Things you must do before TPE or any Placement Exchange

With placement exchange fast approaching there are some easily overlooked items that will drastically change your search. I am focusing a bit on TPE in particular, because that was my experience, but most of this applies to other placement exchanges as well. So excuse my use of the term TPE when I am referring to exchanges as whole.

Fill out your TPE Profile

I cannot recommend this enough. Your TPE profile is super important. So many institutions comb through potential employee’s records just like you go through job postings. If they see something they like they will email you an offer to either apply for their position or interview.

I would never have interviewed for my current position at GWU if my profile had not been updated. I didn’t see myself living in DC, and thus ignored most postings in that region; but two weeks before the conference I got an offer to interview. It was a great school, and totally worth 30 minutes of my time. Now it’s where I call home.

There are a few sections where you can express yourself. Take advantage of those, and don’t just replicate your cover letter. There’s a box for experience, here’s mine as an example:

I have been fortunate enough to grasp opportunities that have challenged my abilities and influenced my growth. I have served in a housing role in a variety of positions and locations across the country, and use that diversity of experience in my daily work. I am always seeking new opportunities to better myself as a professional; along with unique ways to positively influence students.

You are limited to 75 words so make them count. There’s an additional box where it asks for a summary. Just another great way to display your passions.

Upload your Resume to TPE

Just like the section above employers regularly go through your profile, give them a chance to see if you are qualified for their position without you even applying.

Don’t ignore the learning modules on the site

Are some things they talk about common sense? Sure, but you don’t want to be the one person who shows up in a metaphorical denim suit to interview days. It’s worth the time hearing the things you know with the chance that you might learn something vital to getting your next job.

Be ready for phone interviews as First Rounds

Quite a few institutions do phone interviews before the conference. If you apply for a job, and list that you are going to a placement conference it’s still very possible that they will want to do a phone interview. So practice your hello (seriously if you pick up the phone sounding like you just woke-up it’s super awkward for the first 10 minutes. Not speaking from experience or anything…).

Talk to your friends in the field about what you want

There are so many postings out there it always helps having an extra eye out for what could be your dream job. If you are in grad school now most everyone is searching, help each other out and share postings. No reason to hide what you are looking for.

Set real expectations for the amount of interviews you will take

Know that you will be tired, you will be stressed, and you have to be on it for interview days. Take stock of how you approach these type of situations and try and find the best fit for you. I am relatively low energy and pretty mellow, so I took 10, splitting them up for the first two days. It gave me the scope I wanted yet I had time to do my research. The number is different for everyone. I would advise against agreeing to every interview, you won’t remember enough to interview well.Also don’t forget to set aside time to grab lunch, go to the bathroom, and write thank you notes (which can be emailed too).

Things to remember

If you got an interview offer from a school, and there is no way you will ever accept it. Don’t ignore it, reply back "Thank you so much for the opportunity to interview with your institution, but I feel I must respectfully decline. Thank you so much, -Awesome Candidate"

You don’t have to agonize about letting them down easy, or finding the right way to say you wouldn’t be caught dead within 10 miles of their school. Just say no, but leave the door open for opportunities in the future.

That’s it for now.


Do you have a question? Ask Here

All grammar, spelling, or proofreading mistakes were intentional.

Your Turn: Asking questions you actually care about

Hello folks, sorry for the brief hiatus. My students returned from winter break with a vengeance making even finding time to cook food difficult (Read: I’ve ate an unhealthy amount of Chinese food recently).

The topic of today’s Wall of Text is the 2nd part of the interview, the time when you get to ask the questions and try and figure out if this institution is right for you.

One of my bigger points in any question I have answered or any approach I recommend you take, is the importance and need for reflection.

