A Note About Thank You Notes

Earlier this evening, I tweeted:

It launched a conversation about whether thank you notes are a necessity at placement exchanges or if they should factor into employment decisions.

Several years ago, a candidate I interviewed attempted to be stealthy and pre-write the thank you note for his first round interview at a placement exchange. He dropped it into the employer mailbox for distribution before meeting with me. Unfortunately for him, a colleague checked our mail while the interview was still happening and found the card. More unfortunate, though, was that the card was addressed to my colleague who was listed as the contact person for all interviews rather than to me, the person with whom he actually interviewed.


I don’t believe thank you notes should be a make it or break it factor in a candidate’s job search, but I also believe candidates should be aware that if they send a thank you note, how they execute the gesture of gratitude can tell an employer a lot about what the candidate values and how they do their job.

The thank you note after an interview isn’t specific to residence life or even student affairs. It’s commonly accepted business etiquette to send a follow up message to an employer. A Google search of “thank you notes after interview” turned up 61 million results including sample letters. This is bigger than our field.

So how can candidates make the thank you note work to their advantage?

  • Employers are generally interested in how well a candidate writes, as clear writing is critical to every job. Three people reviewed your cover letter before you submitted; this extemporaneous note is a brief but important glimpse at your basic writing skills. Be concise, be clear, and spell words correctly.
  • Be specific in your note. Highlight one or two things you learned in your interview that were not available on the employer’s website or the candidate folder.
  • Reflect on how what you learned in the interview furthers your belief that you would be a good fit for the position. Maybe your previous experience with living-learning communities would be beneficial to a school getting their program off the ground. Maybe your conferences internship experience would make you a good fit for a collateral assignment that is available.
  • The thank you note is part of a continuing conversation about your candidacy. Employers will look for signs in the note about whether you want to be considered further for the position. A simple, “I look forward to learning more about your institution” sends a green light message. On the contrary, a “Thank you for your time. Best of luck in your ongoing search” sends a different signal.
  • Not going to a placement exchange? A thank you note emailed after a phone interview is just as helpful — and email has the benefit of being timely as search processes move quickly. One email to the person with whom you’ve been connected regarding the process is acceptable, particularly if you include a note of, “Please also pass along my thanks to other members of the search committee.”
  • And thank you notes are always, always, always necessary after on-campus interviews. Again, email is acceptable, but this time should be sent to individuals with whom you met throughout the day. See the above tips for highlighting specific points of conversation or information – make each person feel valued and appreciated for the time they spent with you.


The question was raised in the Twitter conversation about whether the culture would ever change to eliminate thank you notes from our process. Ultimately, no, I don’t think it will — as a widely accepted business practice, this isn’t our culture to change. Instead, we should be educating graduate students and entry-level employees about leveraging the opportunity to their advantage.


What’s your best tip for writing a sincere thank you note to an employer? 

Throwback Thursday: International Hall Staff Appreciation Day

International Hall Staff Appreciation Day does not, for reasons unknown to me, come pre-printed on the blotter calendars that are delivered to my office each year by the local furniture vendor representatives. Each year it sneaks up on me in the midst of staff selection and room lottery seasons, a seemingly innocuous Wednesday in mid-February.

There are traditions for this day in my world. They involve rallying the Community Council, oversize signs on staff member’s doors, a Dairy Queen ice cream cake at staff meeting just when the staff has reached their threshold with my full agenda. They are small things, to be certain, but they are things that highlight my appreciation of these undergraduate students who step up and demonstrate leadership in their community. We know from our own experiences that it can be a thankless job, and while we do our best to demonstrate continued appreciation to student staff, it falls off the to do list amidst all of the other responsibilities we have.

I am reminded of celebrating the same day a decade ago when I was a resident assistant. Having the dining hall’s premiere and rarely served dessert at a staff meeting seemed indulgent for a Wednesday night; the decorations on my door reminded all of my residents that even if they were mad at me that week for enforcing policies, I was appreciated by someone on campus for doing my job.

Being candidly honest, I was disappointed in this year’s International Hall Staff Appreciation Day. Remembering my own glowing response to the recognition, I anticipated the same bubbling joy from staff this year. Maybe it was that my enthusiasm level was diminished after being ill, or maybe it was the timing in the semester that left us all ready to finish the staff meeting and move on with our week, but the event felt deflated.

