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7 Ways to Stay Prepared in the Job Search Process

(Previously posted on www.myacpa.org)

Are you job searching?

The answer should be yes. You should always be mindful of opportunities and strategic about shaping your career.

Consider the job search to be a non-credit-bearing course that you enroll in every semester. The job search requires continuous attention, time, energy, research, collaboration, and perseverance, among other things. Much like a graduate-level course, it can be interesting, frustrating, demanding, and exhilarating. More than anything, the job search is a process. And, like many worthy processes, it can be lengthy and ongoing.

Here are some suggestions about how to prepare yourself now, during the fall semester, for the process that is the job search.

Conduct some self assessment

Reflection. We teach and preach it to students. But do we practice it? We should, especially when it comes to the job search. Come up with your own list of questions that helps you decide on some initial preferences about what you want and need—professionally and personally—in your next phase of life. Then answer those questions with complete and total honesty.

Obtain your references

You will need to choose people to represent you—and not just the rosy side of you. Your references should be able to speak to your successes and skill sets while also being knowledgeable about your growth areas and quirks. Make a list of who you might want to serve as your references and ask to connect with them (via phone, videochat, or in person) so you can better understand what kind of reference they could be for you.

Update your documents

It may seem early to craft your resume and you may have experiences to add to it later, but you never know when THAT job will post and only be open for one week. If your résumé is not up to date, get to it! Once you have a solid draft of your résumé, it will be simple to continuously update and reshape the document to align with any position that may pique your interest. And, while you are at it, create a sample cover letter. Those one-pagers are more difficult to compose than they seem. The more you write them, the better you will become at explaining how your experiences and skills match the position to which you are applying.

Obtain experiences to broaden and/or deepen your skill sets

Do you feel like you have functional area tunnel vision? Is there an area you want to explore to determine if it could be an interest of yours? Seek experiences and skills to add to your current repertoire. Ask to have lunch or meetings with professionals to gain insight on their job or functional area. Inquire about committees that may need additional representatives. Intern with other offices and departments. Volunteer to plan an event or conduct assessment. And do not do it for the résumé boost; do it for the learning, the ability to contribute, and the skill acquisition.

Stay current

Higher education is an interesting mix of the traditional and the modern. Make sure to stay abreast of hot topics and breaking news in the field. Sign up for daily or weekly updates from The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed. Read websites of the major national organizations, like ACPA. Attend conferences if your budget and time allows. And when you start applying to jobs, do your homework on the office/department, the institution, and the city and state where the job is placed.

Ask for assistance (from your peers, supervisors, mentors, network/connections)

One of the greatest resources you have in the job search process is other people. Utilize your network and connections. Have them review the documents you create, ask them to share their tips for searching for positions, sit down with them to conduct mock interviews, inquire about feedback they have for you—both in affirmation and in critique—and allow them to help you connect with other professionals from their own networks.

Recognize that this is a process and yours should be tailored to you

As stated before, the job search is a process. It does not necessarily have a set beginning or ending and it is not equitable. One person’s search could be three months while another person’s takes over a year. There is no set timeline. Try to refrain from the comparison or competition mindsets. Let your process be your process. As long as you prepare and persevere, the search will progress.

For additional advice on career reflection and the job search process, check out Sonja’s book The Strategic Guide to Shaping Your Student Affairs Career from Stylus Publishing.


Sonja Ardoin is the Director of Student Leadership and Engagement and an adjunct faculty member at the Univeristy of North Carolina Wilmington. She volunteers and facilitates with the LeaderShape Institute®, ACPA—College Student Educators International, NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, and Zeta Tau Alpha Fraternity. She is also the author of a recently published book, The Strategic Guide to Shaping Your Student Affairs Career, with Stylus Publishing.

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