Thoughts on Professional Experience and Graduate Assistantships

The challenge of cobbling together a web of professional experiences.

May 2, 2013
Counting our years of experience

A lot of the posts on this blog find their way into existence via questions or thoughts that I post on Twitter. This particular post comes from a statement that I posted on Twitter and on Facebook. In a comment on Facebook, Kevin Guidry made the astute observation that I should take this conversation to a more public forum. Here is the original tweet that I posted:

The job search for new graduates of students affairs masters programs is in high gear for many individuals around the country. Several of them will have gone into their masters programs straight out of their undergraduate experience. For many, that means that they will not have ever had a full-time job. Cobbling together a web of professional experiences that a hiring committee will find "worthy" can be challenging. A two-year graduate assistantship is usually the predominant professional experience on a newly-minted student affairs masters-level graduate. Generally, assistantships require 20 hours of work per week and as mentioned, they usually last for the duration of a graduate student's two-year programmatic journey. Two years of GA experience at 20 hours per week is considered by many to be the equivalent of 1 year of professional experience. After all, the work and responsibilities that are part of a GA experience are frequently set at a high level of professionalism.

Recently, a friend of mine had applied for a position that required a masters degree and one year of professional experience. Using the 2 years of half-time GA work as the equivalent to 1 year of professional work model, my friend assumed (and I agreed with them) that they met the requirements for the job listing. However, that was not the case. The hiring committee discounted the GA experience of all applicants as not counting as being "professional." As you might expect, I took umbrage, and I think that you should too. If graduate assistantships do not count as professional experience (I'm speaking specifically to student affairs masters-level programs and their GA positions) then we have a serious issue that needs to be addressed.

For new student affairs masters program graduates, my advice is to check what "professional" experience means with each and every HR department for every single job for which you are applying. I know that that sounds like an awful lot of extra work….and it is. It shouldn't be that way. But, I'd rather that you had a fighting chance for a position than have your experience get discounted simply because it took place while you were in graduate school.

By the way, to those hiring committees that do not accept GA work experience as being "professional," I hope that you realize that most GAs work far more than 20 hours per week while juggling classes, practica, internships, volunteer work, association involvement and more. Our GAs are professionals doing professional-level work.


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