Liddell, Hubbard, and Werner (2000) in their text Powerful programming for student learning: Approaches that make a difference, state that reflection is vital to the learning process. They are speaking in context of programming, but I find it applicable to this topic. The authors outline four main goals:

  • Link Experience to Learning Objectives
  • Provide Reflection activities
  • Encourage regular reflection
  • Feedback and Assess reflection

These elements although programming focus have a strong connection to how you should be shaping your interview questions. Reflection is how you discover who you are and what you care about. Coming from a place of reflection is how you will discover fit, but at the same time display your objectives to a potential employer.

Before even beginning your draft of your interview questions start with reflection. What are your learning objectives for your next few years, let’s say 1-3 to be conservative. What are you doing to force this reflection? How often are you reflecting? Are your reflections genuine? Have you had a friend or supervisor walk you through your reflections of your self to see if they match their perception of you?

Once you have identified who you are, and what you want, the rest comes easy.

I was talking a friend on G-chat (the great coalescent of Student Affairs professionals) about her job search. She is a 2nd year grad in a higher ed program. During our conversation she was trying to come up with interview questions to ask interviewers. I asked her simply, "What do you want out of an office, your co-workers, and the institution"

She responded:

  I want a challenge, I want supportive coworkers that enjoy the humor in our work, I want to be able to take classes and I would like an office that encourages me to continue to learn and push myself, I want coworkers that expect their ideas/thoughts to be challenged and that will challenge mine to be sure that we’re coming up with the best solutions and support for our students, I want to work at a school that values assessment or at least sees the need for it, and I want to work at a place that is always trying to be better instead of being stuck in their traditions and the way they always do it.

From that small instinctual reflection some very strong questions can be built:

  • "What is the culture of assessment at your institution?
  • "How do you achieve work life balance?"
  • "How are ideas challenged?"
  • "Can I take classes?"
  • "How do you see new candidates being challenged?"
  • "How is your office looking to progress?"
  • "How is humor integrated in your work?"

These are some very simple questions that are targeted towards what she individually wants and needs.

Formatting the way you focus your effort avoids using the cliche “What is the culture of your office?” and probes further into what really matters, along with saying something about your goals.

When you are starting to create your interview questions, take a step back. Focus on what you want, reflect, then pull that reflection into pieces to form questions. You will come out of it with succinct and targeted questions that will help you find fit, not banality.


Do you have a question? Ask Here

All grammar, spelling, or proofreading mistakes were intentional.


Liddell, D. L., Hubbard S., & Werner, R. (2000). Developing interventions that focus on learning. In D. L. Liddell & J. P. Lund,  Powerful programming for student learning: Approaches that make a difference (pp. 21-33). New Directions for Student Services, No. 90. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

  • Anonymous:How important is this next step out of graduate school? It seems easy to place a lot of weight/stress on the job search and making the "right" move.
  • colbychats:

    It is incredibly important, but not for the reasons you might think.

    You should not be stressing if this job puts you in-line for your next job. Nor should you worry if the institution is respected in our field.

    The biggest factor in your first position is trying to find some place where you can be happy for 2-3 years. Being happy, supported, and comfortable are huge determinants in how well you do your job, which in the greater scheme, influences how easily it will be to get your next job.

    You can’t be approaching your search only from the perspective of 3 years out, you will drive yourself into the ground. The best is to find a nice middle ground, by understanding your present situation.

    Now say you want to do residence life work, and find this perfect job in a wonderful city, but they don’t have a conduct component, and you know that you need conduct experience to move up in 2-3 years. If you can find happiness take the job.

    The way our field works is that there is so much work to do, that you can always volunteer your time and you get welcomed with open arms. If you take that job you can walk over to the conduct office, and say, “I would love some experience, is there any way I can help?”

    One of my favorite questions in an interview is to ask about opportunities for professional practicums, or chances to work for other offices. You want to know if you have the ability to pursue your interests regardless if they are in your job description.

    Landing a job that encompasses all of the things you want is rare to find all at once. But know there are elements that are under your control, and most of those include your responsibilities and where you can donate your time.

