from the desk of...candidate 4


Searching for a job is like screaming underwater. You wonder if anybody can hear as you drown. You wonder if all the work and energy is futile.

For the last 4 months, I’ve kicked and yelled into the job posting abyss, sent out resume after resume, filled out application after application, wrote cover letter after cover letter.

And there’s been only little response.

But this week, there was a little more hope.

A major university in Texas responded to the resumes I submitted for two different positions. They sent me an email to set up an appointment at the Placement Exchange conference next week. I think the question they asked was “Do you have any available time Friday or Saturday for an interview?” as if I was completely booked with all other sorts of interviews with universities both days.

“I have Friday at 2 p.m. available.” I replied, which is true. I just didn’t mention I had every hour available as well.

A few other schools sent me there Residence Life recruitment packets which I hope is indication that they’re considering interviewing me.

Maybe this will all turn out well, I think when I’m feeling optimistic. Surely there’s a University out there that will be my lifesaver.

Or maybe I'm not doing enough, maybe I should be trying harder, screaming louder, thrash and kick my way back to the water’s surface, anything to keep afloat.


from the desk of... candidate 1

First Phone Interview

This past week I had my first phone interview which officially kicks off the “job getting” process. I must say it was great. The school is in the Northeast and has about 10,000 students. This is one of the many Residence Director positions to which I have applied. The Residence Life department is up-and-coming and very dynamic. It seems like it could be a very exciting place to work.

They called on time and we chatted for about 45 minutes. The interviewers seemed fully present and interested in what I had to say. They explained their career paths and shared details about the department. After which they got right into questions for me.

I could not have asked for better questions. They asked me philosophical questions about the role of residence life, my thoughts on discipline, and how to supervise students. I even had the chance to talk about a new initiative that I created in my current job. Thankfully, I was also able to make a personal connection having traveled to a country in which one of the interviewers is from.

Minutes before the interview I did have some nervous energy in my stomach. I mean, I haven’t interviewed since December 2008, but it went away as soon as I introduced myself and got into the groove. I prepared by typing answers to typical questions, printing their mission statement, and practicing some stories in the mirror. It seemed goofy at the time, but I think it helped out.

This particular school has structured their interview process differently as a response to budget cuts. They have decided to complete screening interviews over the phone before TPE, so that they can interview fewer candidates at the conference. I imagine other schools may be doing this as well.

Needless to say the interview got me jazzed, and I am more excited to start this process. I feel like interviewing for student affairs jobs give me the opportunity to talk about myself, my values, and the things I believe in a lot. It’s a fit, and makes me feel comfortable. Stay tuned for more developments on this.

from the desk of... candidate 2


“Saturated” is a good word to describe how I feel these days. Saturated with advice, resume and cover letter reviewing, even travel prep. It’s quickly pushing my attitude from “excited/nervous” into just plain “frantic.” I have definitely mentally checked out of my classes for the time being, and find myself daydreaming about a mythical time in my future where TPE will have already happened and I don’t have to worry about things like scuffing my shoes before I walk in them or making sure all my thank you cards are done.

And to be quite brutally honest with you all – I’m getting pretty sick of the gloaters. My fellow job-searchers who are boasting and bragging about how many interviews they’ve clinched before TPE or how their phone interviews are progressing. It would be a lot easier to be happy for them if they took a shot of humility and just for once thought about someone other than themselves.

Somebody told me recently that this is the only time in my life where I’ll have to do a job search “of this magnitude and stress level.” I really hope they’re right because I’m really starting to get on my own nerves.


from the desk of... candidate 4

In Their Shoes

I had dinner the other night with some friends who work in Residence Life Department at a university. I was their boss once, back when I was a Assistant Hall Director and they were just first year Resident Assistants. Now they were veteran RAs with almost three years of experience under their belt.

I asked them to tell me stories of dealing with residents or putting on programs, anything that would place me in their world rather than the outsider I felt like.

All of them looked gloomy and started venting about petty problems and fleeting annoyances: a resident was writing on all the walls and getting into arguments, another resident was busted for forging his ID, a coworker was caught drinking with other residents. Small incidents magnified into dramatic aggravations. That’s Residence Life for ya. My friends could hardly wait to leave. I could hardly wait to get back in.

