8 Tips For Transitioning to a New Student Affairs Job During the Pandemic

Transitioning to a new job is always challenging. 

Transitioning to a new job during a pandemic brings on its own additional hurdles to overcome. You might not have the opportunity to see your new campus prior to starting your new role and once you do, you probably won’t get to meet many people (if any) in person.

Budgets may have been reduced and as a result, you need to think smarter for student programming and professional development. Staff may be out on furlough, resulting in you stepping in for your colleagues. We are treading through uncharted territory, which can be scary.   

At the end of June, I moved from New York to Maryland for a new job. The pandemic had been an adjustment that I was somewhat getting used to, but moving to a different state and starting a new job in a different department while working from home required a whole new adjustment. 

When I received the job offer, I was super excited (and still am) but I didn’t consider how the pandemic would affect my transition. Working through a pandemic is not something any of us have ever had to navigate, and it is difficult. 

So, here are some lessons and tips I’ve learned (and still am learning) that I hope will be helpful for anyone transitioning jobs during this time. 

8 Tips

1. Remember your why  

You should always go back to your why. Doing so will remind you why you started and why you wanted this position, keeping you motivated to press forward during difficult times. 

We all committed to a career in student affairs to help students, but you’ve probably realized that there has to be more behind your motivation than this now. You likely thrived off of in-person interactions that you can no longer access and work-life balance has become even more difficult to achieve. 

So, write your why down, make it your computer or phone background, or turn it into artwork to hang on your mirror. Put it in a place where you’ll frequently see it, giving you quick motivation to keep pressing forward.     

gif of the Lion King -

2. Lean on your network

We cannot make it through difficult times alone; community has become more important now than ever before. My network really keeps me going, and I wouldn’t make it through this time without them. 

So, schedule Zoom game nights, workouts, or walk-and-talks on the phone with your friends and family. Send thank-you cards to anyone who helped you with your job search. Taking a few minutes out of your day to show someone you care will help them (and you!) find joy in these tough times. 

When speaking with people in your network, be honest about how you are doing. Try to break out of the pre-programmed response of “I’m okay.” It’s okay to not be okay and we need to start vocalizing it, especially to loved ones. When you find your people, they genuinely want to know how you are and help in whatever ways they can. 

Specifically, for your student affairs network, utilize them to brainstorm ideas! Ask colleagues at other institutions how they are recognizing students for achievements, how they are reframing traditional events like homecoming and honors convocation, how their student employee job descriptions have changed, or how they are ensuring student success through remote learning. Sharing is caring!

3. Go in with an open mind

Yes, this is a difficult time for the world, and you may not have expected to change jobs, but you’re here and you got this! 

Every institution does things differently and a lot is changing in response to the pandemic. These changes can be hard to navigate but remember: You were hired for a reason. So go in and ask the tough questions, bring up points that might not have been thought about that can contribute to student success, and shine your light. At the beginning of each day, remind yourself that you’re going to commit to doing the best you can. 

Higher education professionals are tired, and we hope to make it through this rough patch. Keeping an open mind will help you break yourself out of the mindset of focusing on “this is how it was done before”.

 4. Ask for what you need

This can be hard for many people. With limited in-person interactions, you have to work a little harder to ensure clear communication. 

If you need an extension on a deadline, ask for it. If you need some time off, ask for it. If you need to use sick time, ask for it. If you need something that will help you be more successful in your role, ask for it. 

In your first one-on-one with your supervisor ask how they like to communicate and what they expect of you. This will help you better understand their working style and give you an opportunity to communicate yours to them. 

It can be hard to ask for things. Many of us worry about inconveniencing someone or seeming like we’re unable to fulfill the responsibilities of our job. But, the bottom line is we all are human and have different needs. No one knows what your needs are unless you advocate for yourself.

gif of Beyonce saying 'sometimes you have to just believe in yourself and take a risk' 

5. Be patient

Be patient with your students, your colleagues, and yourself. I don’t think it could be stressed enough that COVID-19 is a new territory for all of us. I know in the beginning I went in with the mentality that I’ve got this, and everything will run smoothly. Well, the pandemic had some different thoughts about that. 

It will probably take a while for you to find your groove but that’s ok. I’m two months in and still haven’t found mine. Patience is a virtue.

6. Be flexible 

What you have done before may not apply now. 

Plans will change so you need to have options A, B, C, D, 1, 2, 3, and maybe even option Z ready to go. Communication is key while you’re trying to learn everything. Expect the unexpected and try not to take anything too personally. 

7. Make your new space comfy and cozy 

You need to cultivate a space that inspires you. Having a living space or office that is zen (whatever that means to you) can help improve your mood. 

I fill my space with things that I love — like Spongebob Funko Pops, cupcakes, pictures of family and friends, affirmations, and mementos from conferences and previous jobs. During the workday, I light candles and play music.

I saw a tweet that said your home is an extension of your energy field and it’s true now more than ever. Search home decor on Pinterest or Instagram to find motivation and potential DIY projects to make your space comfy and cozy.

8. Rest 

I bet you didn’t think this would be on the list, did you? Yes, rest! 

During the pandemic, we’re all managing a lot more than usual. We’re trying not to get sick, taking care of families, battling inequities in the world, adjusting to new normals, trying to plan for the future, and so much more — all while working.  

Anxiety is high and rest is so important. Setting boundaries and sticking to a schedule will greatly help to get the rest you deserve. We cannot just work, work, work — especially not now. 

I love following The Nap Ministry. Its founders offer constant reminders as to why rest is important and well-deserved. We constantly tell our students you cannot pour from an empty cup, so it’s time we practice what we preach.

gif of Maya Rudolph saying 'you can do it'

I want to leave you with the affirmation that you got this! Breaking out of your comfort zone is hard but nothing grows in complete comfort. Practice the tips above and you will continue being the SA superstar I know you are. We’re all in this together. (Cue High School Musical.)

How are you adjusting to your new role during the pandemic? Connect with us on Twitter @HelloPresence and @AdultingAmbz.

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Amber Hurt

About the author: Amber Hurt is the Director of Student Engagement and Community Programs at Notre Dame of Maryland University. She has a passion for helping students navigate adulthood and loves traveling, brunch, Beyoncé, and cupcakes. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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