The Deep Past - A Start

This is the first post in a series that explores how Robert wound up where he is now professionally, with all the twists and turns of his journey.

By 2013, I had begun hearing stories of professionals with Master's degrees who were not finding their next positions in Student Affairs and Higher Education.

Even while typing that, I feel the need to take a breath.

Take one with me.


For my first few years as a member of the Student Affairs profession, and even the two years before I went legit, I clearly and unwaveringly believed that everyone who decides to pursue Student Affairs finds the right position for them in the field.

With me so far?

I jumped into the world of SA in the fall of 2006 with my first Resident Assistant application. Yes, more people applied for the position than there were positions available, but the best candidates, the ones who had true moxie and clarity of purpose, were the ones who were selected to serve. As for those who had not been chosen, I really gave them no thought.

(As for those who had not been chosen to return to the position, there was one who stuck out. This RA was one of the individuals who had certainly inspired me to apply for the position. And here she was...out of a job. I don't remember going into great detail with her as to why she was not chosen to return. At 20, I was selfishly focused much more on my success than anything.)

I was strapped for cash, already leaden with student loans, paying my way through college (as much as I could), and looking for an opportunity to serve. I was focused on moving forward with this fantastic opportunity to lead and to save a few bucks through the fantastic compensation of room and board.

Over the next two and a half years, I would take this Resident Assistant position and push it toward morphing into a Summer Resident Assistant position and Head Resident Assistant position, beating out others for the position each time. In particular, I remember wanting the Head RA position so badly. (I'm reminded of one of the many Saturday Night Live skits from the 2008 election with Amy Poehler as Hillary Clinton and Tina Fay as Sarah Palin where Palin tells Clinton that she didn't get the Democratic nomination because she just didn't want it badly enough. Everyone has a laugh, and Poehler's Clinton is pushed over the edge.) Five then-current RAs - all known to one another - were interviewing for four Head RA positions. Two - including myself - wanted it and had to work for it. Only one of the two of us - along with the other three - were chosen.

Fast forward to the spring of 2009. I was about to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in English. With a few years of Residence Life under my belt, though, I knew where to shoot my arrow with no idea where it would land. By the end of that summer, I would have submitted applications for over 100 positions in both Residence Life and Admissions.

Before my search even began, I had a strong feeling for the tough job market to come. I had been hearing for at least two years about how difficult it would be for my class and the classes bookending mine to actually secure real, paying, adult jobs. To prepare, I did everything in my power to make myself marketable. In the ResLife world, I attended not only student conferences, but professional conferences as a volunteer, once as a member of a highly selective mentor-mentee program. I padded my resume with extracurriculars outside of Residence Life, particularly in areas of Student Affairs that I would be most likely to collaborate with as a professional.

As the clock continued to tick toward graduation, the phone interviews began. Some days, I had two or three scheduled around classes, work in Admissions, club/organization meetings, and duty nights. And the interviews were for everywhere. I had applied to colleges across the city of Scranton, colleges across the country, and colleges across the border (I'm looking at you, Canada and Scotland). I spoke with individuals and teams of interviewers with whom I thought I made great connections. When the time came to hear from them, I either received a standard form email or letter (yes...they still sent out letters in 2009), or heard nothing at all.

Soon enough, I had my first dance with the day long interview.

Written by Robert Swinton