the job search – part three

In parts one and two of my job search series,  I wrote about how to search for postings, tips on crafting cover letters and resumes, staying organized, and preparing for the interview process.   Now it’s time to talk about the interview, the follow-up and negotiating an offer.

The Big Day
The night before the big day, be sure to double check all of the information (location, time, directions, cost of parking, etc.), iron and hang up your outfit, set your alarm clock, and get a good night’s sleep.  When the day of the interview rolls around, give yourself plenty of time to get ready, eat a healthy, filling meal (you don’t want to get the tummy rumbles midway through the interview) and read through your notes one last time.   If the interview is located in an unfamiliar place, give yourself enough time to potentially get lost (yes, even in the age of GPS devices).  Even if you know the location like the back of your hand, make sure you have time to find, and pay for, parking, and to locate the building.  If you’re taking public transit, err on the side of caution.  Go with the earlier option to avoid any delays.

I like to arrive and check in for an interview about 15 minutes before it is scheduled to begin.   This gives me the chance to freshen up, take in my surroundings, and give myself a pep talk.  Some like to arrive 20 minutes before, others 10 minutes before.  Decide for yourself what works best, but remember, do not arrive late (or too early for that matter).

Your Moment to Shine
This is it.  Someone from the interview panel comes out to greet you and walk you to the room.  Stand up, smile and shake their hand.  They will most likely make small talk with you on the walk, so engage in the conversation.  Once in the room, put your things down and greet everyone on the panel.  The hiring manager (or lead interviewer) will introduce you to everyone.  Shake their hands while making eye contact.  Take a seat when invited to do so.  Take a moment to set up (take out your note pad and pen) and listen carefully to what the lead interviewer says.  Take a deep breath, and away you go.

When answering questions, take your time.  Remember the STAR method for answering interview questions (situation, task, action, result) and apply it to your answers.  Balance your answers with your previous experience and how you will apply it to the role you are interviewing for.  For example, if you are interviewing for a position that manages professional staff, and you have only ever managed student staff, talk about your supervisory style, your knowledge of the differences of managing full time professionals, and what strategies you will employ to ensure your success.  Remember to make eye contact with each person on the panel.

At the end of the interview, you will be asked if you have any questions.  ALWAYS have meaningful, well thought-out questions prepared for the panel.  Your questions need to elicit thought on their end, so steer clear of the “when will I know if I’m successful” and “how much are you going to pay me” questions.  Write down their answers, after all, they wrote down all of yours!

The lead interviewer will do a wrap-up and inform you of their timeline (if s/he doesn’t, ask).  Thank them for the opportunity and shake their hands.  As you leave the room, take a breath.  You did it!

The Follow-Up
After the interview, you may find yourself thinking “gee, I could have said this, that or the other.”  Try not to drive yourself mad playing the “coulda, woulda, shoulda” game.  While reflecting on the interview is a good idea (and great prep for future interviews), don’t dwell on it.  Instead, seize the opportunity.  Take the time to draft a letter or email to the hiring manager to reiterate why you want the job, why you are the right person for the job, and highlight a couple of qualities to back up your claims.  If you forgot to mention something during the interview, that you think is crucial to the job, then include it in your note.  Weave it into your response, as not to draw attention to the fact that you forgot to tell them during the interview.

You may choose to send an email or a hand-written note or professional looking thank-you card (leave the cute thank-you cards with puppy dogs and teddy bears on them for personal use).  If you know the note will get to the hiring manager in a couple of days or less, go with that option.  Otherwise, send a well-crafted email.  If sending an email, I do so within 24 hours of the interview.

In terms of following up about the position, this depends on the timeline the hiring manager gave you.  If you haven’t heard anything a week after the date you were told you would hear by, follow up (by phone or email).  Keep in mind that things happen, and sometimes the hiring timeline gets delayed or derailed.

If after the interview, you feel that the position (or institution) is not a good fit for you, let them know.   If you would not accept an offer, politely withdraw from the process.   You should also do this if you are interviewing for multiple positions at the same time, and you receive and accept an offer.  Let the other schools know that you appreciate their time and consideration, but are withdrawing from the process as you have accepted another job.  It’s just common courtesy and can save them a lot of time and aggravation.  You do not want to burn any bridges, as you never know what might happen in the future.

After the interview, take some time to think about the position, and weigh it against your non-negotiables.  Are there any gaps?  If so, make some notes on what concessions you might ask for if you receive an offer.

If you get the “we want to hire you” call, fight the (innate) feeling to jump up and down screaming “yes, I accept!” Listen carefully to the offer (salary, start date, benefits, etc.), stay calm, and thank them for the offer.  Ask for a day or two to review the offer.  If you haven’t already done so, do your homework.  Know the going rate for this type of position in your geographic location.  Consider the benefits and pension package.  What about professional development funding or moving expenses (if you will be relocating)?  You can negotiate much more than just your base salary.  If you would like to counter the offer, be sure to put it in writing.  Be realistic (chances are you will not make $80,000 as an entry-level professional in student affairs) and be firm.  Negotiating a job offer is similar to negotiating a real estate transaction.  Know what your bottom line is, and be willing to walk away.  Also, always think big picture.  While the salary may be really attractive, what is the institutional culture like? Will you be happy and supported in your role?  Consider the “priceless” aspects of the job as well as the monetary value when negotiating.

