For entry and mid-level student affairs professionals, gaining the experience required to advance in the field can take on many forms.
Employers are looking at a variety of skills when considering candidates for higher-level student affairs jobs. In The Chronicle of Higher Education, George S. McClellan identified skills such as budgeting, supervision, and time management as essential skills for people advancing in the field.
Additionally, skill areas such as assessment and risk management are commonly sought after and desirable for competitive candidates.
In job interviews, it is common for us to mostly talk about our specific job experience, which is great! But after being in your role for some time, it can be hard to find new ways to gain varied experience.
Your role or title may not be changing often, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t continue to develop in new skill areas. Here, I’ll be sharing some advice to help you gain progressive experience without leaving the role you’re currently in.
1. Where do you want to go?
Before identifying the skills you want to gain, take some time to think about what your ultimate professional goals are. Think about what you have already done and what skills you may still be lacking.
Once you have done this, it becomes easier to build a strategy for getting more experience and how to do so.
Take a look at some positions on HigherEdJobs.com or the NASPA Placement Exchange website to see if there are positions you are either interested in or think you could be interested in down the road. Write down the skills and experience they require and compare that to what you have on your resume currently.
By doing this, you have a side-by-side comparison of what you have and where you still need to grow. Having a written out checklist like this makes it possible to hold yourself accountable as you are growing in your role.
You may have reached a point where you have done all you can in your role as constructed, and there may not be things your supervisor can keep giving you. In this case, a great way to gain new experience is to volunteer. Volunteering in different roles gives you a chance to take on new responsibilities in a softer setting. As a volunteer, you’ll have more space to learn as you go, rather than needing to start off as an expert.
There are a variety of ways this can be accomplished. Many universities have professional organizations you can participate in to get new experience. If that’s not the case for your institution, there are numerous professional organizations within the field that one can participate in to gain experience. Your institution may even have professional development funds available that would allow you to travel to conferences because of your role in the organization.
You can also volunteer with non-profit organizations in your community, because the skills you may build there could transfer to future roles.
Not only does volunteering and getting involved in different organizations allow you to grow, it also gives you a chance to network with other professionals which may lead to better access to opportunities down the road!
If you know someone in your office or department who has a job you aspire to, see if they would be able to let you shadow them or help them with certain tasks. Everyone could use a helping hand now and then, and it may be mutually beneficial. Remember that side-by-side comparison you did of where you are now and the skills you’ll need for the future? Look at that and figure out who in your division has those skills and reach out to them.
Of course, there are some things that may be confidential or that you may not be able to help with, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. While you may not be able to know the specifics of a certain conduct case, for example, you can still learn more about the skills needed for those roles by working closely with someone doing similar work.
Even critical conversations can make a difference in learning more about the skills needed.
4. Asking for new tasks
There may still be opportunities for you to grow in your current role! Have an honest conversation with your supervisor about what else you can be doing around the office. This is, of course, dependant on you doing your currently assigned tasks well. But if you have been doing well in your role, this may be a good opportunity to learn more about what more you can be doing!
Your supervisor can be a valuable resource not only in your current role but possibly also in getting you plugged into different opportunities with professional organizations or on campus.
Having a good relationship with your supervisor and being upfront about your career goals and where you want to go can help them help you.
If you are looking at where you want to go in student affairs, it is crucial to always be growing and gaining more experience. If you feel like you have gotten to a point in your assigned role where you aren’t really getting new experience, think about what skills your next role might be looking for and how you can gain those experiences now.