I went back to my office with a heavy heart, wishing I could articulate more appropriately to these students how much they have accomplished. They are, after all, only the second group of resident assistants on this campus. Many of them did not live on campus before being hired and so had no context for what it means to be a resident assistant prior to coming to their interview. They fight an uphill battle daily of defining housing to a campus that still identifies with its largely commuter population. They explain, justify, plan, create, and innovate.

And ultimately, that explains my lackluster response to the day. There is no way an ice cream cake, even with its fudgey center, could ever begin to demonstrate an appropriate level of appreciation to this group for what they have accomplished. I want to give them so much more, show them the progress they have made, but that will take time and benchmarking and reflection in a time and place in the distant future. I want them to know that more than just the campus and the community, they have changed me with their passion, their unanticipated love of their jobs. I may not be able to show them my appreciation in the way they want or need right now. Someday, though, they will understand the scope of what they accomplished in this place, and I hope that when they do, they will also know how much their effort and time meant to me.


International Hall Staff Appreciation Day is celebrated annual on the third Wednesday of February. How do your campuses celebrate International Hall Staff Appreciation Day?


[This post originally appeared on the ACUHO-I blog on February 18, 2010.]

Letting Go of Normative Expectations

for-students-parentsA recent article published in the Detroit Free Press highlights a new notion of parents taking their students to college — and then staying there with them, buying a house or renting an apartment in the town where their student attends classes. As the article has circulated via social media, with student affairs professionals adding commentary, questions have been raised about how this new pattern will impact student development. It’ s been assumed that these are helicopter parents or bulldozer parents. In a comment thread in a Facebook group, Renee Dowdy astutely pointed out that for some students this type of plan is about support and stability for students who need an additional dose of it for any variety of reasons.

I’m challenged to see how this situation is different than our students who choose to commute, or in some cases, need to commute for financial, medical, or other reasons. If the student and parents can maintain appropriate relationship boundaries, it doesn’t seem at all unreasonable that a student could go to classes, be involved on campus, come home in the evenings to study… and never have their parents overly involved in their campus lives. To the contrary, I find that it’s often parents whose students are farthest from homes are the most frequent callers  — they are worried about their students in a very different way because they don’t see them regularly and may hear from them most often in moments of high emotion or conflict.

Our field, for better or worse, has a normative expectation of the college experience for our students. We expect that they are 18-22 years old, going to school full-time, and are living on campus. When the reality of a student’s experience doesn’t align with our expectations, we are startled and sometimes struggle to reconcile the disparities. More, we struggle to be supportive in a positive, meaningful way. And it’s time for us to let go of what we want and expect and start being the people who are there to support students, regardless of how their choices are different than our own.

Will this trend consume our college students and find us with a swelling rental market of parents descending on our college towns? Unlikely. Will this be the story for a handful of students every year? Sure (and — really — it probably has been for some quite time; it just wasn’t newsworthy). But it’s another way our students define their own experiences and blaze their own paths — in a way that may not make sense for us but does for them.

And who are we to judge?


Tuesday was a Bad Day

Tuesday was a bad day.

It wasn’t bad in a typical sense. There were no coffee stains on my shirt, I didn’t forget my lunch, and I left work at a reasonable hour.

It was one of the days that lurk around corners in student affairs, ambushing us and unexpectedly reminding us that that the work we do has the potential to be raw and emotional. By noon, I felt like I had been punched in the gut, and spent most of the afternoon pulling together resources to help a student.

We often talk about the bright, shining parts of our jobs — and we should because there are many of them. We have incredible opportunities to connect with young adults and be a small part of their journey. We celebrate alongside our students and watch them reach moments of clarity and understanding. I would imagine most of us went into this line of work because of those bright, shining moments — because there is so much good out there to be harnessed.

But we also see students in moments when their worlds are crashing down, when they just need someone to talk to. Or, occasionally, when they need to sit quietly and not talk.

And I don’t think we’re honest enough about that in our field.

