Tips for the Post-Grad-School Job Search

Looking for a job after graduate school? One recent grad offers his best advice on standing out among the applicants.

Surprisingly, the job search process was fun for me! I won’t get into how many applications I submitted, but between December 1, 2015, and April 21, 2016, I was fortunate enough to partake in 51 interviews (first round, second round, third round, campus interview, etc.). My job search involved a lot of networking, traveling, discipline, and intense time management. To provide more context, the majority of my last semester’s course work was done either in an airport or on an airplane; any time I was not interviewing or researching institutions, I was maximizing my time and staying ahead of my classes. Here’s my best advice for a successful post-grad-school job search.

Tailor your résumés

When it came to the résumé, I had different types for each functional area I was interested in.  I narrowed my student affairs job search down to Residence Life, Advancement, Student Conduct, Multicultural Affairs, and Title IX. With these five functional areas, I had five different résumés to speak about my experience with enough breadth and depth to prove why I was qualified for each position I applied for.

Tailor your cover letters

I did the same thing with my cover letters; they were formatted differently for each functional area. Additionally, I would try to find at least three things that peaked my interest while applying; if there was ever a moment I thought I couldn’t do this, I ended up not applying for the position. Whatever attributes about the institution aligned with my values and beliefs, I would articulate that into the cover letter to make it more personable. I believe that if I’m not able to show who I really am on paper, then I’m limiting my chances of having people see who I really am in person.

Communicate with references

Depending on the job and the institution, I was very strategic with who I listed. With each reference list, I tried to make sure to list at least my current supervisor, my former supervisor, and either a faculty member or someone I knew at the institution I was interested in working for to speak about my work ethic. Something a mentor told me in the past was to network, network, network. By doing this, I would be able to make my net, work.

“Tell us about yourself”

Many refer to this question as the kiss of death in interviews. However, I actually love this question because I believe many people love talking about themselves. Because I expect this question to start the interview, I always make sure I provide a little bit of a personal story and connect it to my journey into student affairs, then finish it off with why I’m interested in the position and the specific institution. With this question, I’ve been advised to make my answer no more than one minute. If you’re not able to articulate your answer in 60 seconds, start practicing. Whatever you do, do not regurgitate what you wrote in your cover letter and résumé.

Haven’t found a job yet?

I started my job search on December 1, 2015, during my penultimate semester of grad school. However, some of my colleagues started a little later in mid-January, while others started even a little later than that. Each person’s situation is different, which is why I tell folks, please stay in your lane. Don’t worry about what is happening to others around you.  You will end up where you’re meant to be. I know this is easier said than done; however, it’s the best advice I can provide. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that the job search looks different across different industries; other colleagues of mine in other programs just started their job search in mid-May, and we all just graduated at the beginning of June. Nonetheless, stay focused only on yourself, don’t be afraid to ask for help, take advantage of your resources, use your network, get assistance from your institutions’ career centers, chat with your faculty, and most importantly, don’t ever be desperate for a job. It’s better waiting for the job of your dreams than rushing into the job of your nightmares.

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cover letters grad school job search grad students graduate school job applications job interviews job search networking resumes student affairs

About Kevin Wright

Kevin Wright is a first-generation graduate student from Las Vegas, Nevada, and earned his master's in Student Affairs Administration from Lewis & Clark College in 2016. Kevin graduated from Northern Arizona University in 2014, where he studied Communication Studies with a minor in Sociology. His hobbies include traveling, networking, going to concerts, and endlessly watching Netflix. Kevin aspires to become a college president so he can advocate for more affordability and accessibility for students wanting to pursue higher education.


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