Becoming a New Professional

I was invited to speak on a panel to a class of new graduate students in the Post Secondary Education: Student Affairs program at UNI. The students are taking a class called “Introduction to Student Affairs”. This week they were discussing life as a new professional and had an opportunity to create a list of questions they wanted to ask the panel. The panel consisted of 3 new professionals (which in addition, all 3 of us attended UNI as undergraduates). We all had different stories to share about how we got to where we are in our careers. The students had questions ranging from work/life balance (which is a weak point for me) to what will the field look like in 10 years. Before we realized it, the hour we were allotted had flown by, and many questions were still not answered. Because I directed the students to check out our great blog to learn more about what other new professionals are doing, I wanted to answer some of these fun questions for my post this week.

What were some of the adjustment issues you experienced when you transitioned from being a student to a professional?

After graduation, I was so excited to get into the field that I hit the ground running. Several professionals used to tell me “the first year on the job is for observing”. I felt that I had done enough observing by the time I was in my 3rd or 4th month, and was ready to make changes. My attitude was “You hired me for a reason”. I had to learn to take those first few months easy, and that change wasn’t going to happen overnight. The other big adjustment was supervising student employees. My personality flaw is that I want everyone to like me, and when someone doesn’t—it stresses me out. I have been more active about my role as a supervisor, and in learning that it’s ok if a student doesn’t like me. When issues of concern happen, I address them right away. So whether the student likes it or not, you were hired to do a job and I expect you to fulfill your responsibilities. I’m just trying to prepare them for the real world. As a former student of where I work, it was hard for people to see me as a professional and not the 19 year old who was still figuring her way around campus. I walked the walked, and talked the talk now. It was just going to come with time. And although I get mistaken for a student a lot, I still behave in a professional manner. Maybe when I get gray hair people will get the picture.

What was the best interview question you were asked? The hardest?

I don’t think I have witnessed the best or worst interview question. There are some that have stuck with me for their originality and creativity. I love asking fun questions during interviews like “If you were an office supply, what would you be and why?” It catches people off guard and tests how quick they can think on their feet. The most interesting question I have been asked was “If you were to select a book for all incoming students to read, what would it be and why?” Back then, I didn’t read many books, other than my textbooks for class. I had been given a cool book for Christmas that year from a friend, so I answered “The Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales”. These are the stories of our beloved classic fairy tales, but they are much darker as it was in their original creation. These stories have been passed down from Germanic folklore. They are not the happy ending stories we know now. I mentioned that the students should read it because we all need to learn how to see all aspects and angles of a story, to learn to get all the facts before judging something or someone. As the old adage goes “Don’t judge a book by its cover”.

As a professional, in general, what has surprised you about the profession?

How nasty the politics of higher education can be! There are so many things I don’t agree with, but there are reasons why certain procedures and policies are in place. They may not be good or valid reasons, in my opinion, but it is a reason nonetheless. There will be times when you won’t be able to see the changes you would like for a long time, or times that will deter you from taking action. That can be so frustrating.

What is the hardest part about being on a new campus?

As with living in any new environment, finding your way around campus is always a challenge. I don’t necessarily have that problem now, but when I went away to graduate school at Illinois State University, I did. If you’re at an institution that serves 30,000+ students, the campus layout may be more spread out so that can pose some difficulties. Even though I work at UNI and did my undergraduate studies here, trying to meet new professional friends can be challenging for me at times. I don’t have family nearby so my friends usually compose my support system in my new home state of Iowa. I’m in my 3rd year as a professional, and I am barely getting to meet new people. I have started slowly by asking co-workers to lunch. Sometimes I feel out of place because many of my peers at work are married and/or have children. Some folks are just in a different place than I am, and I have come to accept it. 

Tabatha Cruz

Student Affairs - the First Years

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