Monday, September 8, 2014

Job Searching is Like Running a Marathon

This is not my first go-around at job searching, unfortunately. Through my six years' professional experience, I've gone through three major searches (once out of grad school, after my first position, and in an effort to move back to the west coast from Georgia). While not only maintaining a running schedule, some sanity, and an effort to find the best fit, I learned a lot about my fitness, where my efforts were going, and how to make it all happen. 

Through the madness and emotional rollercoaster that is job searching, running really became my sanity. Despite plenty of red-eye flights, bad hotel nights' sleeps, I almost always got up for a few treadmill or campus miles to get my interview days going. Inbetween those, it was the rough days that needed a run the most to clear my head and re-focus. It was then I learned how much these worlds collided and were more alike than I thought. 

In short... job searching is like training for and running a marathon. 

You train for months. 
Most people can't just get up one day and say they're going to run a marathon. There is training involved to ensure that you're still standing come the end and your feet aren't about to fall off. Whether it's the long runs, cross-training or ensuring you get weekly sports massages, you're doing what it takes to prepare your body for the beating ahead.

The same goes for job searching - chances are, you didn't decide the day before TPE that you were going to TPE! Whether you're preparing to finish your master's program or you're a seasoned professional, there's still practice to be done. This could be interview practice with your mentor, or other professionals on campus, all who want to get you ready for TPE or that on-campus interview next week. You're polishing your resume every other day, ensuring that it's at its best too. You've done your research, you know that you want to live off, in an urban setting. Months later, you're ready (or at least mostly ready) to make your way into the Candidates' Waiting Area and ready for the crazy to begin.

It takes a toll on you mentally, emotionally, and physically. 
I think this is a given for both processes - you will be exhausted (and invigorated!) by marathon training, just as you will during the job search process. I cannot tell you how many times I've gotten that "no" phone call, only to hang up and burst into devastated tears. This number probably matches the number of times I got home from a long run and cried because I hurt so badly.

Job searching is an emotional rollercoaster - the highs of getting the first phone interview, to being invited to campus, only to get that "no" call. Or worse, never getting a return call from dream school who had the dream job you've been looking for. Allow yourself to ride that rollercoaster - it's okay, and it's normal.

Starting my on-campus day with a run around campus! Do you know where I am?
Fuel your body well.
For me, this is both sleep and physical activity. Thankfully, sleep comes easy to me on flights and combined with nervous energy, I've got cat-naps down pat so I'm my most alert and best self upon arriving at my destination and being greeted by my campus host.

The physical fitness part of the equation is a mix of managing that nervous energy, exploring my potential new home, and getting my mind clear for the day ahead - whether I'm on an interview or not, I find that my days are better and my focus greater when I start each morning with a sweat fest. For me, personally, recharging with a run is just as great as a good night's sleep (time zones just mess that all up!).

Support goes a long way.
During my first full marathon, my parents and boyfriend were driving point to point to point to ensure they could catch me at various parts of the race. I had told them that I'd love to see them at mile 4, mile 8, and around mile 16, I'd need one of the peanut butter sandwiches I made for myself. Apparently they drove straight into the chaos and my boyfriend ended up leaping out of the car and sprinting to me to ensure he'd get to me about mile 16 to hand me that sandwich. I ate two bites and changed my mind - it tasted horrible and was the last thing I wanted.

Now, while I felt horrible later learning all the leaps and bounds they (literally) made for me that day, it meant the world knowing they were doing everything they could to help me see the finish line and to meet my goals for the day. Whether this comes from your family, your cohort, or your running club bestie, use these people to help you get through - when you need to cry, proofread, or celebrate the milestones along the way.

You will get to places you never thought you would.
This is part of the 'fun' part of searching - if you can call it that. Having done two nationwide searches and now countless of on-campus interviews, there are many places that  I have now gotten to visit and see and experience all because of the process. Memphis, Fairfax, Bethlehem, and Walla Walla are all part of the list of cities that I'm not sure I'd have seen otherwise.

Much like with running, getting to see new places is part of the excitement of the whole process, especially if you're on a nationwide search to find that job. Marathons often give us runners an excuse for a racecation, and a new way to explore an area we've never been before.

Cross train or remain the same. 
Especially in a field as varied as student affairs is, there are often positions and functional areas that are siloed into their own skill sets or qualities needed. I am grateful that my professional experience started in residence life and truly feel that the skills I acquired during my three years as a hall director turned into some very translatable skills to move my career into student life and organizations. In real life, however, I don't regularly cross train when it comes to race preparation, oddly enough!

But it's not always the case that someone can float from functional area to functional area. Perhaps you are in residence life and want to make the change into orientation, but have no other previous experience working with new student programs. That's okay! Take advantage of resources on your current campus, make connections, and talk to folks who currently are in that area about what they would be looking for in a new staff member. Do they have an opportunity for you to volunteer some time with them? A sort of internship, even as a professional staff member? When I was leaving my position in Texas, I was looking at orientation as a new functional area - mind you, without any direct experience in such an area. I was fortunate enough to work with our Orientation department for a few months, sitting in on student staff interviews, group interviews, and to learn more about what their program looked like. I couldn't have asked for anything better!

Cross-training is a great way to let your mind and body refuel, and to find that next great functional area for you to fall into. Nothing says you can't do this, and with the right support, this could be what helps you take that next step from marathon-finisher to PR-breaker. 

What other similarities do you see? Other tips you would add for job searchers?

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