“You complain now,” I tell them. “But you’ll miss it when you’re gone.”

“Nah, they told me the same thing about high school,” one replied. “And I haven’t missed that yet.”

“Just be thankful that you have a job with great benefits," I said. "I mean what else can you do that pays for your room and board and helps you through college?”

“That’s true. I’m not looking forward to paying bills,” she replied. “I believe I will miss the moments I shared with coworkers, but dealing with residents, I just feel like I’m past that.”

It’s not for everyone. And if student development is not your main career focus and your passion, it’s difficult to enjoy. I remember, I was there once. Back when I was an Assistant Hall Director, I was so focused on getting a degree that the work in Residence Life seemed like a distraction. The job was getting in the way of my career goals.

But now that I’m choosing Residence Life as a career, and it means something so much more. The little things don’t sound so bothersome. In fact, that’s what you expect and embrace the opportunity to work with those kind of challenges. They sound – dare I say – adventurous.

I wish I was in their shoes.


from the desk of...candidate 1
Cover Letter + Resume = Crap Shoot

In the past week I have received both good news and bad news related to my job search. Excitingly, one of my top choices of east coast schools invited me to do a first interview with them at TPE. And sadly, one of my top choices of west coast schools indicated that I would not be moving on in their process. Similarly, both schools reviewed the same cover letter and resume.

I just don’t get it. What is it about the buzz words like “student engagement” and “learning outcomes” that impress some employers while driving others crazy? Seemingly, there is no right answer to the cover letter and resume question because one never knows what a potential employer is exactly seeking.

As a result, I’ve decided that submitting cover letters and resumes is a crap shoot, and with any gamble it relies heavily on your odds, numbers, and chances. Colleagues of mine laugh at me when I suggest this, however, it is exactly this point that has influence my strategy for applying to jobs.

Simply, I need to apply to many jobs because at each step in the process the number of possibilities is reduced. For example if I apply to 20 positions I can probably expect to have first interviews with 75% of them. This leaves me with 15 possible jobs in the hopper. After the first interview the chances of moving on in the process become harder, therefore I am expecting that 66% of the 15 possibilities move on to second interviews. This leaves me with 9 – 10 job prospects. Still, I am assuming the odds become even more difficult at the next step. With that, I think that 50% of second interviews, a total of 5, will move on to on-campus interviews. The final and hardest step with slimmest possibility is getting the offer. I have calculated this as a 33% chance. And of 5 on-campus interviews that might translate into 1 – 2 offers. Crazy…right?!?

Of course there are other variables. For example, there are schools that I won’t like and will pull out of their process, and there may be more employers than I anticipate that like and advance me in their process. However, the probability that I just explained seems very reasonable to me and has motivated me to be flexible and open to both positions and locations as I continue to search. I’ll have to keep you posted on the math and let you know if it works out like I think it will.
from the desk of... candidate 4

What Job Am I Interviewing For Again?

I had learned my lessons from last week. I made sure this week’s interview would be at the right time, and I would be better prepared for the questions asked.

This week I had a phone interview for a job at a college in Manhattan for a “Community Director” position. On the surface looked like the same thing as “Resident Director”, “Hall Director”, “Complex Director,” “Residence Coordinator” or any other variations that all ultimately mean someone who supervises the dorm, the residents, and the RAs. It usually means working closely with students.


So during the interview, I made sure to really emphasis my love for student development, coaching staff members, getting involved in student activities, and working with a team.

The interviewers kept silent except asking their canned questions. To my credit, I was nailing all of them. I was confident, passionate, and calm.

Finally, after I had given a compelling, oratory manifesto, a student development speech worthy of a president, they politely said the job had very little to do with interacting with students.

“The job is predominately administrative duties,” one of them said. “You won’t really work directly with students.”


“Umm…well that sounds great.”

Unlike myself.

