Campus Leadership

Finding and Defining ‘Fit’

RahK Lash identifies six ways to determine if a job is a good fit.

October 4, 2018
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In May, I celebrated my three-year anniversary at Ithaca College. This third year was one of significance, as I now stand on the side of experience and reflect on the road thus far and where I will decide to go in my career. The first year was spent watching, learning and figuring out what I was supposed to do, because you never show up to your new job knowing everything you need to know. The second was one of change and adjustment as I made the position my own. The third brought forth questions that allowed me to re-evaluate fit, growth, values and personal needs.

From experience, I know that telling a graduate student to find the right “fit” during their job search can be a complex and cloudy instruction. What does “fit” actually mean? How do I define it? If I had to reach out, touch it and describe it, what words would I use?

Now, three years later, I’m able to identify a few elements of “fit” that I have found to be important in my postgraduate career.

Financial stability. When you look at the starting salary for a job, you should begin to consider the cost of living in that area. A $45,000 job in upstate New York can very well be the equivalent of a $30,000 job in North Carolina due to the stark differences in cost of living. Map out your monthly expenses (rent, car payment, car insurance, phone bill, groceries, toiletries, haircut fee, electric bill, Wi-Fi, gas and so on). Factor in taxes, benefits and anything that will affect your actual take-home pay.

For me, it took three years to actually settle in at home. I arrived in New York with my huge flat-screen TV, my PlayStation, an air mattress that wouldn’t stay inflated, clothes and my good looks. Give yourself time to grow, but be honest about your means to do so. Can you take care of yourself and still do the job you love? It’s hard to talk positively about student success in a committee meeting when you are hungry.

Opportunities for growth. Make sure the institution is invested in you as a professional. I was told you shouldn’t have to leave the institution in order to move up and grow, despite the stigma that tells us otherwise. While researching and engaging with the campus during the interview process, can you see opportunities for growth in addition to upward mobility? Are there any models of internal progression (starting in one position and continuing to advance)?

Look beyond your own two feet as you consider making a commitment to an institution. Ask about professional development, and push beyond a financial allocation. What does time away for professional opportunities look like? Does that time count against you, or will it be considered paid professional time? What internal opportunities does the institution offer (ongoing training sessions and workshops, mentoring programs, and the like)? Are your supervisors willing to let you push the needle forward, try new things and fail? Ask yourself how this college will support you and set you up for success.

Team dynamics and your supervisor. While your work may allow you to rub shoulders with many constituents across the college, who are the people you are expected to work alongside every day? What are their stories and what led them to their role at that institution? How do they perceive and practice the mission statement? Do they have similar values? What are the contrasts in approach and philosophy?

Keep in mind that you don’t have to be friends with the people you work with. Working relationships are not the same as friendships. Almost any campus interview will allow you the opportunity to meet with your would-be supervisor. Be intentional with this time to learn as much about that person as possible. We often spend so much time trying to perform for the interview that we forget the process is mutual: you are interviewing them, as well. What’s their story in higher ed and philosophy of it? How do they define success for the person in your potential role after one year? What is their vision for the office/department? How do they like to communicate? How do they handle change? People join people. Know the people.

Alignment of values through the mission and vision statements. Why did you choose this field? What are your values as a leader and simply as a human being? Over time you begin to learn what you will and won’t stand for, and keeping your personal values at heart through the process will allow you to stay true to yourself.

I dabbled in a new job-search process this past year and found myself at an interview at another institution. The role was one of a chief diversity officer without the title, compensation or position in the organizational structure. I discovered that senior leadership was not exactly invested in putting the resources toward equity and inclusion that would create sustainable change. I was offered the job. It seemed ideal: I would be the first in the position, it was back in my home state with my family, and it was something new. But I declined the position. My three years at Ithaca College taught me the importance of institutional investment. My mentors across the field are always reminding me to know my worth and how to dissect an opportunity and its impact.

Community connection and belonging. What do you need from a city or town to feel a sense of belonging? It’s no longer enough to say, “I’ll go anywhere the job leads me.” Be open to options, but read the fine print. It is a matter of health to have a life outside of your career. Your living conditions can impact your morale and productivity. What’s the weather like in that state and city?

I’m from North Carolina, and I moved to upstate New York straight out of grad school in Arkansas. I had no idea how to prepare for the harsh winter conditions. Ask the tough questions and be realistic about your needs. Will my leisure activities be achievable? Where are my folks, and can I find community?

My fraternity chapter is present in Ithaca and helped create a sense of belonging and comradery for me. It served as a gateway for meeting other folks and being involved outside of my job. The same messages you push to students about getting involved outside the classroom should apply to your career.

Distance and accessibility to family. Family is important and extends beyond blood ties. How important is being able to see your family frequently? How do you define frequently? Once a month, once every three months, only during summers or what?

Speak with intentionality when you talk about your job search and willingness to move. If you are willing to go anywhere but refuse to apply for a job in Colorado or Florida because it’s too far away, then build in that language when you talk. If being close to home is something you need and value, then set a radius.

Due to my own personal financial situation, my trips from New York to North Carolina have been limited to once a year. On the flip side, how easy will it be for your family to visit you? It’s worth the thought.

Finding and defining fit is a process. Trust in yourself, and trust your process.


RahK Lash is associate director of the Center for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Social Change at Ithaca College.


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