Okay, so here’s what happened. This morning, knowing how many nervous grads and young professionals were getting on planes, I fired off the following tweets:
Placement isn’t for getting a job, and you shouldn’t expect to leave with one. It’s for meeting people, learning, and questioning! #sasearch
— Amma Marfo (@ammamarfo) March 12, 2014
Would you take a job without seeing the campus, meeting students, or learning how the role would interact with other departments? #sasearch
— Amma Marfo (@ammamarfo) March 12, 2014
And as it happens, that pair of Tweets turned out to be the equivalent of this:
So now, please excuse me as I write this post while brandishing a proverbial fire extinguisher. No justification or explanation, but simply my way of making a point that I tried to make in a space too small to truly convey my thoughts.
Words matter. The way we use them with one another matter. And if enough words are pointed in one direction, it’s generally assumed that’s where we’re going. So when we dedicate so many words to preparing for placement conferences as a means to find employment, do mock interviews in settings that mimic the table-filled, noisy and overwhelming landscape of interviews at conference (full disclosure: while I have participated in ACPA events, I have not attended their national conference or C3), and dedicate fewer words to other ways of finding and being considered for positions, a perception is created.
A perception arises that assumes if you go to a placement conference, you will be placed in a role…by the time you leave. Equally dangerous, a perception can arise that if you don’t have strong leads following one of these conferences, that something is wrong or your job search is going poorly. And my intent, in posting what I did, was to temper those perceptions. I wanted to help those hell-bent on being employed by the time they boarded a plane (or train or car) home from Baltimore know that if that didn’t happen, they were not failures or on a clearly defined path toward unemployment.
What followed, with fervor I truthfully didn’t expect, was a spirited firestorm about the value of the placement conference as a means to make connections, the use of the word ‘placement’ and what it implied, and some comparisons between NASPA’s way of running this interview process and ACPA’s. Let me be clear, none of these conversations were ones I intended to stoke. But it is clear by the fires that resulted from this pair of Tweets that these conversations were sparks waiting to be ignited.
My philosophy on this can be tied into a recent post I did for The Niche Movement, about how Harlan Cohen’s Getting Naked can help you reframe your job search. In Cohen’s step one, he mentions that part of dating is putting yourself in rooms. You have to be comfortable putting yourself in situations where you might meet people that you can connect with. Job searching is no different. You have to seek out opportunities to let employers see you. But just like dating, many rooms may be needed. Many types of scenarios. Multiple dates, of which your placement interview could be the first, or first and second. Sometimes, chance encounters happen. We have to create space for those connections to be made. Just like speed dating (and let’s be real, conference placement is the closest thing to speed dating this profession has) is a way of meeting a potential partner but not the way, heading to placement in search of a new position is a way to find your next job. But it’s not the way.
In an upcoming post I’m doing for The Niche Movement, I will be talking about Questlove’s book Mo’ Meta Blues. In it, he makes an important point about what happens when you’re weighing your own success as so many others are simultaneously weighing theirs (a common state of affairs during job hunt season):
“Thing was, I had expectations, and that was a problem. I took every failure personally and every imperfect experience as a failure, so every time another artist hit the big time with a magazine cover or a top video, it was like an arrow in my side.”
This is the danger. It is clear that many aspiring professionals of a variety of levels go to placement with the expectation that they will get a job. But let’s be real, you should take more than an hour and a half (roughly the length of two rounds of interviewing) to decide if a place is the right environment for you professionally. Give yourself the time to see a campus, explore the surrounding area, meet the students, and ask the tough questions that won’t come up during two rounds of interviews in a conference hall. Take the time it needs for a rightful success to be achieved. And, despite the quote I used, don’t see walking away from TPE without strong leads as a failure. It isn’t. Conference placement models are only one of many potential rooms that could hold the professional love of your life. Just like love, finding a job doesn’t have to be a race. Fit matters, finding someone that gets you matters, and laying the foundation for a deep and meaningful relationship matters.
Whew. That was a lot. Far more than two tweets worth, clearly.
To lighten the mood, please enjoy this video with a surprise cameo by JJ Abrams.