by Melissa Johnson
We’re smack in the middle of placement season for #sagrads and other professionals looking for new opportunities across the country. The Placement Exchange is going on now through the weekend as a lead in to NASPA. C3 will take place in a couple of weeks at ACPA. I wish I had advice for all of the candidates going through placement, but having never experienced it myself (as a candidate or employer), I fear my words would lack a bit of credibility.
I had an interesting search process coming out of grad school, and one particular campus interview stands out. I’ve blogged about this experience before, but I’ve since taken down my old blog site (and replaced it with this one). Here are the highlights:
Picture it. North Carolina. Fall 2000. I was 22, full of energy and enthusiasm, getting ready to graduate in December, and ready to take the Student Affairs world by storm. Enter a student activities director position at a small, private institution…
It sounded like the perfect fit on paper. This person would work directly under the Dean of Students, coordinate activities and advise student groups, all things I could do. I knew the campus well since it was the location of my high school’s band camp. My grandfather was an alum. Home was less than an hour away. Sounds great, right?
Phone Interview: I had no warning it was coming. In fact, I was driving around town when the call came, so I pulled into a shopping center parking lot. The “interview” questions had very little to do with my job qualifications. Instead, the Dean of Students asked a lot of personal questions about my future plans with my boyfriend and my religious background. He even tried to justify asking what we would all consider “illegal” interview questions, saying that as a religiously-affiliated institution, it was crucial to hire staff that fit with their values. I answered what I was willing to answer, and the interview ended. I was certainly a little shaken by the intrusive questions, but I needed a job, and I still thought there was potential with this one.
Campus Interview: I arrived early and walked up to the Dean’s office. I could hear multiple voices coming out of a nearby office – they were talking about me! They were trying to figure out why I would ever want to live / work there – in a gossipy, not a professional, manner. Still, I waited for my interview.
The Dean arrived and took me on a tour of the student center. Apparently it had been recently built, and he wanted his new student activities director to “decorate the place” for him. Um, excuse me?
I met with the Career Center director – the most professional person I met on campus that day. She was concerned that the Dean might “catch” me and my boyfriend living together. The Dean was funny about that stuff, she said, and thought we might want to live a little farther away from campus. Seriously?
And then, to top it all off: the Dean was reviewing my resume in our final meeting. “So I’m looking here, and it says you did some diversity training?”
“Yes, that was part of the orientation leader training I coordinated last summer.”
“Well, that may be fine for your big city school, but I see that as a red flag here. We don’t want that diversity stuff at our school. A red. flag.”
I didn’t apologize for my background, nor did I act like I was going to change my values for this institution. I didn’t get the job.
I have never had another interview experience quite like this one, but it certainly left a mark, and I hope those job searching can learn from it.
Some job fit tips:
– Listen to what your interviewers are saying – and not saying.
– Talk to as many people as you can about the office / campus.
– Google potential employers and the department (including a search in the school and local newspapers, employee newsletters, and other documents that probably are online).
– Search for the employer’s presence on Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, etc.
– Ask lots of questions – both about the position, as well as living in the local community.
– Do not tolerate interview questions that make you uncomfortable. You don’t have to answer them.
– Even in this economy – do not blindly take the first job that’s offered to you just because you may feel desperate for a job. Take a few days, even a week, to do some soul-searching about the position and fit
– Do not compromise your values and beliefs. They have served you well, and they will continue to do so, with or without this job.
We’ll all be supporting you on your quest to find the right fit. Good luck!