This time of year in Student Affairs kicks off the search season. This is when many professionals begin to get their resume in order and scan the relevant websites and publications looking for that “next step” in their professional career. It was this time last year that I was doing these things in hopes to land my dream job. So now, seven months into that dream job, I do not necessarily find myself reflecting on how I got the job. Instead, I spend a great deal thinking about how effectively I have transitioned to my new role. In my professional experiences, I have spent a lot of time talking with others about effective resumes or interview preparation. Unfortunately less time has been spent exploring the idea of on-boarding or transition to a new position, environment, and culture. To that end, I will use this space to explore this concept and hopefully pass on some lived experiences that may be valuable to someone reading.
I believe transitioning to a new job starts before you accept the position. One should never accept a new position until they have taken the time to intentionally consider the professional and personal transitions at play. If you have the opportunity, re-visit the campus and area where you may be relocating. During an interview, you are focused on the people and conversations while the environment may get lost in the background. Be honest, when you are invited for a campus interview you want to see it in a positive light! By returning to the campus and surrounding area after the interview phase, you have an opportunity to see the day-to-day reality of the community.
Either before, or immediately after you accept, you should devise your plans for transition. There should be a professional plan. Keep in mind, how you leave a job is a big reflection of your character and professionalism. Ours is a small, tightly connected community of practitioners and your reputation will follow you throughout your career. How will you leave things better than you found them? How will you help transition your replacement? What are the loose ends and how will you address those before you leave? In a parallel fashion, you should begin to dialogue with your new campus and determine what can be done before you arrive to enhance your knowledgeable and elevate your effectiveness. In order to highlight your work ethic and commitment to the new campus, I believe you should adopt the mentality that you begin working for the new institution the day you accept the job.
There should also be a personal plan. If you have a partner or family, what will be the impact on those individuals? Have you thoughtfully considered all issues and devised a plan to make moving and integration to a new community as pain-free as possible? What if it doesn’t work? As a woman with a male “trailing” professional, I needed to be cognizant of his emotions and perspectives regarding the move. Society, in general, expects a woman to follow a man for his career, so others’ reactions—especially in a small college town—to a man following a woman can be interesting. It is important to be honest with yourself and consider all the challenges so you can react in the best interest of everyone involved. Luckily for me, my partner has transitioned well and freely boasts about be the Vice Chancellor’s “trophy husband.”
Once you move and have officially started, be thoughtful about balancing the urge to “hit the ground running” with the need to “hit the ground listening.” I have heard both of these phrases used during interviews and I believe a good professional does both. In a new role, it is important to remember that you earned the job due to your experience, competency and interpersonal fit with the campus community. It is safe to say that your new colleagues have placed their trust in you and will look to you to make efficient and effective decision on the job. But your colleagues also want you to respect them and their work—they have been there before you arrived after all! This is why listening and patiently waiting to implement change are keys to successful transition.
Many professionals feel the need to prove themselves early on – please remember you already did this at the interview! So resist the urge to change things immediately or to push your philosophy/ideas that worked “at my previous institution.” Instead, have enough confidence in yourself to be patient and wait for the right time to change things under your direction. Every campus has a unique culture, history and ethos. Take time to understand these things and how they influence the work you do and the students you educate. A more measured approach will build on your new colleagues’ respect and confidence in you. It is important to balance the “running” and “listening”; make effective decisions when necessary, make adaptations strategically, and always make yourself available to listen and learn.
The last piece of advice I offer relates to taking care of yourself during a transition. I am a professional that prides myself on my time management and ability to balance multiple roles. In my past seven months, I have never been more out of balance. Thankfully, I had planned for this lifestyle shift and my partner and I had discussed how we would cope. In my situation, this is a short term reality and I will eventually gain back my balance as I make my way through the learning curve on the job. But in the meantime, I have carved out some time each week that is non-negotiable and my partner holds me accountable in getting out of the office, off campus, and into the gym. It is important to realize that during periods of major transition (like a job change) your life balance may be impacted. As long as it is managed responsibly, it can make for a more effective transition. Yet, no one is effective without some downtime and investment in their own wellness.
Dr. Brandi Hephner LaBanc is the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs at the University of Mississippi.