Supporting Staff Through the ResLife Job Search Season

It’s job search season! For those of us with graduate assistants, and perhaps those with undergrads interested in the field (see my previous blog post!) these staff are beginning to plan out their job searches. The professional job search and the graduate school search have some significant differences and individuals going through these processes need different types of support from both supervisors and departmental leadership. At each institution at which I’ve served, we had the ability to offer some departmental advice and guidance to these two levels of job searches. The following are some helpful frameworks for supporting your staff and students though these searches. 

The Graduate School/Assistantship Search

This level of search often comes with the most unknowns because it may be the first time one’s thought of even embarking on a career in this field. And honestly, this advice can apply to any graduate program, not only those in Higher Education Administration. Essentially, applying individuals are coordinating 2 simultaneous searches: the assistantship and the graduate program. The chicken or the egg debate here can really go either way as it depends on the institutional policies and their relationship between programs and hiring managers. Here are some thoughts as you help support those undergrads who have decided to pursue a graduate program in this field…

  • Incorporate a check-in during your 1:1s. Be specific in what they want from you as their supervisor. Do they want a checklist to move through along the course of November – April/May? (e.g. resume/cover letter, personal statement, graduate applications and fee waivers, visit days, interviews, etc.)
  • Connect them with other professionals in the department and/or within other units on campus that they’re interested in. A lot of what we assume another department does is short-sighted. Scheduling an informational interview with another professional on campus can be helpful to know if it is an area they’re truly interested in as well as prepare questions and interview responses with foundational knowledge.
  • Offer to review their application materials. Or better yet, have them pass it to whomever does the recruitment and staffing in your own unit as they likely have a bit more experience with what hiring managers are looking for.
  • Share your own experiences. But don’t make their search about your journey…it’s great to help connect them with alma maters, but make sure you’re not pushing it onto them to consider something just to appease you.

The Professional Search

As one graduates and enters the realm of the “first professional job search” – or even if one is ready for their next adventure after a couple of years at your current school – one may begin the search process with a little bit of familiarity. Hopefully candidates have been able to experience some networking and, through classwork, learned of other units and their opportunities. This search starts with a good deal of reflection on what types of roles one wants to pursue. Is live-in still what they want and/or need? Are they looking to move functional areas? Here are my thoughts on coaching the new professional job searchers out there…

  • Establish what level of advice and frequency of check-ins they are wanting. We get excited for folks we care about, and as we’ve all been through at least one job search we have LOTS of advice and experience to share. This, however, can also be overwhelming to someone and cause them to feel unprepared or “less than.” Set some boundaries and expectations between the duo, with ways to communicate when more or less is needed.
  • Forward jobs that you come across, but unless you have their permission, avoid tagging them in postings. It’s always good to make sure you’re not indirectly committing someone to apply for something. Ask first. 
  • Work with them on scheduling time in their week to apply for roles and update materials. This also includes some flexibility when on-campus interviews kick  up and folks need time out of the office and help covering things. Job searching can be a job in and of itself, so this is the most tangible support you can provide as a supervisor/department. 
  • Work on a plan in case of an early transition. In some cases folks may start prior to graduation depending on the job requirements and start dates. Also for folks moving from one professional role to the next, they’re not bound by degree attainment so having a coverage and a transition plan is good practice for your organization as well as supporting staff members exiting and entering roles. 

As our field continues to experience what other fields and sectors have also undergone, jobs are plentiful and candidates are able to be more intentional with where they choose to work. While salary and benefits are a huge component, the way a department and supervisor treats their current, exiting, and incoming staff members continues to be of the highest factor regarding attrition. It can certainly be disrupting and disappointing to lose staff members regardless of the time of year, but how you support and respond is crucial to your organizational culture and overall health. As we center the student experience in our programmatic efforts, we must also center the staff member in our onboarding and offboarding approaches as well.

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