What I learned this week on the job hunt

1. In an interview, always ask them first to describe the job position.

2. Make sure you REALLY know what the job title is.


from the desk of... candidate #2
A Piece of Advice

These past few weeks in my graduate classes we’ve been talking (seemingly) non-stop about the looming job search ahead of us. I’ve been getting advice from all angles: my supervisor, my graduate peers, my friends outside the program, my supervisees, even my mother – who really still has to have me re-explain what student affairs is every time I tell her where I’m going in a few weeks (“What does that NASPA thing stand for again?”). While all their advice is well-received, everyone has a different idea of what a successful interview sounds like, what an effective resume looks like, even down to what clothes look right.

This week, we read in our textbooks testimonials of new professionals who went through their own Placement experience less than five years ago and, through their stories, give us soon-to-be professionals tips on things they wish they’d known about when they embarked on their journey. Most of the time it’s horror stories – candidates who neglected to wear their new “interview shoes” before placement, took one step on the tiled floor and promptly ate it in front of hundreds of people; clamming up during interviews and not knowing what to say as you stare across the table at some stranger you’ve known for five minutes; scoring an on-campus interview only to realize the moment you step on you absolutely know in your gut this place isn’t right for you. I’m not a worrier by nature but the sheer volume of these experiences began to shake me.

This week I realized that, at the Placement Exchange, not only do I need to bring by A-game interviewing skills and a resume that pops off the page, but I need to do some serious inward reflecting and remember what defines me as a person. What can I bring to this university? What can I bring to the department? And, most importantly, what can I bring to the students? In all our resume critiquing, mock interviewing, new-clothes-buying, discussing and sharing, I haven’t heard much about being myself while in Seattle. In fact, I almost forgot to consider it.

Cheesy as it sounds, I love quotes, and much to the chagrin of my students, toss them at the bottom of all my meeting agendas. Recently, one of my resident advisors that I supervise wrote me a card for my birthday, and helped me remember something very important. “Don’t cower from your insight. Move confidently, and you’ll get exactly where you want to go.”
from the desk of... candidate #4


The phone screamed in short bursts, echoing throughout my parents house, sending chills down my spine.

"Oh, no," I said aloud. My eyes, still puffy from sleep, widened. My heart skipped a beat.


I immediately knew who was calling. But I wasn't ready to answer. I wasn't even fully awake. Had I overslept?


I had to answer. I raced to the kitchen and snatched the phone, glancing at the caller id. Judging from the New York area code, I knew the worst to be true.
It was phone interview time.

A few days ago, a major university had called regarding an open position I applied for in their Residence Life department. They wanted to set up a phone interview with me. They asked me what time I wanted Thursday morning. I said 9 a.m., thinking that would give me at least enough time to wake up, have a cup of coffee, and go over my interview notes and canned answers.

But what I forgot to specify was I lived in a different time zone and I meant wanted 9 a.m. MY TIME, Central Standard Time, not Eastern.

"Um...can you give me one hour? It's only 8 o'clock here." I asked sheepishly.
Fortunately, the interviewer was kind and understanding. No harm done. Still it rattled my nerves enough to put me on edge for the rest of the morning.

I frantically poured through my notes and reminded myself how to act over the phone:
Be confident
But don't be arrogant
Be passionate
Let them know you really want the job.
But don't make them think you're needy.

No, I wouldn't want that. Despite the fact I'm 28 years-old, have a masters degree, but no career, and I'm living at my parents house. Despite the fact that half a million jobs were lost last month alone and the economy shows no signs of slowing down it's career death march anytime soon. Despite the fact that employers are overburdened with hundreds of resumes for just one position. Despite the fact that I'm scared to death that I might not get a job this year, or next, and may never do anything with my life.

No, I wouldn't want to sound like I NEED this job.

An hour later, the University called back.

I tried not to stutter, I tried to remember to breathe, I tried to stay calm. No such luck. I sounded like a rambling mess. mI thought I was ready for any question they were going to ask.
I had gone over workbooks on interview questions and practiced my answers and even gone over past interviews I've had.

But the first question out of the gate caught me off guard.
A deceptively simple question: "What challenges do you anticipate with this job?"

