higher education adventures my first week birthmay featured image

Higher Education Adventures – My First Week BirthMay 2021

Hello everyone! Since I love sharing reflective posts, I thought I’d share one about my first week at my new job in higher education.

So long story short, I had a job in event management, lost it in the pandemic, was unemployed a looooong time, and now I have a new job in higher education! As a general rule, I don’t share my employer’s name (I am always honest and when I share the “bad” as well as the good I don’t want issues), coworker’s names (unless given permission) or too many identifying things about them, or sensitive information about my job (for obvious reasons) . But I always share as much as I’m comfortable with so feel free to ask questions and if I feel good about answering I will. If I don’t, I’ll do my best to give an answer but let you know that I don’t want to share more.

Oh! If you’re new here (newer than May 2020) you might be wondering, what’s BirthMay? Well, every year I blog every day in May because it is my birth month. I just figured it was something fun to do, and it has proven to be really enjoyable for me. This will be the fifth BirthMay on my blog! No matter how many BirthMays you’ve been through with me, thank you for being here this BirthMay and thank you for your support!

Starting My Higher Education Adventures

So a little bit about my new job before I really get into it. I work as an Academic and Financial Advisor for an online university. The university does work with undergraduate students and doctoral students as well but my role is mainly graduate students. I work with a specific school of study within the university (example, they have schools of business, psychology, technology, etc.) but all advisors have dedicated time in a phone queue to help anyone who may need assistance. Otherwise I’ll eventually get assigned around 250 students to advise and the goal is to support them on their academic journey. I’m super excited!

Before the Job – Application, Interview, and Job Offer

Okay, so I guess I should start with the “before” portion. I first applied for the job back in December I think it was. I also applied again to a new job positing early in 2021. So it was a loooong time ago. I’ve been job hunting for awhile and my friend/former coworker in events had gotten hired at the company in the fall. My friend suggested I apply as she thought it would be a good fit for me so I did. She would periodically mention me to her boss and finally at the second application I submitted she told me she straight up told her boss “I don’t know why you won’t call my friend, I’m telling you she is perfect for the role because she has all the skills and would fit in here.” Literally she is the friend you want in your corner!

So that worked because I got a call! I think the HR screening portion was awkward and not too well executed. I mentioned this to my friend who said she completely understood what I meant. It just felt like the person I was talking to was trying to multitask so when she was doing that she wasn’t really paying attention to me and our conversation felt awkward and disconnected until she could focus again. But when she was focused we had a good conversation. The following week I had a call with three people in the company, including my friend’s boss and my future team lead. All three people and I had a really good conversation going! I felt like I completely fit in with them, and they clearly thought the same because I got a job offer the next day.

Now, I was a little surprised at the offer and expressed that when I got the call. I had been given a “starting salary” when I asked for the range of pay in my screening call and was told that there wasn’t a budget so it could “go from there”. But then I got the call and it was the starting salary. I did say I was surprised because I had all the skills, years of experience, and so I did try to open negotiations. The HR representative seemed so surprised and didn’t seem to know how to handle the conversation so unfortunately we got nowhere in the negotiations, even after I tried to pivot to a higher 401k match. I ultimately accepted the job anyway, because I did need a job and the pay was in my target range. It was actually a little higher than my previous pay! I’m going to be honest, I was annoyed and disappointed that I was offered the “starting” amount and couldn’t negotiate more but at the end of the day it was higher than my previous pay and I needed a job, so I figured I’ll just ask for a raise in a few months. Now, maybe I gave in too quickly, and that is certainly possible. But I am glad I tried and I will definitely use this as a learning experience for next time.

Setting Up for Work

So this job is fully remote, which is great because I really wanted a work from home job! In the week leading up to my first day, I was told that I needed to be available to sign for my packages that would contain things like my work laptop and such. I ended up getting SIX boxes! I shared more on the equipment and setting up in my desk tour post. I’ll let you check out that post if you want to know more but I’m going to be honest, it already doesn’t look like that anymore… Whoops!

Anyway, I had a quick hour long meeting set up the Friday before I started my new job to make sure everything was working for us. Sure enough, it all did and I was ready to start on Monday.

My First Week in Higher Ed

So my new employer is based out of Arizona, which is a two hour time difference. It kinda sucks and can get confusing, but it is what it is. So right away when I logged on to work I noticed I’d been added to the group chat “Team Awesome” on MS Teams. That was already a good sign in my opinion!

