Surprisingly, the job search process was fun for me! I won’t get into how many applications I submitted, but within about five months, 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 coursework was done either in an airport or on an airplane; anytime I wasn't interviewing or researching institutions, I was maximizing my time and staying ahead of my classes. So here’s my best advice for a successful post-grad-school job search.
1. Tailor your résumés
When it came to my 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. Your résumé will stand out if it's tailored to each job you're applying to—generic résumés that don't utilize keywords from the job description aren't going to stand out among the hundreds or even thousands of documents employers receive every day.
2. 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 piqued 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 in the cover letter to make it more personable. If you're not able to show who you really are on paper, then you're limiting your chances of having people see who you really are in person.
3. Communicate with references
Depending on the job and the institution, I was very strategic with who I listed as a job reference. With each reference list, I tried to make sure to include 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. Be sure to let your references know they may be contacted, and help them prepare to write a recommendation if you need one. One thing a mentor told me in the past was to network, network, network. By doing this, you'll be able to make your net work for you.
4. Prepare for the “Tell us about yourself” question
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 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's happening to others around you. You'll 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 different programs 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.
Find even more job search advice from real student and experts in our Internships and Careers section.