I remember being in grad school and hearing others talk about their career trajectory. It seemed as though they had the next 5 to 10 years planned out and, by the end of that time, they would either be a Director or Dean of Students somewhere. The thought was that you graduated, spent 2 to 3 years in an entry-level position, then an Assistant Director for a couple of more years, and after putting in your time, Dean of Students positions would be lining up.
Granted, there were some thoughts of doctoral programs in there, however, at the end of the day, the time in an entry-level position was going to be minimal. Some institutions bought into that mentality as well by having “term limits” for how long one could be in a position (Residence Director positions, for example). However, one thing that some folks don’t realize is that, as you move on from entry-level positions, there are fewer opportunities with the same number of people competing for them. They also don’t realize that, sometimes after 2 to 3 years in an entry-level position, you just might not be ready to move on.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve done presentations at NASPA that focus on being in an entry-level position for 5+ years and how to continue to professionally develop. As I sit to think about this topic and my last 9 years of experience in the field, there are ten points I would like to highlight (from my perspective):
- Throw that old formula out of your head! In 2014, there is no limit on how long you can be in a position for as long as you’re still doing your job and doing it well (which is key).
- It’s okay to be in an entry-level position for more than 2 to 3 years! With mid-level positions being limited, you might not have a choice in the matter.
- Reflection is often the key to success! If you feel pressured to move out of your entry-level position, spend some time reflecting. Who or what is pressuring you? Maybe you’re in need of a new experience and not necessarily a higher level experience, or you’re not feeling challenged in your current position. Maybe you’re spending too much time comparing yourself to others versus thinking about what YOU really want or need.
- What you do with your time is important. While it’s okay to be in an entry-level position for more than 2 to 3 years, sometimes we get too comfortable in positions and become stagnant. You should be seeking out new opportunities to learn and develop. You should be taking on additional responsibilities when you can and challenging yourself to start thinking for that next level when the time comes.
- There may be other circumstances that impact how long you are in a position. If you have family obligations that limit you from moving from job to job or location to location, that’s okay! Again, the key is to make sure you’re continuing to grow and develop.
- Make sure you’re doing your entry-level position VERY well before you start thinking about moving to mid-level. Sometimes we tend to be a couple steps ahead of ourselves without focusing on where we currently are in our skill set.
- As hiring managers, have you ever wondered why a person has been in an entry-level position for a long period of time and thought that something might be wrong with them? It’s time to change that mindset!
- If you’re confused about your current career trajectory, make sure you find those who can help you and give you advice. It can be a mentor, a friend who you’ve known for a while, or a supervisor. There are so many people in this field willing to talk about themselves and offer advice!
- When you know it’s time to move on or up, make sure your skill set is ready. Take a look at the ACPA-NASPA Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs. Do you see yourself having accomplished some of the basic competency levels and ready to move on to the intermediate?
- Lastly, trust your gut. When I knew it was time to move on from an entry-level position, it was very apparent. If I had to wake up one more time to freshmen screaming in the courtyard, I was going to be on the 10 o’clock news! That, and spending a year preparing by building up my skill set for the next level, were catalysts in moving to a mid-level position.
Gain even more insight about how to determine when to make the next step in your career by listening to the TPE Round Table Discussion, Should I Stay or Should I Go: How Do I Know It's Time to Leave? Click here to listen.
Nekesa C. Straker is the Associate Director of Residential Education at DePaul University. She serves as the co-chair of the Administrative Services and Interview Scheduling TPE Onsite sub-committee.