    The biggest thing you need to suss out when you are interviewing is if it will be a place where you will find joy. Because if you aren’t fulfilled, leading you to burn out and leave mid semester or after your first year, you better have a good reason for it. To be honest, when I’m reading resumes and I see someone has spent only a year at one institution, it’s going to be my first question.

    To be clear you will not know if you will be happy at an institution until you go on campus. The world you see at a convention is so small, but when you immerse yourself, stay over night, and spend some quality time with an institution is when you will start to know. This is the time you can get picky and stressed about making the right move. But that stress should come after you interview on-campus though, not during. Don’t spend your first night in the hotel room thinking “Do I like this place? Do I like the people?” Focus on the task at hand. The pressure and the stress come when you have to make a decision. You are in no position to discount anything, you are going to be unemployed very soon, concentrate on being wanted instead who you are going to reject.

    When I was applying for grad schools, I was talking with my mentor about what schools to look at, and he said very plainly, “Colby you can do anything for two years.” Which is correct, but not a truth. The truth is that yes you can do anything for two years, but you will find success, excel, and gain a positive reputation in an environment where you are content.

    Interviewing is just like dating, but this time you are looking for something lasting, and you want to make sure your values, motivations, and desires are in-line with the institution you will be partnering with. This is a committed long-term relationship, and you don’t want to just jump right into it.

    Do you have a question? Ask Here

  • Anonymous:How can you tell if you have a good 'fit' somewhere?
  • colbychats:

    In my mind fit is so frequently defined incorrectly. People think that fit is, location, size of school, department. When in actuality those are just parameters for your search.

    True fit is about having congruence between your goals as a new professional, and the behavior exhibited by your would-be employer. It also is matching the needs that you have as an employee.

    For me I needed a cohort type environment to be successful. At my current institution I have 9 very close co-workers who do the same work I do, and we function very much like a grad school cohort, very supportive, and very nurturing. It was the largest factor in me finding my fit, as I knew that my best path through transition would be through a strong support structure.

    Part of finding your best fit is about doing some serious reflection to understand what you really care about. If you decide to work for an office that isn’t theory based, are you going to live your previous held deals and help the department progress, or are you going to adjust to the current level? Or is the weight of not having support for your theory perspective going to crush you?

    It is very hard to find everything on your list, but it’s most important to find your top priority. Everything else falls in place after.

    Referencing back to the parameters I mentioned. Those things move up your priority list later in the process, not the first round of an interview. When you have multiple offers on the table is when those items come into play. The job search is hard, it’s best to allow yourself to be open, and not limit what you can adapt to. That being said, if you are looking at some place that you know will never fulfill your needs, and you will never find happiness, bow out and save everyone a bit of time.

  • Anonymous:What would be considered inappropriate to ask an employer during an initial interview?
  • colbychats:

    I think the correct answer is anything I used to ask when I was interviewing for grad school. I had this ridiculous notion that I couldn’t work for a school that didn’t have a sense of humor. So when it became my time in the interview to ask the questions I decided to put the person on the other side of the table through their paces through a cacophony of oddball questions.

    I remember asking the VPSA of a Big East school "Which US president would you bring back to life? (knowing they could not serve again, due to Zombie Citizenship laws) Also what super power would you give them?"

    No idea where it came from, but it quickly became my staple. I seemed to ask it of everyone, gaining a consensus that the best President to be revived into Zombie form was Abe Lincoln, given the ability to fly, with the caveat that his beard had to serve as a rudder.

    Most people humored me, one office responded "So are you going to continue on this line of questioning, or are you done wasting our time?" She was right though. I was wasting their time. Because I believed that this one question would give me the answers I needed, but it was too much too fast.

    Interviewing gets compared to dating all the time, and it’s really apt. Think of an initial interview as a first date, avoid the questions you wouldn’t use when out with some one you like for the first time. For example, money, you will learn eventually how much the job pays, you won’t need to ask for it within the first few minutes.

