Friday, May 16, 2008

What I Wish I Would Have Known in Student Affairs

A while back I came across a blog that stated, "20 Things I Wish I Had Known When Starting Out in Life". I then started thinking about the things I wish I had known about Student Affairs. There are quite a few things to mention that most people probably picked up in their graduate programs. However, one of the things I've always understood is the importance of humble, friendly, energetic, and willing to do the work.

Below is a list of things I wish I had known prior to getting into this field. Feel free to add your own "I wish I would have known" comments. This could be fun!

1. Know more about the process of getting hired. When I was on the verge of graduating with my MA, I had no idea what the time-line looked like in order for me to get a job. I really didn't start applying for positions until May - and as you know.. that's WAY LATE! Luckily I found a position as a hall director. Those two years were great - but I definitely didn't know what to do as a hall director because I had only lived in the halls for a semester myself. HA! I guess with the willingness to learn and do the work you can do anything. It's called SURVIVAL!

2. What exactly do you do at an ACPA and NASPA and why would you want to go? I had heard about these two student affairs organizations but I never really grasped why it was important for me to be a member. It didn't help that the first institution I was employed with didn't go to either of these conferences - so there went another two years of not knowing.

3. Be your (professional) self in Interviews and RELAX! Wow, I just got this not too long ago. You don't want to force yourself to fit a position - you want to give the interviewers a sense of who you are and they'll decide if you're a good fit. When you do this.. you become less nervous. Just make sure you're prepared.

4. Have a general idea of a handful of theories. Some people in student affairs like to talk theory. I'm not really one of them - but I can at least give you a general idea of some of the most used ones and hold a conversation. In my early years, this wouldn't be the case. I had theories class - but I skated through that class. In my current position I gained the knowledge to be able to speak on some theorists even if it's not my favorite thing to do (I actually get quite bored). Having a general knowledge also helps you through some interviews. I don't know how many actually ask questions on your theory knowledge - but UNLV definitely does. I will say that I've never heard anyone shout out, "Oh my God - I just did challenge and support!" - It's all about putting it into practice.

5. Stay out of the gossip. Actually I've always lived by this one since graduate school. Gossip will destroy everything and trust goes right out of the window. If you're participating in gossip, just imagine how much others you're gossiping with are actually gossiping about you. Think "Mean Girls". It all comes back to bite you on the ass in the end.

6. No matter what they say, there is ALWAYS ways around it. Don't ever take the first no as the FINAL ANSWER. Oh, and those rules are they just as a guideline - of course unless it may result in death, pain, serious injury and incarceration. While there might always be a way around something you can't always skirt around a rule - but a lot of times you can.

7. Stand your ground - be confident. Sometimes you meet people who are in a higher position than you and the culture is to fear this person for whatever reason. If you're confident that commands a certain level of respect. If you're sure about something, stand your ground - but know when to concede. Some battles are just not worth the fight, plus you have to think of the whole team. How is standing your ground on a subject affecting others? It took me a while to be confident enough to stand my ground when I believed in something.

8. Be well known for something. Whatever you're good at - keep it up. Be known for that. If it's being punctual - let that be your M.O. Are you an encyclopedia of team building/ice breaking knowledge? Then do as many staff development exercises as possible. If you're creative, show it any chance you get. If you are organized - offer to help others be that way. If you can find humor in the most appropriate times when it's needed, then do it. Accentuate whatever skill/talent you have to help yourself shine brightest.

9. Don't agree to do something if you really don't want to do it. This is a no-brainer. If you don't want to do something and you've convince yourself that you have to because someone may be offended or upset that you can't - then that's their problem. My motto is, "Help when you have the time, ability and WANT to help". You'll always come across as genuine because you will be your genuine self when you are helping. Doing something because of politics, being afraid to say no, or afraid someone will not like you will set you into a hard to break spin-cycle of inauthentic behavior and you'll always remember the time when you did that "favor" for someone. It's the times you don't remember doing something for someone but they always remember you doing it for them, that you have done something with pure kindness. It's those things that count in the long run.

10. Take advantage of all of your fringe benefits! Get your full worth at your institution. Health benefits, retirement plans, computer loans, free software, free or discounted tuition - take FULL advantage. I've taken advantage of all of the benefits. The tuition one is great because while I may not be working towards a degree, I'm working on improving my skills in other areas that help me do the work in my position better - and better still, I am taking classes for personal enrichment.

11. Don't become a politician (unless you're REALLY running for office). You can't be everything to everyone all of the time but who you can be is yourself everyday. This is not to say you aren't respectful and thoughtful in regard to a colleagues role in your department or division - but what it's saying is that you be consistent in your dealings and confident in the decisions you make. People will respect you more for your point of view, your enthusiasm, and honesty. Keep in mind, this isn't carte blanche to say and do "whatever the hell you want" but more of a vehicle to be you. It's wise to press palms, smile, and engage in authentic conversations but it's not wise to get yourself caught up in the "watch out for so-and-so", the "they don't like it when...", or the "you don't want to piss off so-and-so ", etc. Once you start tip-toeing around folks, it's a wrap! You've given them the power without them even asking for it.

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