One of my favorite quotes is from a webinar that I saw in my first professional position. Though I do not remember the topic, I distinctly remember the host Gary Pavela saying, “It is not the exceptional failure that is the greatest evil, but the unwillingness to see the failure and start anew.” These words have stuck with me over the past five years and I have them posted in my office, in plain sight for everyone to see.
I have been thinking about this quote more and more during my recent job search. I thought back to my past interviews and how I answered questions. I looked at my previous application materials and what I submitted. I am trying to learn from my mistakes so I can make sure that I am providing the most authentic version of myself during an interview and in my application materials.
What discourages me a bit was feedback I received from an on-campus interview I had this past fall. I was told that people were not able to experience my personality during the on-campus interview. The sad thing was that I really was not surprised by the feedback. I am reserved when I first meet people. It takes me a bit to open up to others. I like to listen to people and learn from their experiences. I like to observe and absorb my surroundings when I am in a new environment. These aren’t always the most rewarded qualities when trying to secure employment in student affairs. They seem to be celebrated when you start a new job, not necessarily when interviewing for it.
I wish the system was a little different. I wish that my accomplishments were weighted a bit more than my interpersonal skills during awkwardly forced interactions of being stuck in the same room for hours and answering the same questions over and over again for different groups of people. I wish I was provided the opportunity to actually demonstrate my skills instead of just repeating past experiences. Why not have me actually attend a student meeting and act as the advisor? How about creating an outline for a program on risk management with concrete learning outcomes and an assessment to measure them? Why not provide me with a case study in the morning and have me talk about my response later in the day? Jeff Lail has spoken about the job search process in his own blog (Better Job Interviews, Better Candidates (Revisited) & Why I Think Student Affairs Interviews As We Do). I agree with Jeff. Let’s make the process more about the actual ability to perform the position and less about being able to answer questions.
In the meantime, I need to look back at how I have answered these common questions. I need to carefully craft what examples I will use from my past experiences. I need to determine how I will describe my strengths and areas of improvement. I need to learn from my mistakes so I do not repeat them in the future. I will continue to be frustrated by the process, until I am finally in a position to change it. If only student affairs professionals took Gary’s quote and applied it to the job search process.