Administration Diversity Career Stories Education

Assistant director of student activities finds professional satisfaction despite the politics of the job

In this interview, the assistant director of student activities at a university shares how she learned it is sometimes ok to say “no” at work.

What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in that field?
I am the Assistant Director of Student Activities in the industry of Higher Education/Student Affairs. I have 6+ years experience.

Would you describe what you do on a typical day?
No day is the same! I have meetings with key partners on campus, brainstorming/planning sessions with colleagues, supervisory meetings with my staff and/or graduate assistants, and lots of other random things. When the semester is in full swing, students are in and out of the office all day, so we always take the time to speak with them.

On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What would it take to unleash your full enthusiasm, talent and productivity?
I’m new to this specific job, but so far, I would give it a solid 7-8. I’m surrounded by enthusiastic like-minded people, and I love it.

What did you learn the hard way in this job and how did that happen?
Not on this job, as I’ve only been here a month, but from another job I previously held…

I learned the hard way that politics play a HUGE role, even when I personally think they are asinine and a waste of time. If someone has deep pockets, and is considered a key player, there are certain things you have to do to keep them happy…even if they are a complete and total jerk.

I learned that it can come back to bite you when you allow yourself to get swept along with someone else’s idea. I now know to speak up for myself. I was a new employee in my previous position and someone in a higher level position kept asking for me to help with projects. I didn’t know I could have said “no” because he wasn’t my supervisor, and when his projects failed, he blamed me.

What don’t they teach in school that would’ve been helpful to you?
Practice your answers to potential interview questions. I learned that one on my own.

Don’t give obvious answers in interviews, like “Oh, my weakness is that I work too hard!” Really? No one buys that.

When I look at your resume, I want to know what you created, not just your basic job description. What is your legacy at your previous position? Give me examples and numbers. You controlled a budget? How much? You planned an event? How many people? How often, etc.

How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
I was really involved in college as a student and knew that I wanted to do this professionally. The only thing I would change is making sure that I had a different internship in graduate school.

What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?
Chasing mice out of a supply closet!

What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
You need a Masters in Higher Ed/Student Affairs/College Student Personnel

Does this job move your heart? Feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?
YES. I have been waiting for a position like this for 6 years.