25 Tips for the Student Affairs Job Search


I have spent much of my career working with graduate students and other emergent professionals in student affairs, including 17 years as a professor in College Student Affairs programs. I often joked with the master’s students that I thought about their job search more than they did. Actually, it wasn’t a joke. I think about the job search all the time. I reflect on what I observe, have chaired or served on at least 25 search committees, and I talk to employers every chance I get.

What follows is a list of 25 student affairs job search tips that I pulled from the notes of the many workshops I have given on this topic. Some go against conventional wisdom in student affairs. I invite reaction, questions, and additional tips and suggestions.

Tip #1 – Don’t put an objective on your resume. It wastes prime space. The objective of the resume is to get an interview.

Tip #2 – Make the font at least 11 point. You don’t want middle-aged employers squinting when they read your resume. And leave margins of at least 1 inch. This avoids copying problems and allows room for the reviewer to make notes.

Tip #3 – One-page resume for student affairs grads means you haven’t done enough. Two pages is standard, but it shouldn’t be padded. There are a multitude of ways to format your resume which can use more or less space and still look professional.

Tip #4 – The resume establishes qualifications. An “Interests” section can make you memorable, but they must be interesting.

Tip #5 – Use ACTIVE active verbs as often as you can – created, initiated, started, conceived, devised, led. For more on the topic of resume verbs see: http://t.co/N56ItsLYTE

Tip #6 – Don’t end resume with References Available Upon Request. Of course, they are! End with Tip #7

Tip #7 – Attach list of 4-5 refs with contact info and two sentences: How they know you, and what they will say about you.

Tip #8 – Google yourself for stories and pix that are embarrassing out of the context they were taken in (or just embarrassing) and try to get rid of them.

Tip #9 – Give your resume to the people you’ve worked for, but you won’t ask to be a reference. They may be contacted about you and you want them to have the most up-to-date info on you.

Tip #10 – NEVER ask a person if they can be a reference. Ask if they can be a STRONG, POSITIVE reference.

Tip #11 – It may feel awkward, but ask a reference letter writer for a copy. You can then judge if they are a strong reference.

Tip #12 – Try to get to the site of the interview the day before to learn from students and staff. You will blow away interviewers with your intimate knowledge of the campus!

Tip #13 – Practice interviewing and have people grill you, so that no interview will be as hard as the practice interviews.

Tip #14 – In an interview don’t say what is on your resume, tell your story! This means you need to know your story. Your resume contains the pieces of the puzzle, but your story paints the picture those pieces form.

Tip #15 – Untrained interviewers make their decision in the first few minutes. The rest of the time is spent looking for confirming evidence. So a firm handshake, warm smile, and engaging quickly at the beginning is vital.

Tip #16 – Plan to be at the interview 15 minutes early. At TPE, this means do NOT schedule interviews back to back.

Tip #17 – Networking is not distributing business cards. It is about engaging, relating, and connecting. Be authentic and give something of value.

Tip #18 – Important question: Can putting something on my resume help? But you must also ask – Can it hurt? Also think carefully about what should remain on your resume from your undergraduate years, if anything.

Tip #19 – Want to learn how to write a resume that works? Get on a search committee with a large number of applicants! You will see what works and what doesn’t.

Tip #20 – Sure you can give thank you notes at the conference, but it is more memorable to send them to people afterwards. Ignore this tip if the interviewer indicates that follow-up interviews will be conducted during the conference.

Tip #21 – On your resume define all phrases and acronyms the reader might not know (e.g., Greek letters). You do not want them feeling stupid.

Tip #22 – In a job search No news is NO NEWS! Searches rarely go according to any planned timeline. Be patient.

Tip #23 – Put your resume on plain white paper—the first thing done with a paper resume is it is copied and/or scanned and tan paper will not copy or scan well. Few reviewers ever see the original.

Tip #24 – ALWAYS use a chronological resume. Every employer I have spoken to thinks functional resumes are hiding something.

Tip #25 – When at a conference, be careful where you speak and what you say. Everyone does [sort of] know everyone in student affairs.

For the whole job search story, get my book Job Searching in Student Affairs: Strategies to Land the Position YOU WantSeriously, it will be the best $9.99 you spend this week!

Follow me at @pglove33


  1. There are some useful tips in here. I would add that practitioners should focus on key accomplishment statements on their resume. Employers do not like to see verbatim your job description.

  2. Thank you for confirming the use of Chronological Resumes for professional positions and not Functional Resumes that are the new trend. When I share this info with students and clients, I am repeatedly looked at as if I am old, out of touch, or not up with the current thinking on resumes. Yet I emphasize who are the interviewers for professional positions…and they tend to be my age (50+), people who are more focused on documentable accomplishments (chronological resume), and not focusing on what you are interested in doing (functional resume).

  3. You may have covered this in a separate post about resumes but I’ll post it here anyway! Quantify your resume if you can by including hard numbers instead of vague statements. It can give employers an idea of the scale of your work or achievements. A few examples include:
    -How many students did you supervise?
    – How much did you grow the program?
    – What was the size of the budget you managed?
    – How big was the audience you presented that awesome presentation to?

  4. I would not write a reference for someone who asked for a copy of the letter. I write many, many references and would consider it quite rude. It seems to me that confidentiality is an essential part of the process.

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