Preparing Yourself for A Job Search in Residence Life (or Student Affairs… or Another Industry)

In a previous post, I wrote about how a supervisor might assist in supporting their staff member(s) through the job search season. As we are now entering a new year, and with some hopeful reflections motivating our purposes, it seems only fitting to now address this phenomenon from the perspective of the candidate. I want to begin with the caveat that you will receive an overwhelming amount of advice and guidance throughout a job search–from mentors, references, supervisors, peers, etc. Only YOU know what feels right and in line with your values and pathway. Keep that in mind.

Below I have included a checklist that I give to my second year graduate assistants to help them get started on tasks associated with preparing for their job searches. Though there are always personalizations you may want to include, I have found these proactive tasks helpful when things seem overwhelming in the thick of it. Having worked as a recruiter for over a decade, and navigated my own career searches time and again, these tasks have helped keep me organized on both sides of the interview table. 

  • Update your resume
  • Write a general cover letter*
  • Update your Linked In profile
  • Narrow down your top 5 “Must Haves”
    • Know your budget (what bills do you have, etc.)
    • Geographical location (try something new!)
    • Unit/department/function (stretches and standbys)
  • Jot down thoughts on impactful job moments for interviews**
  • Write out/practice your elevator pitch
    • Short answer to “tell me about yourself”
  • Ask your references before you start applying (and if they’ll be a positive reference!)
  • Schedule time twice/week to search for and apply to jobs
  • Make a spreadsheet to track your applications and information
  • Set a professional greeting on your voicemail (simply confirming your name is helpful)
  • Draft common email responses
    • “I’m interested in your open position!”
    • “Thanks for your outreach but I’m not interested”
    • “OMG thanks for contacting me, I’m very interested!”
    • “Thank you for your time”
  • Keep your calendar updated
  • Check in with your job search mentor as needed

*Having a general cover letter that you can plug in a couple of specific lines for the institution saves you time and energy; you don’t need to recreate the wheel for every application. The exception being if you are attempting to transition to a different functional area, in which case you may want to narrate some connections on your transferable skills more overtly. 

**Think of these interview response preparations as a sort of rehearsal. You don’t necessarily need to talk out each one (though it can help for sure), but having a few “go-to” examples from your previous roles and experience can increase your confidence going into the interview. Common types of examples to consider: crisis response situation, supervising moment, how you manage your time and keep yourself organized, large-scale program planning. Practice talking through the more complicated ones so that you don’t stray too much in the actual interview. 

All of these items are designed to help you manage the little details of the job search that can be overlooked and/or cause anxiety to accomplish while you’re still employed, taking classes, being a human, etc. You may have heard the phrase that “job searching is like a job in and of itself,” and while that is true to an extent, the same way that advance preparation and planning helps you at work, it can assist here too. Involving your direct supervisor (as appropriate based on your comfort) can also allow them to provide support and flex time and deadlines as needed. Communication is key throughout all factors of this process – especially talking with yourself. Give yourself a moment to reflect on each employer interaction, even if briefly, so you can connect to what you liked, and also what may have brought up questions or concerns. 

I want to leave you with a moment of motivation and inspiration as you embark on this next step in your career – wherever that may take you. Follow your own compass and trust your gut on things. I also want to encourage you to take a couple risks and push yourself to apply for that job in a cool city you maybe would never live in again (especially if you’re looking at live-in roles where housing is included). Know that you are qualified and capable and also know the areas you need to stretch in and want to gain more knowledge. 

Whatever you decide – YOU GOT THIS.

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