Student affairs work is great. I have always found it interesting, challenging, and rewarding. There are a multitude of job types within our profession that require different skillsets and abilities. As diverse the working world of student affairs is, finding the right job for you can be difficult. A job may seem fantastic on paper but once we start doing it….well we may quickly regret our choice. Conversely, we may agree to a job or project that we think is not ideal and discover that we love it. Six years ago, I would have never considered working with graduate students and yet I now find myself enjoying everything working with that population brings. Moreover, I also enjoy the culture of working in a graduate school and have found it is largely a better fit as it relates to both my professional and work-life needs. I was fortunate to find my optimal fit. To help you find optimal fit on your professional journey, here are three types of fit you need to consider during your career. These fits can help you in your current roles as much as it can during a job search.
- Person- Job (PJ) Fit. PJ fit gauges how well your own personal needs and traits match up with a specific job. On the human resource end, it is about how well a candidate is suited to the position. As student affairs practitioners, it is important not to confuse PJ fit with what we think is fun or what we may have done in pervious jobs (or student organizations for new professionals). This distinction is important to make because past experiences may skew our view of what we think our ideal student affairs job/domain is. For example, I started the profession in student activities and leadership/fraternity and sorority life because that is where my passion and experience was as an undergraduate. Whenever I felt it was time to move on to a new role I looked for similar jobs thinking that my frustrations were organizational and not positional. After deep reflection, I soon realized that the long and irregular hours and dealing with student organization liability issues were not ideal job requirements for me. Graduate student life provided me with the ability to continue conducting leadership training, helping students succeed without some of the other constraints of previous roles. The difference was not in the organizations I worked for but in the job design itself. Factors to consider in PJ Fit include types of hours worked, tasks performed, who you will be interacting with, the role of technology in the job (including expectation around answering phones/emails etc.) skills required, definitions of success in the role, and how the role is viewed and valued by the organization.
- Person-Organization (PO) Fit. Once you determine what types of jobs are a good fit, you now need to gauge the fit the within the organization. In higher education, a safe place to start is institution type. Working in a private liberal arts college with 1,300 students is different than working at a research 1 university with 40,000 students. Different institutions have different values so it is important to not only research those values but to also ask about those values in interviews. If you value work-life flexibility then you need to discover if the organization values that as well before you begin working there. If you value student-centered service then you need to find organizations that mirror that sentiment in their practices. I can remember a colleague who was hesitant to take a job at a proprietary university but decided to interview for the experience. During the interview it was revealed that this college was very student-centered; particularly in career services where each student received personalized career coaching. The job and the institution ended up being a great match and she was very happy.
- Person-Group (PG) Fit. You’ve got a sense of what job design is right for you and you know which organization values you want to be immersed in (and even found an institution that matches). Good for you! Before you move forward make sure you assess the PG Fit. Great jobs and institutions won’t be fulfilling if your personality and style don’t mesh well with the group you are entering; especially your immediate supervisor and immediate coworkers. You should get along and feel valued. This can be difficult to gauge from an interview process but some signs to look for are 1) your general gut feeling (trust it here), 2) how people answer questions about teamwork, support, and collaboration, 3) looking to see if certain individuals seem to shoulder large loads and don’t look enthusiastic about it, and most importantly 4) sense of humor. If you can make each other laugh it’s a good sign. I have no scientific data on this one other than to say when I crack a few jokes and the group responds positively (and vice versa) I have found immersion into the role was always more positive.
Finding the right fit is both art and science. These three types of fit will help you reframe how you look at your career and put you on a more life-giving career path.
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Paul Artale is professional speaker, NASPA member, and student affairs professional. His 1st book The Two Year Old’s Guide to Work-Life Balance hits the bookshelves in October. Paul invites you to connect with him on LinkedIn, twitter (@PaulArtale), or through his website www.paulartale.com