I had already gotten my first day’s schedule so I knew that I was going to be meeting with my new manager and team lead shortly. Throughout the week I had regular meetings with one or two of those ladies, plus trainings, shadowing time, or “get to know each other” one on one meetings with others on the team. I’m being completely honest when I say that I feel like I fit right in. The team is so kind and positive, and while I think I’m a bit more high energy due to excitement, they seem to really appreciate it. I mentioned to my manager and team lead that in a way I feel like I’ve been working with the team longer than a week because it feels like I just fit in so seamlessly. Right away my team lead agreed! That’s how we fit on a personal level anyway.

Professionally, they are the same though. Very welcoming towards questions and everyone is super patient and nice. I’ve also had similar experiences with people outside of my immediate team. Many of my trainers are on other teams (aka they work for a different school of study) but everyone is super nice all the same. Everyone encourages questions and they ask multiple times during trainings. Which is great because normally we do have questions!

Let me back up here for a second. You might have thought “wait, who’s ‘we’?” Well, I’m not the only newbie! I am in my particular school, but there are two other newbies who have become my buddies during the training process. They work on other teams but we’re encouraged to make connections across teams because we will likely need each other at some point when we have questions. For example, one of them will work with doctoral students so if I ever get a student with questions on their doctoral program, I’ll be able to go to the other newbie for help – once we get trained up anyway!

I will also mention that I feel the training is very well put together. There’s a great mix of independent study, shadowing, more “formal” trainings with clear and concise slide presentations, and culture trainings. Personally, I love how it’s set up and I even mentioned that to my manager and team lead. Right away the two burst into huge smiles and said that my team lead was actually one of the main designers of the trainings! I had no idea and I had just been gushing about how much I appreciated the training structure. I do have some constructive feedback to share too, and I was encouraged to share that as well.

Culture-wise I do think the company is a good fit for me. It seems really friendly and open, and everyone is incredibly helpful. I’ve learned that due to the pandemic, the company has really tried to keep the culture a strong presence for their employees. They’ve implemented a “culture committee” and that was an entire training on either the first or second day. They have many MS Teams chats dedicated to different things, including one entirely dedicated to the culture of the company. And each team has “all day open zoom” sessions where team members just hang out. And they keep it open so anyone can go to any team’s zoom and ask questions or hang out. I loved that!

Okay, I should mention the work part of it all now too. I think that the work sounds manageable, of course, but I do think that it’s a little over the top how often the advisors are expected to reach out to their assigned students. Apparently once a month is the bare minimum. I don’t want to share too many details on the type of things that we’re required to reach out for but I was really surprised by it. These are all graduate level students or higher for the most part, and yet we have to reach out so often? But I think it’s just one of the things that an online school has to do differently to engage and connect with students and there are good reasons for it all so I just need to get used to it.

So the first week of trainings was focused on the academic portion of the job, which was great! I felt like I was understanding everything and getting to know the processes well. However, the second week is the financial portion of the job which I’ve heard is much more brutal. It sounds a little scary honestly, and I’m full on expecting to have a melt down at some point which I’ve been told is normal LOL. I don’t mean that in a bad way necessarily, it’s just that everyone acknowledges that the financial portion of the job is the harder and more unknown part of the job when someone starts out. My goals for the second week is to ask a ton of questions, take as many notes as possible, and to be kind to myself as I do tend to stress out about learning things quickly. My manager and team lead told me those are perfect goals for the next week of trainings so I do feel like I’m on the right track to be successful in my new job.

Speaking of feedback from my manager and team lead, they’ve been so generous with their time and attention. As I mentioned, I’ve met with them at least once every day, usually twice with both and then maybe one other meeting with just one of them. So far they’ve expressed that they think I’m perfectly on track with trainings, that they’re happy I’m grasping the materials well, and thanked me for my positive attitude and excitement. Honestly, I’m just so happy to be employed again that I think that’s a huge contributor. Plus, it’s a really encouraging environment in general. Basically, I think it’s gone well so far and that it’ll be a good fit for this new phase of my career.

So those are some of my thoughts on my first week in my new job in higher education! While I wasn’t specifically planning to end up working in higher ed, I do think it’s a great opportunity for me to try something new and pay forward all the help I got in my own studies. I was a largely an independent student but there were always times that I needed some extra help from an advisor so I can’t wait to be that helping hand for someone else. I don’t know how often I’ll share updates, probably once a month in my “Life” posts, but if there’s every any questions, feel free to ask!

Thanks for reading!


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