Life After Residence Life
By Lacy Tannous
I began my time as a Resident Director with no end in sight. It was a dream come true to work in Student Life at my alma mater, and while I did not deny the possibility that a new opportunity may arise, I was in no hurry to consider other job opportunities. Fast forward three years and a whole lot of barbecues later, and another horizon slowly began to rise in the distance. My husband’s desire to attend graduate school on the West Coast triggered a need to consider what options might exist beyond my alma mater.
It is not uncommon for my Residence Director colleagues to halt the trajectory of their Higher Education careers at the door of their RD apartments. After all, what other position equals the RD role in terms of creative control, leadership development, and free housing? But life begets change and though I could have happily continued in my position for a few more years, a cross-country move meant that no opportunity was off the table.
When life transitions occur, people often bemoan the lack of cookie crumbs on the trail that lead to the next destination. A map formed by the critical resources you already possess can guide you in the right direction. Before you begin to worry over inadequacy, let the following three steps help you take stock of supplies to help you on the journey. Rediscovering your skill set, identifying strategic goals, and connecting with your support system will allow you to confidently approach new opportunities beyond Residence Life.
First, rediscover your skill set.
Sure, most people know RDs can mentor and throw a luau, but what about the less-celebrated (though no less valuable) skills that set a Residence Life professional apart when searching for other careers? Here are just a handful that I highlighted throughout my job search:
As a Resident Director, you manage a hall budget and supervise the budget for each of your Resident Advisors. Be sure to include how much money you saved the institution for reallocation at the end of the year.
Highlight tricky situations you were able to resolve-like appeasing overinvolved parents or navigating that nasty roommate conflict-and the tools you used to reach compromise.
Many RDs partner with their institution’s Admissions office to speak at events, implement retention strategies, and talk with students who might transfer about untapped resources at their disposal.
Here is where compiling those painstaking year-end reports comes in handy! Many jobs require familiarity with processing large amounts of information. Whether conducting an informal hall survey, facilitating staff evaluations, or collecting contracts and RCIs, an RD knows the ins and outs of the legwork that makes a community hum.
Presentations and Public Speaking
After only a year or two as an RD, you have likely had ample opportunity to speak in front of large groups. Include the titles of trainings and talks you offered within your department for inservices, conferences, or any other opportunity on your resume.
These are just a few, widely applicable job skills that a Resident Director experience can aptly fulfill. What other lesser-known skills were key to your success as an RD? Highlight the top three and apply them directly to the new position you seek.
Second, identify your strategic goals.
Embrace the strategist within and think carefully about your next, post-RD job. When I was faced with the reality of a cross-country move, I made it my goal to broaden my experience in Higher Education. I wrote a list of peer institutions with a similar mission to my current place of employment that differed in size, demographic, and organizational structure.
One such institution stood out as a place I could contribute to and learn from. After taking stock of my skill set, I began to strategize jobs that highlighted key areas in which I knew I could succeed. While the process makes it easy to belabor a lack of qualifications, a can-do attitude went a long way in overcoming any work experience deficiencies.
Third, connect with your support system.
These days, other commonly used words for a support system include: your LinkedIn network, sponsors, advisors, professors, colleagues, allies and friends. My Psychology background leads me to conclude that all of the above play a crucial part in the total system that supports you and roots for your flourishing. These people are in your corner, so why not update them about the next major endeavor in your life?
One of the best decisions I made while navigating major change was opening up about my strategic goals with people who knew me well. Change can feel cloyingly personal, but everyone deals with transition. Many easily remember the uncertainty characterizing a career upheaval and are eager to offer resources at their disposal to ensure your job change is a smooth one. Because my job change also involved a major move, online connections were critical in informing me about available opportunities within my desired institution.
So, where did all of this knowledge and application of my Resident Director skills lead me? I now work as an academic Program Coordinator, cheering on mid-level Higher Education professionals who will someday serve in Senior roles at colleges and universities nationwide. Did I have any prior academic programming experience? No, but I knew exactly what I strengths I could offer this position by identifying my skill set, how I fit into the institutional culture by strategically choosing a good mission fit, and who was in my corner by calling on my support system to put in a good word for me.
There may be no gig quite like a Resident Director, but don’t fear! Great opportunities exist across Higher Education that will benefit greatly from your areas of expertise. The search may be long, but take stock of what matters and remember: there is life after Residence Life.
Lacy Tannous coordinates a doctoral program in Higher Education and inches her way toward an M.A. in Clinical Psychology at Azusa Pacific University. Originally from Kansas City, she recently bid adieu to 9 wonderful years in Massachusetts and now lives with her husband outside of Los Angeles.