"Ummm...Well...Good question....ahhh..."
I froze up, I couldn't think. I couldn't answer. The silence was awkward.

Somehow, i got through the answer, but confidence-wise, it killed the interview.

I bombed. Big time.

I became paralyzed by my neediness and forgot how to just relax. I chalked the experience up as a practice run. Learn from my mistakes, be better prepared next time, calm down, and my God, know what time zone the interview is held.

from the desk of....candidate 1

Professional Courtesy vs. Patience

I am now starting to feel more prepared for the job search; in large part because my graduate school offers career sessions to help students in our program navigate the process. We spend two hours on several Fridays throughout the semester talking about every aspect of searching for employment. Values alignment, location, salary and correspondence have all been focal points of our discussions.

Recently, we talked about the power of the cover letter and the resume. You know, matching headings, a solid font, and great catch phrases – the critical elements to being remembered. These parts make me feel really good. And admittedly, I am a little detail oriented, so I excel with this type of thing.

Since my last post, I have applied to several more jobs. Now my count is at about 16. It seems like a lot but so many places have only anticipated openings and other positions seem like they might be a stretch for my skill set. Regardless, I am baffled at the fact that so many schools have not even acknowledged receipt of my application.

I am not sure about you, but I think this is just rude. At the very least, employers advertising a position should offer a standard reply that says: “Thank you for submitting your application. We will start our review in a week, and will contact you with more information.” Is that too much to ask? Oh, I know - you receive a ton of applications for your amazing residence life position. Sure…. I mean why would you spend two minutes of your day sending a reply? It’s professional courtesy, just send the email.

And yes, there is a flip side to this. I probably should just be more patient. Not a heck of a lot of movement will happen before TPE, which is still four weeks away. Many employers are likely waiting on the applicant pool to fill, and I should probably respect that part of the process. Moreover, it’s email. They received it - it doesn’t’ need double checking. And, if it didn’t bounce back, somebody on the other end got it.

Maybe there’s a middle ground. More potential employers should be ready with a reply at a click’s notice, and applicants should hold their horses a bit. I’m not sure. I just know that I really appreciate it when I know that someone is tending to my application and that it’s not in cyberspace. Certainly, it makes me less anxious. We all could sign up for a little less anxiety…right?


from the desk of...candidate #4

I should have known.

Residence Life. The career choice was obvious. It was always there, right in front of my eyes like a brilliant, beaming neon billboard. Student Affairs, helping college students become leaders, inspiring others to find their potential, serving a campus community. It makes perfect sense. That’s what I’ve been doing all this time. It’s what I’m good at. It’s what I enjoy doing.

Yet it took me two college degrees, half a dozen terrible jobs, and a decade of false starts for me to recognize it, like coming out of a dream and seeing what’s REALLY real. Why did I take so long to notice it? Maybe I needed to help myself before I could help others.

Back in 2000, I never thought of Res Life as a career option, it was always just something to do to pay for my room and board while I worked toward the ultimate in vague general degrees: a bachelors in Mass Comm. I eventually used my experience I gained as an RA to land a post-graduate job working for a student apartment community at a large southern state institution.

In 2006, I was an Asst. Hall Director while working on my masters degree in journalism. Again, the Hall Director gig was just something to do that covered room and board while working towards a non-related journalism degree.

Residence Life. It used to be just a temporary stopping point on my track towards a different location.

I should have listened to my conscious. It whispered to me during great moments while working. When an inexperienced, autistic student that I mentored turned his life around and became the Residence Housing Association Treasurer, I should have known.

When a once-aimless student that I coached started organizing hall programs of her own, I should have known.

When I was awarded “Community Builder of the Year” as an RA for getting upperclassman out of their spacious rooms to interact with their neighbors, I should have known.

When the Residence Hall Association I started won the Homecoming Spirit award, I should have known. All these times, my conscious whispered to me, saying “this is what you should be doing.”

My conscious also nagged me during moments of great despair. While I toiled in journalism for six months, it often whispered “You had a more fulfilling time working with students.” When I leased apartments for two years, every day the voice kept saying “I should go back.”

