How cool would this be? You’re full swing in your job search when a prestigious organization asks you to apply for a position that hasn’t even been published yet.

This actually happened to Amanda, a history grad student in her final year of her doctoral program. She’d taken a summer job at her university to earn extra income while she worked on her dissertation chapters. Her role was to write institutional recommendation letters for undergraduate students applying to medical school, law school, and veterinary school. During that time, she came to enjoy the work environment, and she become very good at writing the recommendation letters. She had done work with advising and mentoring undergraduate students in a previous role, and this position appeared to be an extension of that mentoring work.

Amanda’s supervisors recognized her aptitude for the role, and they invited her to apply for a full time job opening that had just become available. She had been considering making the shift from preparing for the academic job market to exploring opportunities in undergraduate student advising. She loved mentoring underrepresented minorities and planning advising programming for students who were new to college. So, this invitation to apply seemed like the perfect opportunity to make that shift.

Even though the job had fallen into her lap, Amanda still felt a little unprepared. During our counseling sessions, I asked Amanda a series of questions to help her prepare for the job application and interview, because one of the most important things for job seekers to know is what they want before they begin applying for jobs and preparing for interviews. Why? When you go into a transaction or negotiation unclear about what you want, you can end up giving the other party what they need at the expense of your own needs.

Here are some of the questions I asked Amanda:

Can you do all that you need to complete the dissertation over the weekends and after work, or would you need to request a modified work schedule for a short period of time?

What do you know about the day-to-day life of the person in this role?

What kind of position could this job lead to within higher education administration?

What salary do you want to make?

What Amanda found by going through the interview process was that the role did not actually align with her true goals of student advising and diversity. Amanda thought the position was more about advising and direct relationships with students. It wasn’t. While she was eager to get started on a life after graduate school and a professional career, she saw that this job was not the best fit. And, though they still loved her work, her interviewers also saw some of the same misalignment. In other words, it was a great opportunity, just not the best one for her.

Now, Amanda has insights into the higher ed interviewing process, a stellar letter of reference from her supervisors (expanding her pool of references beyond her dissertation committee members), and the support of a career coach who can help her prepare for a higher ed admin career that’s more aligned with her goals. With the right job search strategy, clear identification of her transferable skills, and understanding of the higher education administration job structure, she’ll put her energy and effort into doing work she actually enjoys.

To help her prepare the way, we created a strategy for small but significant shifts she could make over her last year in school, while funded to write her dissertation, to begin seeking out the advising position she really wants.

As a job seeker, you are going to spend your energy somewhere, so empower yourself and be bold by directing that energy to a place that will bring the opportunities you want.

Have you been tempted to take the easy out? Have you been offered a great job, only to find during the interview process that it wasn’t the job for you? We’d like to hear from you. Comment below!

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