beds filled.

I don’t know how you do it. I was immune to those issues before this week. I realized how much we depend on our Housing Ops team because if the beds aren’t filled, the Res Life side of things doesn’t get funded. We are not able to hire staff, do renovations, build new buildings, or program around educational topics if we don’t have enough students living in our halls. Housing Ops, you make my job possible, and I love you for it.

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What Do You Do All Day?

I recently transitioned from the role of Resident Director to Assistant Director and moved across the country. While I was home for the holidays, my mother naturally asked, “What do you do all day at work?” It was a fair question. She could wrap her head around my role as a Resident Director because she lived in a residence hall in college. She often likes to say that if she knew student affairs was a career, she probably would have gone into the field.

Truth be told, I struggled to answer her question. My sarcastic, pithy, one-sentence answer was, “Emails and meetings, all day long.” I know I do more than that, but how can I quantify it? Sure, I often have hilarious stories about the requests or reactions of students or parents, and I can wax poetic about the future of higher education with the best of them, but what is it that I do? Why am I getting paid? What output is expected of such compensation? I’ve been pondering this for awhile after listening to a ProReps Aside podcast from Valerie Heruska and Matt Bloomingdale that asked this question and then I stumbled upon this tweet from the incomparable Mallory Bower:

Ma’am, I dip my hat to you. I think it is a really good question to think about. What is it that you do? Not what you hope to do, or want to do, or write on your professional development plan, or what you tweet about, but what do you actually accomplish on a day-to-day level? 

In the past two weeks, this is what I have accomplished: 

  • Had one-on-one meetings with four incredible new professionals who I supervise as Resident Directors. Those conversations ranged from job searches, to training new student leaders, to facilities updates, to roommate conflicts, to their own professional development plans, and about a hundred other topics in between.
  • Wrapped up a job description for a summer ACUHO-I intern; scheduled interviews by juggling 11 different schedules and started to look at candidate profiles
  • Packed my entire office and said goodbye to my surrogate professional home for the past six months. This is in preparation of our department’s office reunification after nearly two years of having a main office and a branch office
  • Assisted my supervisor and co-workers in their office packing, which often meant telling them to stop telling stories about the items, cards, photos, or mementos in their hands and to instead start making decisions about what to keep or toss
  • Attended the first National Residence Hall Honorary chapter meeting of the year and offered advice as their co-advisor around induction ceremonies and upcoming programming
  • Read, sorted, replied to, and crafted hundreds of emails. Hundreds.
  • Booked my hotel and travel for NASPA and started working on my speech for a SA Speaks session
  • Organized a meet-and-greet for several faculty members, administrative partners, and Residence Life staff for our Learning Community program in an attempt to pair in-class learning with out-of-class experiences
  • Presented three times in one day to 100+ Resident Advisors and Learning Community Advisors during winter training about OrgSync, a new programming model, and ways technology can work for them
  • Laughed a lot. Like, more than you probably expect. Our work is fun.
  • Attended my first CASCHA meeting; met several other Chicagoland professionals, sat on a panel about interviewing in student affairs, and conducted a mock interview with a new professional
  • Rolled out OrgSync implementation to our entire department and held my breath when all of our student staff members logged on for the first time; spent several hours troubleshooting said issues with student staff members
  • Completed really boring, but really necessary parts of my job like approving timecards, submitting receipts for purchases, and updating budget logs
  • Met with partners and faculty to discuss the future of our Service and Faith Learning Community, which spawned ideas on how to improve the entire LC program in the future
  • Reviewed resumes and cover letters from graduate students at my current institution, from my alma mater, in addition to grads who have reached out over Twitter
  • Attended the annual Res Life Prom. Yep, it’s a thing.
  • Brainstormed online training modules for Learning Community Assistants to increase academic support and integrated learning for members of all Learning Communities
  • Attended a divisional retreat for half of one day and a departmental retreat for an entire day
  • Rolled out an entirely new programmatic offering for our rising sophomore students in an attempt to increase participation and engagement while in our halls. So. Freaking. Excited!!!
  • Followed the incredible Higher Ed Live podcast on #blacklivesmatter and participated in the backchannel
  • Met with colleagues in our Admissions Office to streamline the housing application process for incoming first-year students who are interested in joining a Learning Community
  • Attended a total of 21 meetings in ten days, most of which required prior preparation and follow-up

This was just the past two weeks and I would argue it was a light few days since only one week had students on campus. I would also add conduct, parental phone calls, mental health concerns of students, being on call for our department, and regular committee work to a typical work week. So why is it that I was so dismissive when asked, “What do you do all day?” Did I not want to sound like I was whining or bragging? Did I underestimate my mother’s ability to understand the ‘intricacies’ of the work I do? Or is it because I’m not used to hearing what people actually do in their work?