    Don’t ask questions that prove you are a creeper. "Did you know you and my supervisor’s supervisor went to the same conference last year, where you sat near each other? He told me you smelled nice"

    Avoid going to the negative or insulting someone with a question, remember it’s your first encounter with them. Your questions are the last thing they will remember of you. You leaving asking "What do you not like about your job/department/institution" may not be the best one for a first round.

    Your main job during the question portion of an interview is take time to get know them and don’t unravel all the positive work you have done in the last 45 minutes by spooking them.

  • Anonymous:What did you learn through your graduate experience that has been most helpful during your first year as a professional in the field? ALSO: You win a pet monkey at a fair, but this isn't just any pet monkey, this monkey can do a trick. What does it do?
  • colbychats:

    Graduate school is something special. If you really enjoyed your education, and your assistant-ship was in an environment that espoused and enacted the level of research and theory that your graduate program advocates your transition to other institutions might be difficult.

    I am a theory nut, it informs my practice and is the lens through which I view and understand the world. Without graduate school this would not be the case. But that’s a poor universal answer.

    The truth is your grad program challenges you to understand what type of professional you might be. Your first year as a new professional either confirms or disproves those ideals.

    What was most helpful in transitioning to my new role was having a context of education to help me through the dissonance. I was released from my bubble and really got to understand what I truly cared about as a professional. For me that was theory, for you it might be assessment, or research, or social justice. Your environment determines those value changes more than anything, and is difficult to predict.

    If anything take the time now to be a generalist, and absorb all you can in your education, because you will never know what will rise to the surface in your first year; and what you will be kicking yourself for not remembering or studying.

    Pet monkey trick: Answers comical questions via tumblr.

  • Anonymous:How do you deal with adjusting to a new campus' politics?
  • colbychats:

    Politics is hard anywhere you go. You will find success by just observing and listening for your first few months. Your allies and friends will present themselves, along with people to avoid. Best advice I can give is try not to talk ill of anyone, and keep your ears open.

  • Anonymous:So, um, snarkiness - a good thing or bad thing to bring to an interview?
  • colbychats:

    If you are naturally snarky go for it. The best thing you can be is authentic to who you are.

    I personally am snarky as hell, and have said some really foul things in an interview. But I get away with it because it’s part of who I am. As much as offices are interviewing you to see if you can do the job, they also want someone they feel comfortable hanging out with. If you’re a robot, and show no personality, it’s hard to tell if you will help or hurt the office dynamic.

    If you’re snarky and witty, it’s usually a win, just keep it appropriate.

Job Search (applying for jobs, and placement conferences)

So this is the first post of many on a variety of topics relevant to current SA grads and new professionals. This one is more geared at 2nd year grads who are now starting the job search. I focused a bit more on the placement exchange aspect, but will revisit some of the basics of applying for jobs in a later post. Lessons learned as a new professional is on the horizon as well.

You will see below that I have gone with the wall of text approach. Otherwise known as the brain-dump, enjoy, that will most likely not change. As always all grammar, spelling, or proofreading mistakes were intentional.

Don’t forget if you have a question click the question mark at the top of the page.