But I was a lug head. I quit working as a hall director to finish my journalism degree and start a career in journalism.

Life sometimes has interesting ways of kicking your ass in the right direction.

The journalism industry is in terrible shape. Not only is the industry going down the toilet, but the people I worked for, the people I interviewed were all cold, calloused individuals. I was writing uninteresting, uninspiring, little noticed stories. I was unhappy with my newspaper environment and the work I was doing. My editors didn’t like what I was doing.

All along I continued to think, “man, I miss my RAs and the students in my hall.”

Maybe the best worst thing that could happen did: I was fired from the newspaper job for dubious reasons that I attribute to my editors’ complete disdain for me.

I decided instead of looking for another job in the newspaper industry that it was now my time to really think about a career that would make me happy.

Now I finally decided to listen to that nagging conscious. It was right all along.

Residence Life.

Now, things have changed.

I’m fighting for my life to get a job in residence life, to continue to influence potential leaders, to help students realize their potential, while working on my potential as well. It’s what I want to do with my life, what I want to throw all my focus and energy behind. One Hundred percent. Total commitment. A hall director position means something to me because my work can be meaningful to others. Now, I know.


from the desk of...candidate #3

Faith… (George Michael)

No time like the present to jot a few notes about my job search, both to reflect and share with others about the experience. Currently, I'm a Resident Director in the Midwest at a private, religiously affiliated four-year school, and the prospects of leaving are simultaneously exciting and nerve-wracking. I'm married, have no kids, and desperately want a dog and a chance to live off-campus, where I get to mow the lawn and complain about property taxes. My job has exposed me to a more than I originally intended; I've traveled to tiny towns for student leadership conferences, worked through the night to create a 108-page RA Training Booklet the day before they arrive, advised exemplary students (some who may truly discover a cure for cancer someday), and tackled nearly everything possible under the 'entry-level' moniker in residence life. Yet, like a bag of chips, the shelf-life of a Resident Director only lasts for so long until it's time to move upward and be presented with new professional challenges. Thus, I'm diving into the deep end, filled with spiritual faith, support from family and colleagues, and confidence in my abilities to land a good job.

As a lover of 80s music (it's often playing in my office), I heard George Michael's Faith this morning and reminded myself that I gotta have faith. Faith in myself, faith in the process, faith in my next supervisor to plow through dozens of resumes to find mine and call me. All this faith will be put to work because there will be frustrating days searching and exciting afternoons of e-mails and calls with the next hot lead. While staying with a residence life position is certainly possible, I'm also interested in academic advising, student affairs administration, and student learning/ success at the mid-level. I'm particularly interested in working directly with students on academic initiatives, living-learning communities, or other advising of students and programs to fully utilize my strengths. Part of the job search is about listening to your truest self and setting a congruent course of action.

I have worked with numerous undergraduates entering the world of work and have helped prepare graduate assistants for their own job search in student affairs. Now, I find myself needing to believe the things I've told them about the job search: 1) you will get a job and 2) you have the answers and abilities, it's just a matter of timing and meeting the right people. There are plenty of fantastic people to meet at TPE and there's a demand for quality people with a diverse array of experiences, interests, and abilities to thrive at the next campus. So I've gotta have faith…(fantastic hair and a perpetual 5-o'clock shadow doesn't hurt, either).

from the desk of... candidate #2
Here Goes Nothing

I'm not sure why anybody who loves sleep and peace and quiet as much as I do would choose to go full-time in housing & residential life. As appealing as 3am phone calls and hours upon hours of student conduct hearings sound, as an undergrad I was the type of person who enjoyed going to work and then enjoyed clocking out even more. But when I became an RA my senior year and was able to work with some amazing resident directors and fellow student leaders, I found myself wanting to be involved more and more with student housing and higher education leadership. After I graduated college (in a major completely unrelated to higher education, by the way) and took a year off, I realized I was comparing my jobs to how it felt to work with students and the gratification I felt. After a whirlwind of applying to grad school, getting accepted and moving farther away than I'd ever lived (all in the span of two months) I now find myself months away from finishing my program, and about to attend The Placement Exchange to find a job. My first reaction to this realization is... What?!