As a new professional, I often remember thinking, “Hmm, what exactly does my boss do all day? They don’t supervise RAs, they aren’t first responders, they aren’t doing the ‘work’ of committees, so how do they spend their time?” As a student and Resident Advisor, I remember thinking the same thing about my RD. I think we all need to talk about what we actually do more often. Not in some cute sound-bite, or conference introduction, or carefully crafted Twitter profile, but in depth and in detail. How else are our graduate students and new professionals going to know if they actually want to continue in the field? We owe it to them to be transparent and we owe it to ourselves to quantify our day-to-day work so when someone asks, “What do you do all day?” we are ready, whether that person is your mother, an accrediting agency, your supervisor, the university president, or students who should be the focus of this work every day.

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Middle of Somewhere: 5 Ways to Stay Connected as a Middle Manager

We’ve all heard the adage, “The higher up you climb, the less student interaction you get.” I remember hearing this for the first time in grad school during a seminar my program hosted. Our VPSA walked us through a typical day, which consisted of approximately eleventy billion meetings, strategic planning, lots of emails, caucusing with other professionals at his level, and “If I’m lucky, I’ll have a quick conversation with our student office assistant.”

My naive grad school brain was floored. How could someone in such a position of power and decision-making have so little contact with the very people who would be impacted by such decisions? Why did the people with the least amount of [perceived] power (i.e. grad students such as myself) serve as advisors, supervisors, hearing officers, mentors, and more? I remember promising to myself that as I moved up, I would maintain regular contact with students at my institution.

Well, that is much easier said than done. I have recently transitioned from entry to mid-level management. This means I no longer supervise student leaders, I don’t have a front desk with a ton of student traffic feet from my office door, I don’t advise a hall council, I’m not expected to attend late night programming, I haven’t yet had a judicial case, and I work in a central office. Therefore, between administrative work, answering emails, having one-on-ones with with RDs, and running committees, it is entirely possible to go throughout the day and never see a student.

I was reminded of my grad school experience as I was transitioning into my new role and I was determined to not be an out-of-touch administrator, especially during my first year while I am still figuring out student culture. Even though the desire was there, the means were not as clear. I couldn’t just show up in classes or sit down to lunch with random students without being viewed as a creeper. I didn’t have the same responsibilities and expectations, and now I was living off-camus. This meant I usually left around 5pm and enjoyed cooking dinner, blogging, and catching up with Netflix. So how was I going to stay connected? For me, it was all about being intentional.

Duty Walks with RAs

Since I started my position the same day our grads did, I missed two weeks of RD training. I hadn’t had the chance to really walk our facilities or be on floors due to the blur of RA training and opening. I knew that if a major facility issue happened while I was on-call, I was going to struggle to envision the problem or quirks of our communities. Therefore, I’ve been doing the first set of rounds within one community per week since the start of school. This has not only helped me understand the unique needs of our community, but also connect with our incredible staff of Resident Advisors, as well as students we encounter while on our walks. There have also been a few challenging staffing situations in our department, so members of our Leadership Team are sometimes given the narrative of the bad guy, so I like to think of duty walks as a miniature goodwill tour as well.

Grad Assistant 1-on-1s

One of the very first things I did at the start of the year was send an invitation to all 13 of our Assistant Resident Directors and offer to set-up a lunch or chat over coffee. Nearly all of them took me up on my offer and I’ve been meeting with one or two ARDs per week. This has been absolutely amazing. Our department is fairly large (nearly 40 when everyone is present) so it is easy to lose connection with our graduate students in the haze of meetings and agendas. I’ve learned about their coursework, path into student affairs, side hobbies, how their staffs are doing, how they are transitioning to the field, or what their job searches may look like in a few months. These conversations have been mutually beneficial. I’ve received feedback that many grads appreciate someone in my role reaching out to them, getting to know them better, and also sharing pieces of my own journey.

