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I’m currently a graduate student, almost at the end of getting my Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis/Global Higher Education. No, I’m not planning on being a teacher or a faculty member; a misconception many people have when they find out I spend eight plus hours per day in the School of Education. Instead, I’m being trained to work in student affairs, education policy, and being a staff member at a university or college that doesn’t entail grading half-assed papers and teaching a class full of hungover undergrads. Nothing wrong with being a faculty member or K-12 teacher; my strengths would just be better suited elsewhere.
As much as I like being a student in academia, I can’t wait to be a practitioner in academia. With graduation around the corner, I need to apply, apply, apply. I submitted my eleventh application today in the span of two weeks. Will I get a call back? Who knows. Am I possibly beating the Guinness World Record for being the fastest at writing badass cover letters? Hell yeah. Or maybe they’re not badass — I guess we’ll find out sooner or later. The only thing that’s been ringing through my ears is current practitioners in higher ed repeating, “Student affairs is highly competitive. Student affairs is highly competitive. Student affairs is highly competitive. If you aren’t applying, you sure as hell are not going to be living.” It’s another broken record that peels my eyes open at night and makes me count, not sheep, but how many applications I can complete this semester. Many questions flood my brain — “who’s going to look at my application? Will they even look at it? Did I remember to correctly space those dates out when formatting my resume for that job?”
I figured that in order to rest my mind and spare my sanity, it would be to, well, write about it. So, here are some questions — some understandable, some maybe better not to think about since we’ll never really know the answer (but at least I’m getting them out of my brain, right?). Perhaps you will also find some solace — “Ah, yes, I’m not the only one thinking these crazy thoughts day and night.” Applying for different fields might produce a few different questions, but there may also be some overlap. Enjoy!
1. Who the hell am I competing with?
Here you go, scrolling down to the “qualifications required” part of the position description and bam! You meet all of the qualifications required! Sweet! You think maybe you actually have a chance — you even meet almost all of the “preferred qualifications” — high five yourself! But wait — even once you submit this application, who else had these same thoughts? And what were their qualifications? Did Becky over here with a Ph.D. and five plus years experience doing the EXACT SAME type of job also think “hmm, let me apply to this entry-level position,” ruining the flow of the universe as we know it? Yeah, she probably did. Maybe. Who knows. But anyway, screw you, Becky.
2. Why does this application software SUCK?
Here’s where I give a nice shout out to my partner — an actual software developer. He tends to have more professional thoughts and critiques of software. I like complaining to him about this particular question. And you know what? I also have some thoughts on some institutions’ application software, since the ease of applying greatly rests on the software they choose to use for online applications. Not only do institutions want you to upload a resume and cover letter, but they also want you to “repeat” your work and education experience in the software by filling out another “experience” sectoin. Why? Why do they do this? Does Human Resources just want to see who wants it bad enough — who’s willing to spend hours inputting and saving information that’s already been provided? You can also suddenly realize that you can’t start filling out your application and save it for later. Also, why is the software forcing me to answer “Yes” or “No” to the question: “Did you graduate from your Master’s degree?” Where the heck is the “Not yet” option? I swear I’m not a dropout, but how do I say that to you when the software doesn’t let me?? Also, sometimes the software just looks really disorganized; why do I need to write in my references before doing anything else? Oh, you want me to copy and paste my resume without giving me the option to upload it instead? You know that ruins all of the formatting, right? Sometimes I like technology. Sometimes I don’t.
3. When do I even apply for this position?
Here’s a position description that was posted in February; now it’s July. Hm, that’s weird. The posting says, “Open Until Filled” but it still makes you wonder: are they just having that hard of a time finding someone to fill the position? Did they forget to take this posting down? Or maybe they’re in the interviewing process, but since it’s “open until filled,” they still leave up the posting? There’s not even a “first review date” listing on the posting. What do you do? Do you apply and become “an angel sent down from heaven” in the eyes of the search committee who’s having just a hard time getting enough applications? Or will they disregard your application because they’re going to extend an offer to someone else tomorrow? I don’t know, you don’t know, no one knows. Honestly, more information on where the search committee currently is in the process of finding someone to fill the position would be kind of helpful.
4. What do you want in my cover letter?
Okay. This could be answered by a career advisor, a career workshop, and maybe the Internet. Thanks to these people, there are certain ways to write a cover letter and ways to do it well. That’s great! Thanks a bunches! But wait, when applying to a specific job, there may be specific things that the search committee is keeping an eye out for — what the hell would that be? If you’re good at analyzing a position description, maybe you don’t worry about that. But maybe you see something like, hmm, looks like this institution really cares about diversity — do I focus on my commitment to promoting diversity? Looks like they also care a lot about keeping organized in a fast-paced environment — do I reserve my longest paragraph for this? I didn’t mention in my resume about this really cool thing I did, and I think it applies to this position — should I put this in the cover letter even though they might think of it as unimportant for this job? Or should I focus more on stating why I would like the job rather than my awesome qualifications for it? Some job postings may make what they’re looking for more apparent, some won’t. It’s just that you have to keep all of these things in mind while keeping the length somewhat short.
5. Why don’t you tell me when you would want me to start by?
I understand why many job postings don’t say when you would need to start by; it’s hard to predict how quickly they’ll be able to find someone to fill the position. It could take a week, three months, four months, six months, who knows. But can’t they at least write when they’d ideally like the person to start? I don’t graduate from my Master’s program until this December; however, I have received advice that I should be applying to positions now because it can just take that long for the search committee to get through all of the wonderful rounds to weed out applicants. And if they really really really like me, they’d probably be willing to wait until I graduate (my insecurities come out when thinking about this though — who could really really really like me?! Waaahhh *crying*). But in the back of my mind, I still think, "What if they’re throwing away my applications because I can’t start until January?" Should I wait to apply until October? Who knows. I guess we all risk wasting our time when applying for jobs — it’s just that it could be prevented a little more if we had just a little more information.
6. And Lastly: What. Do. You. Want. From. Me.
Some job postings are good at this — sometimes too good; they give you paragraphs after paragraphs of the qualifications they’d like the candidates to have before applying. That’s overwhelming but great! Thank you! But you know how many job postings I see that only say “Must have good communication skills. Must be organized. Must have good ideas” and that’s it? Really? Most of this country arguably has above-average communication skills from, you know, communicating for most of their lives. Many of my counterparts and I have also been writing essays, practicing written communication since high school — do you really want to make it so hard on the search committee? I feel bad for them. I also feel that this, while not stating pay rate/job level, gets rid of the ability to decipher whether the job is entry-level or not; by having vague qualifications listed on the job posting, both Becky with the Ph.D. and I can apply for the same job, goddammit.
And that’s it! If you have any questions that you also scream at the computer screen when filling out applications, let me know, and I can certainly create a Part 2.
Now I need wine.