Blog Archives

Transforming Conferences — Transforming Ourselves?

A phrase those of us who work in the field of Higher Education regularly use with our students is to “think outside of the box.”  It’s a common enough idea — don’t stay with the ordinary, think of how you can do something newer/better, etc. — yet for the most part, the more you move up within an industry, the less this advice is preached to you.  Our work lives become more focused on administration and higher level tasks, so that the mundane invariably zaps us of our youthful creativity that brought us here in the first place.  Creating flashy bulletin boards becomes damage billing, devoting oodles of time to our students becomes putting out the daily mini-fires within our buildings/department, and so on.  It doesn’t have to be this way; we can transform our environment to be one that resembles the lighthearted, wholly worthwhile experiences we had as RAs/grads if we only break away from the insipidity that comes with having increasingly less time with students and more time devoted to managing.

I recently had the privilege of attending the inaugural Big Ideas Conference, put together by The Jersey Alliance.  One of the innumerable things that was refreshing about this conference was how it was so unlike any other conference I’ve attended.  Think about the unifying characteristics of all of the conferences you’ve attended.  Now create a conference with the guideline that you aren’t allowed to do those things.  Welcome to the Big Ideas experience.  I understood the basic premise of what this conference was going to entail, but what I didn’t know (and am starting to see after the fact) was the impact that two days would have on my overall frame of mind when it comes to Student Affairs.

I could continue on for paragraphs about how amazing an experience it was to attend this groundbreaking conference, but for space sake, take my word for it (and follow #bigideas12 on Twitter).  The brain trust that is the planners/organizers of the Big Ideas Conference understand that we hold within us the ability to transform our structured, traditional approaches into something much more dynamic and meaningful, not just for our own benefit, but for that of our students as well.  I don’t have to tell you that we are working with students who were born into the technology age (see: “Internet Generation”) and know much more about fast-paced lifestyles and communication than 98% of administrators out there.

Yet in spite of that, we — for the most part — continue to go with our normal approaches in our work with students, when deep down, our students are longing for something that speaks their language, something that they can understand and identify with.  Bulletin boards and brochures are archaic for our generation.  Anything over two paragraphs (or 140 characters) goes unread.  Emails go unchecked.  These are widely-used methods in our industry that just aren’t working for our current students.  What we as Student Affairs professionals need to do is to take a page from our Big Ideas colleagues and take part in what Higher Ed blogger and social media pro Eric Stoller calls “status quo deconstruction.”  Find ways to incorporate what our students use on a daily basis (texting, blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest) into our approaches with them.  If you noticed, all of what was listed has to do with technology — think about it.  Come up with innovative ways to handle judicial sanctions, programming ideas, advertising, etc.  You have to step outside the box to think outside the box, so quit thinking like an college student administrator and start thinking like a college student.  What would you want to see from your residential/university experience?  How would you feel connected?  These and other questions are the building blocks to becoming a field that is truly student-centered.

What are some things that you and/or your department do to meet our college students where they are?  Are there any Big Ideas that you have developed that have resonated with your students?  Please share them below, and remember:

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets credit.” – President Harry S. Truman


It’s The Time Of The Season: Job Search Edition

We are a week into the month of March, which for student affairs professionals means several things: RA interview processes are over, that long-awaited week of relaxation(?) entitled Spring Break is fast approaching, and graduate and professional job searches are kicking into high gear.  Whether you are a national placement attendee (TPE/NASPA or ACPA) or you prefer a more regional touch (OPE, SPE, or MAPC), one thing is for certain — everyone wants a job.  The question is, how do you get one?  How do you make yourself stand out from the crowd?  How do you prep for something so stress-inducing?

Below are several do’s and dont’s I’ve learned to keep in mind before, during, and after job searching.

***After reading these, if you have any follow-up questions or other things you would like to know about the job search process, e.g. optimal ways to prepare, questions to ask employers, etc, I encourage you to contact me here.  I enjoy these sorts of things, so I’d be happy to assist you with your questions.***

  • DO have at least 3 people review and edit your resume.  During the job search process, your resume is a document that you could potentially rattle off verbatim without looking at it, you’ve looked at it so much.  However, that familiarity with your resume leads to you glossing over potential errors or better ways to word certain things to make yourself more marketable.  Find some people you can depend on and ask for some assistance.  It will benefit you as you continue your job search.
  • DON’T apply to every job out there.  This is particularly important for those who are searching for their first professional job.  While you don’t want to be left without a partner during the job search dance, you also want to find a school/area/supervisor that you will be comfortable with, as well as one that doesn’t go against your personality/needs.  Think quality over quantity, as this will also help you at placement conferences to keep you from running around like a headless chicken to fit every single interview into your schedule.
  • With that being said, DO be open to taking a job that you aren’t madly in love with, especially if it is your first professional job.  Don’t confuse this to mean “be open to work at a job you hate,” because that is certainly something you want to avoid, for the benefit of both parties involved. Working somewhere you love is great for your day-to-day enjoyment of your job, but experience breeds success, so think of it this way: Would you rather have worked for three years at a school that you loved but gave you a narrow area in which to work, or would you rather spend the same time at an institution you were less thrilled about, but gave you ample opportunities to learn and grow?  I’ll give you a hint — take the experience.
  • DO behave professionally at all times during a placement conference, from when you check-in, to when you check-out.  You aren’t just interviewing during the interview itself; you are on display at all times for potential employers, and behaving unprofessionally at any point can potentially affect the way employers (and peers) see you.  You may have had experience being around placement candidates who make it very clear to others about how good they are and all the on-campus interviews they received so far — people notice this behavior, and it certainly doesn’t leave anyone with a positive impression, including employers.  Remember that fishbowl analogy during RA training?  Yeah, it’s like that.
  • DON’T be afraid to think outside the box.  Resumes can be no more than two pages.  There is an order to which you need to list things on your resume.  Use the institution’s website to research about the jobs you’re applying for.  These are just a few of the things that are generally regarded as rules about higher education job searches, but are they helping you meet your #1 goal, which is getting a job?  Think about this another way: If everyone at a placement conference is doing the exact same thing, how can you set yourself apart?  You certainly want to adhere to some sort of structure for sure, but you also want your resume/interview to stand out to employers.
  • DON’T stop thinking about your job search after you get a job.  This is a no-no that many people across numerous career fields fall into.  Just because you secured that job and accomplished your goal does not mean that you are by any means finished thinking about job searching, unless of course, you would enjoy being a Hall Director until you retire.  It is very important to think about what you can do in the job you have now to help yourself gain the skills, knowledge, and strengths you need for when you want to look for another job later, especially if you want to move up.  Chances are the individuals in those higher level positions got there because they didn’t stop thinking about what they needed to do to improve.
  • DO believe in yourself.  If you’ve taken your studies and work seriously, you have the ability to work in the field of student affairs and do it well.  Don’t get overly-conscious about other people who are applying for the same jobs or at the same placement conference.  In the end, the only thing that you can control is yourself.  Focus on what you need to do to prepare and succeed, then put your best foot forward.  Somebody somewhere thought that you could do the work — that’s how you got your assistantship/first professional job, after all — so stay confident and focused, and things will inevitably work out for you.

What are other tips and tricks that you’ve learned throughout your experiences in higher education?  Do you have any methods that have worked/not worked for you in your own searches?  Feel free to share below!

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