by Beth Hunter,
Residence Life Coordinator – Leadership Engagement, Texas Tech University
Elections Coordinator, Commission for Student Involvement
I’m a planner by nature. I always have been and in some ways I probably always will be. As a kid I started planning my birthday for the next year the day after my birthday. It drove my mom crazy, but even as a child it was comforting to think ahead and start planning for something. I also planned out exactly what my career was going to look like…what jobs I would have and how long I would have them before moving on, what areas of the country I would live in, how many years after graduate school I would start my doctorate, and what my end career goal is. Having a plan for everything makes sense to me.
When I started my first full-time job search in January, believe it or not, I had a plan for what was next for me. I was going to work with student organizations, live in a northern Midwest state or large East Coast city, and work at a small to midsize institution. I also had a plan for what I was not going to do. I was not going to work in residence life, I was not going to live in the Southwest, and I was not going to work at a large institution.
Fast forward to mid-April and I still had not received a job offer, despite all the planning. I was discouraged and had started looking at leaving the field. In mid-April, I received a message from Texas Tech University offering an interview for a Residence Life Coordinator position. Remember those things I wasn’t going to do? Well, Texas Tech and this position checked all those boxes. I was so defeated at that point, that I decided to interview with them, but I did not want this position. My first and second-round interviews came and went, and they were the most enjoyable interviews I’d had. At this point, I was still a little unsure about working in residence life, but I was enjoying the staff at Tech so much that I was elated when I received my on-campus interview offer. The staff and students at Tech were the most genuine, kind people I had met in my interview process. I left Tech knowing that this is where I’m supposed to be. This was my next step.
I was offered a different position, an RLC position that co-advises RHA, oversees the Complex Councils, and coordinates leadership programs. A position that aligned with my experience perfectly. Despite still being nervous of working in residence life and all that comes with it; being on-call, living on campus, etc., I excitedly accepted the position because Tech was where I was meant to be.
There isn’t a better decision I could have made for myself. The residence life staff, from graduate students all the way up to senior leadership, has supported me endlessly, helped me see my value here, recognized my commitment to our students, challenged me to be the best I can be, and many have become my friends and support system here.
My advice for all the planners out there who think you know what your next step is:
Have your plans and preferences, but be willing to be flexible and look at other opportunities. Conduct a nation-wide search, explore other functional areas, consider moving farther than you had originally planned. You never know what impact these decisions could have on your personal and professional life.
Devote some time to really thinking about what you value in a position. For me, I thought I just wanted a specific location, in a specific functional area, at a smaller institution. For most of my job search, this was enough for me. It wasn’t until I came to Tech that I realized what I valued in my next position was supportive colleagues, kind and genuine people, and a place that will push me to be the very best I can be.
Become comfortable with being scared. The thought of working in residence life scared me. I’ve been at Tech four months, and some days it still scares me. The occasional fear and nervousness that comes with being in a functional area that I’m unfamiliar with has pushed me to ask questions, seek a lot of new knowledge, and be able to learn a ton from my more experienced colleagues. It’s an opportunity. An opportunity you’ll miss if you avoid things that are scary. You can push through fear and nerves, but incredible opportunities may not come around again if you pass them up once.
Think critically about your transferrable skills. For most of my job search, I thought “I don’t have experience in residence life, and I commuted all four years of undergrad. I’m not qualified for this.” In the short time I have been at Tech, I have been able to make decisions, restructure programs, make long-term plans for programs and processes, and use all of my transferrable skills. Your transferrable skills will get you much farther than you think they will. And if all else fails, the willingness and desire to learn new things will get you even farther.
Sometimes it’s okay to not have a plan. This is a scary sentence, but it’s oh so true. Push your plans aside and do something that you never thought you would. It’s cliché, but the world is literally your oyster. Go conquer it.