Advising Opportunities 

When our chapter of NRHH needed a co-advisor, I jumped at the opportunity. Yes, this meant several more meetings and nighttime programs on my docket, but getting the chance to have direct contact with amazing student leaders was something I could not pass up. These student leaders represent the top 1% of all residence hall students on our campus so they are driven, organized, motivated, and genuinely invested in living out the organization’s values. I meet with the executive board every other week, do my best to attend general board meetings twice a month, and I plan to support my team as they put on monthly programs on campus. More time? Sure. Worth it? Absolutely.

Staff Meetings and Trainings 

I’ve offered up my love of presenting and facilitating staff development workshops to a few of the RA teams and I’ve been booked to present Strengths to an RA staff next week. This smaller, more focused opportunity not only helps me get more face time with our student leaders, but also takes some pressure off of the RD and ARD as they don’t have to facilitate the activity. I hope the RAs will enjoy learning more about their Strengths and how its impacts their leadership styles, and if it goes well, I hope to be invited to more staff meetings throughout campus.

Social Media Outlets

While the other options I’ve listed do require physical presence, engaging with students via social media can be done from the comfort of my home, usually while wearing sweatpants. I’m a firm believer in the phrase “lurking is learning,” so even if I’m not having conversations with students online, just scrolling through Instagram or searching for key phrases on Twitter gives me a jumpstart on understanding student culture. Also, for all of its shortcomings, Yik Yak has also served as a useful tool for me to see what is going through the heads of our student body, or even community members who are within a certain radius of campus. Yes, there are horrible things going on through the app (which is another post for another day), but I’ve also learned a great deal about classes, study habits, party culture, and transitional issues of students through the posts, upvotes, and comments.

In order to do my job well, I need to make decisions based on student needs and not just my perceptions of those needs. This can’t happen if I’m holed up in my office, huddled over my email, or constantly in meetings. Even if it means using some of my nighttime or weekend hours, its worth it in the end. I didn’t get into this field to work a typical 9-5 schedule, so sometimes those non-traditional hours make the 9-5 a heck of a lot easier.

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Sometimes My Job Sucks

Truth time: Sometimes my job sucks 

I work in Student Affairs, specifically within the area of Residence Life. I’m an Assistant Director, which means I work with our learning community programs, academic support initiatives, supervise full-time RDs, serve on committees, attend a lot of meetings, and deal with even more emails. Before this, I was a live-in Resident Director for seven years.

We are in the midst of Careers in Student Affairs Month, a time when we promote our field, tell our story, and jumpstart many an undergraduate student leader to join our ranks. I have been seeing a great number of engagement opportunities, from webinars, to an Instagram contest, to an essay competition, to the ongoing #CSAM hashtag on social media and within blog posts. I love this. Seriously. I think all of these offerings are incredible ways to showcase our work, but in the effort to “sell” Student Affairs, something gets lost in translation. 

What gets lost for me is that sometimes my job sucks. 

Not all the time, and I would argue not even most of the time, but sometimes, yes, my job sucks. And that needs to be part of the Careers in Student Affairs Month narrative too. Sometimes I have to deal with duty situations at 3am when I would rather be asleep. Sometimes I have to listen to two students argue about the most ridiculous details of living together when I just want to yell, “Grow up already!” Sometimes I gets angry calls from frustrated parents who decide I’m the reason their child isn’t thriving. Sometimes I’ve sought the help of a professional counselor due to a tumultuous relationship with a supervisor. Sometimes I felt guilty for not attending my RA’s programs or worse, felt resentful when I was in attendance when I would have rather been doing anything else. Sometimes I’ve been so frustrated with campus politics that I questioned how progress could ever occur. Sometimes I’ve gone blurry-eyed from the seemingly endless amounts of emails when a good portion of them could be addressed with a simple phone call, or even better, common sense. Sometimes I compare myself to friends in other professions who are purchasing homes or taking incredible vacations because their salaries provide for such luxuries. Sometimes I’m asked to do unthinkable things to support students, including being present when they are told their roommate has passed away. Sometimes I feel totally out of my depth. Sometimes I wonder why I’m trusted to do this work at all. Sometimes I’m exhausted. Sometimes I’m reminded that this is indeed a job, and sometimes it’s a job that sucks. 

