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The Stories of New Professionals

Supporting the Profession New Professionals and Graduate Students Graduate New Professional
December 28, 2021 Paige Jenkins


Names used in this blog are fictional. This is based on an anonymous survey taken by new professionals in higher education who began the job search anytime 2017-2021. 

As a new professional who began job searching, finished a master’s degree, and (finally several months later) secured a job all throughout the beginning of this pandemic, I can say it has been a long and exhausting journey. While it’s had its ups, moments of celebration and joy, it has also been significantly challenging and sometimes disappointing. My experience and those of my peers had me wonder if it is always like this in our field or if it was simply the pandemic that made it more difficult to find a job and adjust to a new position, and (in a lot of cases) a new location. How many of us now can relate to starting a job when we’ve never even stepped foot on that campus prior to our first day? 

I decided to gather anonymous feedback from other new professionals to gain more insight into our experiences. I wanted to determine how we could be better supported in the transition from interviewing through our first few months-year(s) after successfully securing a position. Here is what I learned: 

  1. Onboarding practices need work. 

73% of respondents rated their onboarding experience below average. Elle mentioned “a more structured onboarding schedule or plan would have made the transition much easier.” Most of these new professionals expressed that they received little to no onboarding regarding their specific office and/or department, and transition documents were sparsely provided. Some learned as they went because there was no process in place for training. One individual wrote that they could have benefitted from a commonly used acronym guide and for their supervisor to introduce them to colleagues who they’d regularly work with.  Another important takeaway was making sure that training is standardized. A detailed, intentional onboarding experience is the first step to success for a new professional. It’s important that supervisors prioritize this for their new hires.  

  1. Most new professionals do not have a trusted mentor at their institution. 

33% of respondents revealed that they do not have a mentor at all. Those who do have a mentor all indicated that their mentors are located outside their institution. Speaking for myself, I have a trusted mentor who lives in another state, and I highly value our relationship as well as their advice and support. However, I believe having a mentor close by and in your sphere, yet outside your office, is just as beneficial. In one response, the respondent discussed a memory when they felt particularly valued, writing “My Dean of Students has taken an interest in helping me with resources, professional development, and training as a new professional. I feel valued and appreciated by her whenever we meet, and she asks my opinion on current issues for our institution. She understands that I have a unique perspective on our team as someone much younger and less experienced than the other staff, and she purposefully will ask me questions and try to understand who I am and why I am passionate about student affairs.” 

  1. Everyone can benefit from being more prepared in the interview when it comes to office/institutional culture questions and responses.

Based on this survey, many individuals job searching in higher education feel pressure to secure a job and may not fully consider if that work environment will be the best fit for them when accepting an offer. Several noted they wish they had asked more questions about the culture and politics as it would relate to their role. It seems that graduates are not always provided with guidance from their programs or fellow practitioners on how to best ask these questions for the response they are seeking. A respondent shared that they needed to ask “more specific questions around their actual processes for accommodating Disabled Staff members and what kind of efforts they make toward different communities (Queer/Disabled/Trans communities in my case) on campus. Really think about what is going to impact you on a day-to-day basis and ask questions around that. Ex: If you are looking at an institution/ department that’s new to working with Trans people, think about whether you want to spend each day correcting and educating the people you work with. If that doesn’t sound conducive to your well-being, look for an institution where you don’t need to pave your own pathways for access/inclusion.” On the interviewer side, institutions should make sure they have at least one person from their office who is very knowledgeable about the role on the search committee and prepared to answer questions the interviewee may have about their area. It’s important that those involved in the interviews spend time reflecting prior to and come prepared to talk about their outlook on the supervisor’s style, office expectations/policies, student perspectives, and work environment.

Once you have a chance to settle into your role, my biggest recommendation is to connect with other new professionals at your institution as soon as possible. Adjusting to a new role and place can be overwhelming at times and building a community of peers really helps. Make this a priority even if it’s just setting a new professional lunch or dinner once every month to check in and lift each other up. 

Here are some resources respondents have recommended in the transition: 

NASPA, ACPA, Higher Ed Facebook groups, LinkedIn Learning, NASPA New Professionals and Graduate Students Steering Committee, Brown University Graduate Leadership Development Program, articles from Presence and Inside Higher Ed.

Books: Multicultural on Campus – Cuyjet, Lies My Teacher Told Me- James Lewis, What Color Is Your Parachute? -Richard Nelson Bolles, Moving Up without Losing Your Way: The Ethical Costs of Upward Mobility- Jennifer Morton, The First 90 Days-Michael D. Watkins

Author: Paige Jenkins (she/her/hers) graduated with her M.Ed. from the University of North Texas and is involved in the NPGS SC Leadership Team on the Communications and Marketing Working Group. She is currently the Programs Coordinator at Missouri State University overseeing the Student Activities Council. Paige loves movie marathons, traveling, Gilmore Girls, and is a waffle enthusiast. On a typical day, you will most likely see her with an iced coffee and a new book in hand. Paige can be found on Twitter @perksofpaige