It truly amazed me when I first attended TPE as a fresh graduate. The amount of institutions in attendance all looking for the best and the brightest made this a larger than life experience. Although this event doesn’t reflect the destruction created by stepping on an ant hill, that is what it looked like as there were tons of people walking and moving around as if they were tiny ants. Some moved fast and frantically, some were sweating profusely, and some were as calm as a cucumber. Having recently attended TPE for my second round of searching, I have learned that not much has changed over the past 5 years. This larger than life experience has only gotten larger and more exciting, but what has changed is my level of preparation and readiness for the experience.
I feel that the greatness of the TPE experience was equally complemented with the hard task of sifting through all of the schools and opportunities to find the places of best fit. It is hard as a candidate at any level to know how a job or institution will feel once you are working in the role. Relying on colleagues and friends to gather feedback about institutions can only get you so far as everyone has their own perspective and experiences. There are great professionals scattered all over the country, but with people searching in different NASPA regions and states how do you know where to find the Dave Coopers or Rachel Hoppers of the industry? That is why it is important to know what questions to ask so that you can learn the most about a department and their staff dynamic.
As stated before, professional referrals are a great way to start your search, but something to keep in mind is “your first job, will not be your last job, and it isn’t your forever job.” Your first job may not be perfect, so you shouldn’t narrow your search with end-all be-all criteria. You can narrow your search by location or trusted feedback, but make sure you know why you are trusting these narrowing parameters as you may cut yourself out of an amazing opportunity. When I started my search process I did not search in Texas because of assumed stereotypes, but after leaving a job mid-year and being short of opportunities I accepted a job at Texas Christian University and can say, without hesitation, that the past 5 years in Texas have been some of the best ever.
There is no problem in having a list of non-negotiables, but make sure your list is backed with direct reasoning or they may disqualify some great opportunities. I would argue that a list of intangible non-negotiables are more important than a list including location and job description. The intangibles are things you can’t see, like how the department appreciates the staff, what communication looks like between colleagues, and how the department collaborates with other offices. The TPE experience is about selling yourself as a candidate, but it is equally a part of the process for the institution to sell themselves to you. If you are a person who wants to feel appreciated and cared for then how are the institutions performing this in their communication during the recruitment process. Every school has cool swag, but does the swag have the personal touch to show they care about you as an individual and not just a new professional.
Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions to get in-depth insight into these different opportunities so that you can find the place where you can really thrive. In your search it is important to not set a bar, but to set a filter. A job description can meet your minimums or tell you about your specific role, but it won’t tell you about a supervisor or department. Ask yourself what type of relationship you want with your supervisor, what kind of staff comradery you want in the office, and how the department supports student interaction with professional staff. Some offices shut down and go home after 5pm, others hang around campus to attend events – where will you fit? Asking the intangibles will make sure your next move is a successful one.
Texas Christian University