This isn’t going to be the type of post about questions to ask your interviewer or how to write a good thank you note. I’m not even telling you to purposefully bomb an interview for a job you don’t want so you can still get reimbursed for the travel… (wait… doesn’t everyone know that one?). What I will say is that job searching is hard, and it’s even harder for those of marginalized identities. I have a belief that those who don’t fit the “mold” of student affairs may have a very unique and potentially longer search. I know I did… But I won’t get into that, because Niki Messmore already writes about this brilliantly in “The Fear Mongering of ‘Student affairs is a small world.'”

For those in higher education, biases can show up in how you are considered in the employment process. Hiring is a hegemonic procedure by default– the creepy black suits, expectations to be “on,” carbon copy ideas of “professionalism.” But there are ways to weave awareness in the search, for both employers and seekers, and I map some of those reflections here since my own searches. 

Salary transparency to job seekers 

I had no idea what the salary for a job was even after the third (!!!) interview. When I finally asked a few folks on the interviewing team, not even HR knew the answer. I later learned that my asking about the salary was a big no no in the eyes of the interviewers. (Pero like, if you ask me who’s at fault, I will say “the system”… (pause) okay, I lied. I would say them).

The reason I wanted to know is because I knew my savings was quickly dwindling during the search and would only quicken after my assistantship funding stopped kicking in. Not to mention that some of my #goals require money and planning, as many long term goals do (i.e. being able to take care of aging loved ones, putting money away for a home, considering lifestyle sacrifices based on a salary, etc). Ya’ll… unless you can quantify warm fuzzies and awards into $$$$, then I’d like to know what a job pays.

Let me be clear. If you are hiring in higher ed, be as open as you can about the pay especially for entry level positions. Let’s be honest. The compensation is not that competitive; it’s actually pretty streamline across the nation (~$20-37k for live-in and ~$35-43k for coordinators depending on cost of living in cities + taxes blah blah, right?). By keeping quiet about the pay alllllll the way till the offer, it leaves new grads vulnerable to financial abuse, especially if they come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. No one, NO ONE does education because of the big bucks– so at least allow for time and space for financial planning as they make their decisions. This is one tangible way to infuse “social justice” in your process.

Still not convinced? Well, it turns out your colleagues are already doing it so #wherewereyou

“I also hate ‘salary ranges’ when the reality is we generally have an exact dollar amount we can offer. Just tell candidates what the job pays, early, and let them make informed decisions from that point on.” – Dr. Vijay Pendakur, Associate Vice President at Cal State Fullerton

“I’ve been known to share salary as early as before the phone interview and never bring anyone to campus without disclosing. I don’t want to waste anyone’s time.” – Sara Furr, Director of Center for Identity, Inclusion, and Social Change at DePaul

And it’s a two-way street for job seekers…

“A word of advice to applicants: If someone calls you in advance and tells you the salary range and you stay in the applicant pool knowing the range, and then try to negotiate much more than what the hiring manager already discussed will be a limit – and then decline the offer because of pay – that’s problematic too.” – Dr. Joy Stuewe Hoffman, Director of Diversity Initiatives and Resource Centers at Cal State Fullerton

But don’t get it twisted. You will likely get dinged for asking about pay. It’s a stupid capitalistic norm that exists in the process, but it exists and you should know that. Maybe you can get around it like, “If this job was on Yelp, would it be $ or $$?”

Figuring out your life when numbers are blurry 

I once knew an SAgrad who took a job without ever reading through the employer’s benefits page. This person had fallen in love with the institution, the people, the students, and forgot to check if she was getting health insurance. Financial literacy is one issue, another is that the institution that should be helping to bridge that education gap is the same one imposing it on its employees. But either way, change is slow and unknowing professionals will need to figure out how to job search.

Start getting rid of your shit now. 

If you will be moving out, little by little, start downsizing as much as you can. You don’t need as much as you think you do, and many things will be cheaper to buy again than to transport. Think long and hard about all your sentimental shit… do you really need 50 orientation t-shirts? Letting go is hard. You know what’s harder? High moving expenses when you don’t have a job. Even if you are fairly sure you will get a moving bonus, now is not the time to be gambling on what you don’t have yet. Take control of how much baggage you own.

Check the market rate for jobs and calculate what your minimum salary needs to be in order to pocket the money you want to make.

You may not know what the job pays, but you can walk in knowing what you would like to make. Consider rent, debt, how much you would like to be putting away for retirement, taxes, etc. Don’t be fooled by just numbers when employers finally reveal the salary. Consider that some states have high tax and high cost of living. And when it comes to saving for retirement (yes, young professionals in education absolutely need to make this a priority), take into consideration that “benefits” don’t translate into cas$ monie$. Super low salary and good benefits could mean less in your 401k– and my guess is that super low salary means you’ll be doing a good number “other duties as assigned” therefore a chunk of that money will be going to self-medication… but now that’s another topic related to the exploitation of educators and “self-care.”

If you’re a grad student… 

If you must move out (i.e. graduate students), write your list of supporters– people who can let you stay at their place while you continue to interview and apply to jobs after graduation. Have your core people know what your situation is and ask them months in advance if you would be able to stay by them if things don’t work out. Checking in with the the university’s housing to see if they would let you stay a little longer is also worth asking. Additionally, I stopped going out to eat completely and cooked at home most of the time. If you keep getting invited out to eat cause you’re so fucking popular, ain’t no shame in saying that you’re searching/about to move/about to graduate and would prefer to save money. Then suggest non-costly ways to meet up, like a hike, cup of tea at a friend’s, or just sit at a park. It actually sounds pretty responsible.

Keep a journal of your experience. 

I kept a journal during my job search. I wrote down every question they asked me, every question I asked them, my excitement, and hesitations. After each entry, I wrote down my very few non-negotiables to make sure they were constantly visible to me. Tracking these moments helped organize which job aspect felt right and made more sense– and after so many applications, your memory of initial impressions will fade away. 

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Dream jobs often only open up because of chance, retirement, or death. Education claims to be a very developmental and understanding field. People change. Policies change. And when you know better, you do better. Employers, will you?