the job search – part one

February is synonymous with job searching in student affairs.  Many housing professionals are busy recruiting and selecting candidates for their 2012-2013 residence life staff team.  February also marks the beginning of the job search season.  Institutions that know they will have vacancies in the spring will post early, in the hopes of recruiting the best and brightest candidates.  So if you’re hoping that 2012 will bring you a new job, get ready to start your search.

Before you even begin your search, think about the type of position you are looking for.  Consider your areas of interest, your strengths and challenges, your supervisory style, your location preferences, your values, and your non-negotiables (the things you are not willing to compromise on).  Keep in mind that the “perfect job” doesn’t actually exist.  Give and take are a part of every job, but knowing what you are looking for in a position and institution will help you to find a good fit, and lead to you being happier in the role.  So take the time to think about this.  Write it in a journal.  Talk to your nearest and dearest about it.  Make sure you know what you want.  Shakespeare said it best: “To thine own self be true.”

In part one of my series of posts on the job search, I’ll offer some tips and resources to help you get started on your search and building a stand-out resume and cover letter.

Gone are the days of pounding the pavement looking for a job.  Most (if not all) institutions now post their job opportunities on their websites.  To save you bookmarking hundreds of institutional HR sites, here are some streamlined options for a search in student affairs/housing/residence life:

Academic360 – allows you to search institutional HR job announcements by geographic listing, or alphabetically.  You can also search general listings, or specific positions by functional area.

CACUSS – lists current student affairs job postings across Canada.  Note: you need a login to view position details.  You can purchase a student membership to gain access to this information.

HigherEdJobs – lists current global postings in higher education.  Use the search parameters to narrow your search.

OACUHO – lists current housing job postings across Canada.  Note: you need a login to view position details.  You can purchase a student membership to gain access to this information.

Resume & Cover Letter
The purpose of the cover letter and resume is to get you to the interview stage.  You do not need to share your life story, just enough to convince the hiring manager or committee that you’re worthy of an interview.

Tips for crafting your cover letter:

  • Read the job posting and job description carefully.  If the full job description isn’t attached to the posting, email HR and ask for it.  Highlight what you think to be the key areas and responsibilities of the job.  Make notes on any experiences you have in those areas.  Work those experiences in to your letter.
  • Know who to address the cover letter to.  It should be easy to identify who the position reports to, but if this is not the case, send an email to HR to find out.  It’s much better to be pro-active and address the letter to your future supervisor, than simply addressing it to “whom it may concern.” This shows you’ve done your research and are paying attention.
  • Be a spelling and grammar critic.  Common word processing programs may pick up on misspelled words, but they will not determine between there, their and they’re.
  • Know that your first draft is probably not your final draft.  Send your cover letter to a few key people (preferably those who conduct hiring processes and can pick out a good cover letter from a not-so-good one) to seek feedback.
  • Keep it clear, confident and concise.  Use plain (read: understandable) language, show confidence in your abilities and try to keep it to a page.  Again, this isn’t the place to tell your life story.  Think of it as a “teaser” campaign.  Your goal is to hook the reader in to wanting to know more about you (hence, landing you an interview).

Tips for rocking your resume:

  • Ensure that your contact information is clear, up-to-date, and appropriate.  Signing up for a free email account to use strictly for your job search is a great idea. (or free email provider of your choice) is an example of an appropriate email address., not so much.
  • Showcase your education, experience (professional, para-professional, volunteer), significant accomplishments, qualifications & training, and other skills that are relevant to the position.  You should tweak your resume to suit each position you apply for.
  • Size matters.  Two pages is the traditionally accepted norm for a resume for an entry-level position.  If you’re going after a job with more responsibility (i.e. a mid-level or senior position) then your resume should reflect this.
  • Just like the cover letter, be ruthless with your spelling, grammar and word usage critique.  An innocent (yet careless) error can take you out of the running for a position.
  • Play around with different layouts until you find one that you like, looks professional and is easy for the reader to navigate.  Don’t simply rely on common word processing resume templates.

For further reading on these topics, check out these articles:
Ten Resume Mistakes to Avoid
Tips for a Better Resume and Cover Letter

In part two of the job search series, I’ll talk about staying organized during your search, and provide tips and resources for preparing for the interview.

What other sites do you use for your student affairs/housing job search? How do you ensure your cover letter and resume are top notch? Share your thoughts below, or continue the conversation on Twitter. 



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