But most of the time? Most of the time this work feeds my soul. Most of the time I know, at my core, that this work matters.

Most of the time I know that being present at 3am means I can support a student at what may be the worst moment of their collegiate career. Most of the time I’m reminded that the skills students learn during a roommate mediation may influence business, romantic, and friend relationships for years to come. Most of the time I hear the pain and worry in a parent’s voice who really just want to know that their child is going to be okay, and I can help be part of that process. Most of the time I’ve cherished the time I’ve spent with RAs and residents at programs, and the conversations have helped to shape my practice. Most of the time my colleagues and supervisors have helped me navigate campus politics to better serve our student population. Most of the time emails help us take a team approach to solving problems. Most of the time I know that while my friends are buying houses or going on vacations, they’ve never seen the growth of a student or staff member that fills you with so much pride, you can’t help but grin. Most of the time students in crisis thank me, genuinely, warmly, and usually more than once. Most of the time students make me laugh and help me reflect on my place in the world. Most of the time this field makes me examine both my privileged and marginalized identities. Most of the time, this job is not a job at all, but instead a vocation.

So yes, sometimes this job sucks, but I know this job always matters. Always. 

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Middle of Somewhere: Transitioning to Middle Management

I just wrapped up my first week on the new job. It was a unique first week, because the first two days were spent at a staff retreat and Friday was at an all-day, off-campus day of service. It was also unique for me because I have made the transition from entry-level professional to mid-level professional. For the past seven years, I’ve been used to the typical start of the year for Res Life professionals, which means training with the professional team during July, student staff training during August, and opening halls in September.

While my previous two positions were amazing, rewarding, and challenging in many ways, I was ready for the transition to supervising professional staff members. During my first week, I realized just how different this experience has been compared to starting positions as an entry-level professional. I’ve decided to write about my transition, for better or worse, to supervising professional staff members and serving on my department’s leadership team.

I am no longer one of many. In my first job, I was one of 12 Resident Directors and in my last job, I was one of nine. Now, I am one of three Assistant Directors. I obviously knew this going into the job, but I was struck at how different the room felt. My current department has nearly 25 full-time and graduate RDs, so the rooms are very full, but not with people who do what I do. This means I no longer have a giant pool of folks who are sharing my experience and it has been a little jarring.

Oh yeah, I’m the one who gets the questions now. One of my new supervisees pulled me aside at the day of service to chat over her supervision plan with her grad. It took me until half-way through the conversation to realize that she was asking for my permission versus just my thoughts on her idea. It was weird. I’m so used to processing with my peers that it took me a bit to get my feet under me.

I’m part of departmental decision-making from the get-go. Day three involved interviewing a candidate for a Resident Director position and on day five I was asked who I wanted to hire, since I would be supervising this person. Um…what? I’ve spent seven years giving opinions and knowing they were valued, but also knowing that I wouldn’t be motivating or keeping that recommended person accountable. This changes things. I required me to shift my thinking from “Which one do I want to work with this year?” to “Which one is going to fit on the team, serve our students best, and will best benefit from the position?”

Stepping back with opinions, to allow others to step up. During my previous professional staff training experiences, I was always up for sharing what had worked in my community, with my staff, or with my students. I found myself purposefully stepping back this and allowing the current staff speak to their experiences instead. I found myself being very aware that while I had done the RD job before, I hadn’t done it here and before I started spouting off experiences, I should first be a student of this institution’s culture.

I still got nervous on the first day! For some reason, I expected a surge of confidence, but I was just as nervous as I had been started my other positions. I’m still a new person who needs acronyms to be explained, struggled with way-finding on a new campus, and needed to be reminded of people’s names.

The excitement is different, but still there. I can distinctly remember my first day as a new professional and it mirrored, in many ways, my experience last Monday. In the back of my mind, there was still a little bit of the Imposter Syndrome rattling around, but I took a deep breath, reminded myself that they chose me, and that I did belong here. I’ve got a lot to learn, but I know this is where I’m meant to be.

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