This brings me to now. My resume is drowning in red marks. I figured, seeing as though the TPE is rapidly approaching, I'd submit it to my supervisor and a couple senior level hall directors in my department and get some feedback before I refine it for some pre-conference emails and interviews I may get there. Apparently, there's still a lot left to learn about resume revising specifically for student affairs, and marketing myself to each individual school. It's going to be a long two months!

I just dropped $200 on a plane ticket to Seattle, $300 on new threads so I can look snappy at my interviews, and about $200 for registration, so my wallet is looking at me like, "Are you serious?!" While all this job search madness is going on, I have to do this little thing called finish my master's degree, write a thesis, and make sure my RA's don't burn the building down. No big deal, right? Right!

So I hope you'll read along as I work my way through all this craziness that will be my next few months: preparing for the NASPA conference and TPE, graduating my master's program, leaving my staff behind, and moving. I'll inevitably making mistakes and helping make sure you don't make the same ones. I'll share it all with you, so see you next time!

from the desk of... candidate #1
Just When You Think You’ve Got It All Together

As I finish my second year in graduate school I am drawn to reflection as a way to bring closure to this experience and think about how I got here. Admittedly, it is often a blur and requires some intense focus to discern what exactly happen after I graduated from my undergraduate institution and before I enrolled in my graduate program.

I decided to move to Minnesota and work for a large corporation. I thought in making this decision I would be ahead of the curve. I felt really “put together.” I had a great job in a great city, and made some great friends. I mean, I was in a new place ready to master corporate America and move quickly up the food chain. And while I enjoyed the city a lot, I didn’t like my work. Daily, I looked at spreadsheets, managed inventories, and dealt with pushy vendors who wanted nothing more than to see their latest products on the shelves. After a short nine month stint, I found myself leaving the company to “find myself” again. I conceded to give up the corporate lifestyle and pay check to be a student again but, I was excited to get back into higher education.

The process of applying to grad school was refreshing and it was clear which institution I would attend. I wanted them and they wanted me. I received my first choice assistantship selection, managed to find great housing, and lived with two people from my cohort. Life in August 2007 started on a superior up-tick.

I revered the second-year students from the year before, and was excited to be revered by the incoming cohort. I was hopeful that I could be “cool and knowledgeable” like the second-years that graced campus only a few months prior. The school year kicked off quickly, and I forgot about the “0-60 in four seconds” approach that faculty members took with second-year students. No real time for a syllabus, or expectations, but rather reading and assignments due before the first day of class.

Last semester also went by quickly. I managed to travel some, enjoy the fall foliage, and start an independent study. All of which leads me to this moment and the start of the job search. I spent much of winter break editing my resume and crafting cover letters. I attempted to drill down to the core of the positions I have held in the past and really impart my values and beliefs in my writing. I was actually a little proud of what I came up with. Working with our career services staff, who is extremely familiar with student affairs jobs, helped me out greatly. Over break, I also settled on the idea of applying to different types of positions with location driving the search. Residence life, orientation, international education, and student activities are all on the list.

I felt confident to submit my applications at the beginning of 2009, but thought it would be helpful to get one more set of eyes. Of course, why not…the more eyes on resumes and cover letters, the better…right? So I had a great friend review them, and boy did he RIP them apart. His feedback was hard, critical, and good. He caused me to think about the hows, whys, and whats of everything I listed and wrote. Our two hour session felt like resume boot camp. His goal for me was to craft a “top two percent” resume; you know the one that gets you remembered.

To think I had it all together is an understatement. I was certain I was ready to complete the first major step in job searching – actually applying. I was mistaken. However, I wouldn’t take his feedback away at all. It was a healthy, but painful, experience that I needed to go through.

Now, I have ten applications sent out. Some employers have confirmed receipt, others have indicated that their openings are anticipated, and still others haven’t replied. I have a system, tons of folders on my computer, and the TPE website is bookmarked. We’ll see how it goes. I’m excited and hoping this time I have it mostly together.