Overall, the job search can be a long and tiring experience.  Lean on your supports when you need to, and keep at it.  I always tell others, if you want something bad enough, it will happen.  It doesn’t always happen on your preferred timeline, so patience truly is a virtue.  Stick with it, and know that you are not alone.  I wish you all the best!

For further reading on these topics, check out these resources:
Perform Well During the Interview
Tips for Interviewing
Evaluating & Negotiating Job Offers

What advice do you have for those conducting a student affairs job search?


the job search – part two

In part one of the job search series, I talked about websites to use to search for open positions, and provided some tips for crafting your cover letter and resume.  Now, let’s discuss staying organized during your search and preparing for the interview process.

Get Organized
When I began the search for my first student housing position, I applied to every entry-level position across Canada.  I literally applied for jobs from coast-to-coast and everything in between.  As you can imagine, this was a lot of information to keep track of.  I had a “job search” white board that I kept on my desk, and wrote down the name of each position I applied to (along with the institution and hiring manager).  This gave me a quick visual of positions I had applied for and could easily cross them off the list as necessary.  This is one way to keep track of your search, but there are so many more options as well!

Keep a Binder
I like to print out job descriptions, highlight the key areas and responsibilities and write right on the page what experiences I have in each of those areas.  If you’re applying for multiple positions, keeping track of all of those print outs can be difficult.  Streamline it, and put each job description/posting in a section of a binder.  Use tabs/dividers to separate each posting and include any relevant material to each job.  Keep this binder in an easily accessible space.

Use a Spreadsheet
If you prefer to keep things online, consider creating a spreadsheet to keep track of your job search. Some suggestions for headings/categories are: Name of the position you’re applying for, the institution, the application deadline, the date you applied, interview date and time, and a notes or miscellaneous section.  Customize your spreadsheet to best suit your needs!

Here’s a sample of a job search spreadsheet:

Like most things in life, being organized means less stress and the information you need will be at your fingertips.  Use a system that works for you.  If you’re not overly tech savvy, stick with what you know.

Interview Preparation
You’ve taken the time to write a flawless cover letter and resume, and you have landed an interview.  First and foremost, congratulations! Today’s postings typically see hundreds of applicants, so to be narrowed down for an interview is an accomplishment in itself.  It’s like what the celebrities say during Oscar season: “It’s an honour just to be nominated!”  Landing an interview is like being nominated for an Oscar.  While you might not get a shiny statue at the end of the process, you may just land your dream job!

So, where to start? Each individual will prep for interviews in their own way, but there are some standard practices that you should include in your preparation:

Get to know your future employer
Jump on to the institution’s website and take a good look around.  Many departmental websites share information about important projects and initiatives so make note of these.  How do these impact the role you are interviewing for?  What is the mission of the department and the institution?  Is there a strategic plan in place?  What recent news releases have been publicized? While some of these documents can be quite lengthy, reading them gives you a good sense of the institutional core values and goals, and will show the hiring committee that you’ve done your homework.

Read through the job description once again.  Consider the key areas and responsibilities and anticipate what types of questions the hiring committee will ask.  Reflect on what experience you will bring and consider the approach you will take in your new role.  Student affairs interviews are notorious for behaviour based questions (“tell me about a time when…”) so take the time to think about your past experiences, what you contributed to the task, what you learned and if faced with the same situation again, what would you change.

I know it sounds silly, but practising what you will say during an interview can help to calm your nerves and give you more confidence on the day of.  I sometimes have a tendency to give too much information, so taking the time to talk it out before the big day helps to channel my thoughts and focus on what it is I really want to get across.  It’s also not a bad idea to do a mock interview with a friend or colleague.   Once you get past the giggles, you’ll find that this can help you to understand how the interview panel will perceive you and make adjustments as necessary.

Dress for success
An interview is a professional affair, so you should take the time to consider what you will wear and how you will present yourself.  If you’re professional attire is more Kesha than Michelle Obama, take that as a sign.  If you have the financial means, invest in a solid interview outfit.  If you’re on a tight budget, check out the thrift shops or talk to friends/relatives who are willing to lend you clothes for the big day.  The most important thing is to feel amazing in what you’re wearing.  If you don’t, this will come out in the interview.  Interview attire can vary from institution to institution, but I try to err on the side of being a little over dressed.  My go-to interview outfit? A skirt suit, collared shirt, light jewellery (simple white gold earrings and necklace) and sensible heels (you never know how far you’re going to need to walk).

Being prepared for an interview will increase your confidence level, help you to focus and instil a sense of readiness.  After all, Alexander Graham Bell did say: “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”

For further reading on these topics, check out these resources:
Sample behaviour based interview questions
List of potential Student Affairs specific interview questions (scroll to the bottom of the page, click on “potential interview questions” under the Interview Questions heading)
Dressing for Success at Your Job Interview

In part three of the job search series, I’ll talk about the interview, the follow-up and negotiation.

What tips do you have for staying organized during the job search, and preparing for an interview?

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.