Student Affairs Job Search: The Illusion of Choice

by Ryan Morgado

Humble Beginnings

As a grad student, the job search looms overhead from the day you start school. Even though it’s far off, you know it’s coming, and you’ll do everything you can to prepare for it. I was no different and wanted to ensure I was ready when it came time to apply and interview for jobs. I took a summer internship, I absorbed all the information I could in my classes, and I made sure my resume was in its prime.

As it came time to finally search and apply for jobs, I was excited at the notion of where I would start my professional journey in student affairs. I created a list of 5 criteria that I needed in a job. These were my non-negotiable items that I wouldn’t sacrifice in any way. Seems fine, right? Here’s what started happening.

If a position didn’t meet all 5 of my requirements, I would pass over it. At first it was nice because I created smaller job pool. Before I knew it, TPE came and went, I finally graduated from grad school, and I was spending my summer at home searching for jobs. Time was running out and my job options only seemed to be shrinking.

The internet has provided our generation a great gift: options, but along with options, a curse that plagues our minds: The illusion of choice.

The Curse

Think about how we’ve trained ourselves to use the internet. When we go shopping online, whether it’s for clothes, or airline tickets, or apartments, we are looking for one with the “best deal” or the “perfect look”. When we’re with a group of friends, and we want to go out to eat at a new place, we pull up Yelp and spend our time trying to find the “best” restaurant. When we use online dating, we have access to hundreds of thousands more potential partners than in any previous generation. We’ve developed a mindset that doesn’t settle for anything less than perfect.

These vast amounts of choices tend to cripple our ability to make decisions. In the back of our minds we think, “Well, it’s not exactly what I’m looking for, so I’ll keep searching”. This ideology bled directly into my job search. I scoured for the exact job, the one with all 5 of my criteria. I passed up applying to jobs that didn’t meet all my requirements because I thought, “There’s probably other ones better for me anyway”. The summer kept passing and so did the interviews. I knew something had to change.

I went back to my 5 criteria and reevaluated how important each one was to me and decided that there was only 1 non-negotiable: my functional area. I could sacrifice the other 4 as long as I was happy with the people I worked with and that I was advising or supervising students in some capacity.

For those of you about to start your search, here is my advice:

The Cure

First, reframe the idea of the “perfect job”. Yes, there are likely a few jobs out there that will meet every criterion you’re looking for, but the odds of it being available during your first job search are likely to be just as small. One day you might even hold your “perfect job”, but your first job is a time to explore and find what you love. Life is a journey, let your first job be part of that journey.

Second, decide what is non-negotiable. You’re the only one with the power to decide what is as an absolute must-have for your job search. I may have narrowed mine down to 1, but that doesn’t mean you must go down to 1. You want a balance of realistic expectations and knowing that these non-negotiables will give a good framework for being happy at your job.

There’s no “Michael’s Secret Stuff*” for the job search. It’s a long and arduous road with many factors that are out of your control, but you can control your attitude and your mindset.

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it change your attitude.” –Maya Angelou

Despite a long season of applications with very few interviews, my hard work and perseverance paid off. As of October 1st 2015, I started a job at Rice University in Houston, Texas, as the Assistant Director of Student Activities. I did not plan to end up in Texas, but I am incredibly happy here. With a little luck and hard work, you’ll be happy too.

-Ryan Morgado

*Space Jam reference, if you haven’t seen it, please do, it’s worth the watch at any age.

Student Affairs - the First Years

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