Current Position and Institution:
Speaker and Educator
First Position and Institution:
Complex Coordinator, University of Delaware
My first year was full of friendships, mistakes, learning, and growth. Frankly, it was a very tough experience for me, both personally and professionally. When I look back, I’m very glad I took a three-year approach to my experience as a new professional. Most first jobs in student affairs aren’t intended to be life long roles – usually three years – some more, some less. It can be so tempting for new professionals to try and do it all at once – impossible and not sustainable. You have to pace yourself and know what to pursue, what to say yes to, and what to hold off on for later. Without a plan you can end up saying yes to the first things that come your way and then you may have to say no to the things that could matter most to you. I have recommended some version of this plan to just about every new professional in student affairs I have worked with since.
Keith’s 3(ish) Year Plan for New Professionals in Student Affairs
Year 1 – Do Your Job
Focus on being a great hall director, student activities coordinator, career counselor, or program assistant in multicultural life, etc. Make lots of mistakes and learn from them. Learn the institution, processes, people, and make lots of mistakes. The basics of the job will never be harder than during your first year. You may hate being called “new,” but it sure is great to be able to make mistakes and shrug your shoulders and say, “I’m new.” Trust me, after a year, you’ll wish you had that button to push back.
Year 2 – Be Great at Your Job AND Engage in Departmental Leadership
Now that you have made lots of mistake, asked lots of questions, and learned how things work, you should be able to be really great at your job with less time, energy, and effort. It’s amazing what you can get done when you can actually answer questions and not just say, “Good question. I’ll have to get back to you on that.” While being great at your job, seek out departmental leadership opportunities – ask to chair a committee rather than just be on it, implement a department-wide initiative, offer to revise and improve a departmental process, or contribute something significant beyond your primary role.
Year 3 – Be Great at Your Job AND Engage in Institutional and Association Leadership
This year you should be better at your job than ever and it should require the least time, energy, and effort. You know how things work and can plan ahead. Now is the time to consider your legacy – what impact will you have when you have moved on? Also, take on those institution-wide leadership roles by serving on a search committee, chairing a division committee, leading a project, or contributing significantly to an initiative beyond your department. You can also move toward some kind of professional association leadership (ACPA, NASPA, ACUHO-I, NODA, NACA, and more) by running for an elected position, presenting at a national conference, writing for a blog post, or writing a book review for a journal. This involvement gives you a broader perspective, helps build your network, and can be very helpful when it comes time to job search – maybe this year or maybe next.
The #SATBT series asks higher education and student affairs professionals to share a picture and reflect on a memory and/or one of the most important lessons the learned from their first job in the field.
Consider contributing your story for potential inclusion in the book version…