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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.