  • None of this is gospel, be choosey with what you believe
  • Don’t limit anything, being open to taking a job anywhere in the country is so freeing, and gives you so much latitude.
  • If you have a set plan in January you truly are fooling yourself, so much changes in a job search, if you are flexible and willing to see an opportunity it will come. The best way to not get a job is to block things because it’s not part of your already set plan, which has no connection to anything other than your pride.
  • Prepare for your interviews, and be real about who you are
  • Create interview packets for yourself, with detailed information about each school you are interviewing for. Should include institutional, and departmental mission, things that interest you about them, things you really should know about them, and thoughtful questions
  • If you are planning to go to a placement exchange OPE, TPE, SPE, any other E. Make sure you’re a filling out your profile on their site. Employers regularly read those and offer interviews based on that alone. Upload your resume and write intelligently about your plans. You will get around 20 interview offers with only about an hour’s worth of work.
  • Don’t take every interview, every conference there is some kid that has 50, who practically lives in the waiting room, then fails miserably in every one because they aren’t prepped. Know your limits.
  • Go through interview bootcamp with your current supervisor. They know you, ask the questions of them that you have trouble answering yourself. “What are my weaknesses” is always a good one.
  • Get your “Tell me about yourself” down, every interview has that question at the start. Don’t make it a biography, but be able to say who you are, where you are from, your experience, your mission, your goals, and why you are an asset to them. You can get all of this done in 2 minutes.
  • I referenced mission above, have a personal mission statement, know what you stand for and what you are looking to do. This is a great Ted talk on that subject and how to start creating one for yourself:
  • Have as many people as possible that you trust read your resume, and only use some of their feedback. You know what you want your resume to look like; don’t get pushed around by other’s opinions. But those perspectives are important because they ask things that you might not see.
  • Ask for example cover letters from people you admire. If they are great in their job now, they most likely have a wonderful cover letter. Ask if you can see it, or use it as a template.
  • Google “typical interview questions” and start creating outlines for questions for every one you see.
  • I say outlines for a reason. Don’t be robotic. You might be at the table next to your previous interview, how awkward would it be to answer their questions in the exact same way you did not 30 minutes ago.
  • Take Strengths-quest and use your strengths as frames to answer questions. If Adaptability is your #1, you should explain how you use it when asked about how you handle crisis. (you don’t have to use all 5, but having a strong theme of utilizing 3 of them in your daily work is awesome)
  • All these tests, Myers-Briggs, Strengths-quest, True Colors, are useless unless you are able to apply them.
  • Don’t name drop theorists. Sanford (1966) was Challenge and Support, but explains what that means to you.
  • Use theory if you know it in your answers, but as above, don’t name drop without explaining how you use them and your thoughts
  • Be who you are, if you aren’t assessment heavy don’t claim to be. If they hire you on that notion, expect to be drastically behind, and look like a jerk.
  • The questions you ask near the end of the interview is the last impression you leave with someone you are interviewing with, treat them like that. There is nothing worse than rocking the interview, then asking, “So do you like your job?”
  • Remember when answering social justice questions, that diversity is more than race. Sadly this needs to be said.
  • Be as authentic as you can during your interviews, people on the other side of the table can see fakeness from a mile away.
  • If you are at a placement exchange, schools come get you in various ways, some say your name, or others just hold up a plush toy of their mascots. Be vigilant, and know the mascots
  • After you are picked up you are walked to the interview table, it could be a long walk, and kinda awkward, have something to say or talk about, even a joke. In this case silence isn’t golden.
  • At placement don’t talk about how things are going so great for you, and all the schools you are interviewing with. First no one cares. Secondly you come off as arrogant. Be humble and talk about other things with your peers.
  • It’s student affairs everyone knows everyone, which is a blessing and a curse, tread carefully
  • Don’t be creepy with your research. You might have googled the director and know that they shared an undergraduate class with your mentor 10 years ago. Don’t drop that info during the first interview.
  • You will bomb in at least one interview. It’s okay.
  • Interviewing is about fit, you may be the most qualified candidate they see that day, and they won’t ask for a 2nd round. Again it’s okay.
  • Your first perception of an institution during your first interview is usually wrong; take a 2nd round if you are offered it. Unless you have a hard reason not to, not just a feeling.
  • At placement there are a variety of socials and dinners for schools to court candidates, go to them, but don’t feel you have to stay the whole time. If you have a crazy day of interviews the next day it’s more important that you sleep than staying till the place closes. Pop in, say hello, meet some new folks, and move on.
  • Write your thank you notes at the conference, making sure right after you walk away from the table you note the people you spoke with and something special they offered. Usually an answer to one of your questions
  • It’s okay to do electronic thank you notes. Actually most prefer it as it’s sustainable. Plus it’s easier to crank out in between interviews.