The Rocky Path

I remember the mixture of emotions going into my first Placement Exchange coming out of Grad School five years ago. We were all filled with the excitement and nervousness of being on the hunt for our first real professional experience. My best friends and I shared a hotel room and wrote words of encouragement to one another on the mirror in dry erase marker, performed a line dance at the Talent Show and had one anothers’ backs through the entire process.

We were all searching for different things – Ari and Heidi for Res Life, Tara was doing a location-specific search and I wanted to continue doing Multicultural or LGBT programming. We had been warned by our mentors that the experience would be very different for each of us, and that everyone’s path to a career is unique, but I’m not sure we understood until we were knee deep in the process. Ari and Heidi had loads of interviews and would come back each day filled with stories of the amazing people they’d met and the schools they were considering. Tara had just a few fairly intense interviews and was an amazing support to the rest of us. And I.. had a pretty terrible time.

I really only had two interviews that went well, and both were in Housing which wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do coming out of Graduate School. My interviews for multicultural programming and LGBT issues ranged from blah to being made very aware that prejudice exists even within departments that promote tolerance. I was heartbroken at the way I was treated in a couple of the interviews and remember coming back to the hotel room to sit on the floor, writing on my laptop and trying to hold in tears.

I ended up being one of the few in our cohort that didn’t have a job by the time we graduated.

In May a mentor emailed saying they’d heard that the University of Illinois was still accepting applications in Housing. My mentor knew I really wanted to work on social justice and LGBT issues and that Illinois had a strong focus on those things. Also, Ari had already accepted a position there, so how cool to get to work with one of my best friends in our first position? I knew within my first interview that the U of I was where I would belong in my first year.
Five years later I am glad that my path started out a bit rocky. I learned a lot about myself and about our profession in the process. It also made me more sensitive to the experiences of candidates I have met while on the hiring side of the table. I’ve done two searches since the initial one and the things I learned were invaluable the second and third time around.

For everyone who is searching, make sure to talk to your cohort members about what you see in interviews. There is so much to learn from one another’s experiences. Interviewing is great professional development so make sure you are intentional about taking advantage of it.

For those of you that are searching and having a hard time, keep your chins up! You will find something! Even if it’s not exactly what you imagined yourself doing, the beauty of our profession is that there is a lot of room to get involved in committees and side projects that fit your interest. Keep your minds open and don’t be afraid to try for something a little different.

As our mentors told me and my cohort, everyone’s career path is unique. What they forgot to add is that sometimes you have to spend time on a difficult path to find someplace truly rewarding.

AJ Lauer

Student Affairs - the First Years

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