In the spring of 2003, I worked as a grad in the Office of Student Activities at Ohio University. That quarter was… tumultuous? challenging? I’m not sure there’s a word. Three sorority women from our campus died in a house fire on another campus. The senior class president was killed in a car accident in her hometown. An international student had a heart attack at his off campus apartment and died. Over and over again, we were faced with bad days. And though I would never wish an experience like that on any professional, I’m incredibly grateful for Anne and Michael, who were honest and transparent about the bad days. They talked about them openly and showed the staff a balance of professionalism and humbleness. When I think about what in my daily work I draw from my graduate experience, most of it is drawn from that quarter of learning what happens when the superhero capes come off.

When I posted similar sentiments to Facebook on Tuesday afternoon, the conversation in the comments turned quickly to social media and how we portray our work. For me, though, it’s more than social media. It’s about being authentic in our work all of the time and being true to what we experience. I directly supervise three professionals and indirectly supervise three more. I owe it to them to show them that there are still hard days as you move up in the field. They look different, and the ability to respond is different because access to resources is different. I want them to know that there is still good, but there is also still bad. And, in my experience, moving up has meant the bad is worse than what I’ve previously seen. I don’t always need my staff to know details; I need them to know that a bad day is inevitable and that it’s okay to feel the effects of it long after the student leaves your office.

It’s okay to feel. It’s okay to be tired, to be sad, to be frustrated by the limits of our ability to help, to be challenged, and to be mad at what the world throws at people.

And, with that, it’s okay to talk about in a way that helps other professionals to learn and not feel isolated when the bad days happen to them.


How do you talk about the bad days with your colleagues, peers, or staff?



The Best Part of My Semester

Every semester, I’m tasked with sending residence hall closing information to students via email. I time it for the day before the last day of classes, just before the students slip into the twilight zone of endless studying, too much caffeine, and 24/7 pajama wearing. It’s information they also get at community meetings; I like to make sure they have a written copy to refer back to. For the past several semesters, I’ve embedded a question in the email, with the promise that the first five people to respond with their answer will win a Starbucks gift card. This semester’s question was, “What was the best part of your semester?” As the responses poured in, I realized it was selfish to keep them to myself. I compiled a master list, which I shared via the faculty/staff listserv — a little cheer on a gray last day of classes.

A few highlights:

The best part of my fall semester was that I met a couple of new people who became good friends with me, as well as that I started my senior thesis and have been doing research that I like. Having friends always makes life happier, and doing research that I enjoy makes me feel my life is more meaningful, because I can contribute a little bit to people’s understanding of science.

My favorite part of this semester was being a part of the Men’s Swimming and Diving team. I really enjoyed being a part of such a great legacy of people who swam before me. It has also helped me stay in check with my homework and studying.

As a first year, this semester was my first and I just loved it. Personally, the best part was going to see Mamet’s The Crypotgram ​ for my First Years Studies Class, American Playwrights in Chicago. Back home, I never saw theatre so it was a great experience that contributed to a great fall semester.

The best part of my fall semester was getting to meet so many new people and learn how the college experience works in this community

The best part of my semester was going to Wisconsin on the [sophomore retreat] with the Gates Center.

The best part about my fall semester was my internship! I loved learning and growing in an environment that could teach me about my career and about what more I have to learn.

The best part of my fall semester was that this was the happiest and most stress free I have been since I have gotten here and I doing well in classes and extracurricular activities and have such an amazing group of friends there for me every step of the way.

Best part of my fall semester was working at the Writing Center. At first, I was cautious about accepting the job offer because I have struggled as a writer in the past. I learned so much about not only helping students improve their writing, but improving my own writing as well.


I love reading these — the glimpse into what our students value about their experience and the memories they’re making are the perfect antidote to the busyness of December. More than 90 students responded, many of whom prefaced their emails with, “I know I’m not one of the first five, but I wanted to answer anyway…” and provided amazing reflection of their semester.

How do you disrupt the grind of the end of term and find the joy in your work?

GLACUHO Annual Conference: Closing Banquet Speech

I am, through and through, a housing operations person. I need numbers to quantify experiences because it is through data that our field tells our story. I could measure a decade of my GLACUHO involvement in conference calls, in emails exchanged, or in cups of coffee. I could measure the years in autocorrected text messages or the number of times Kyle from Camp Tecumseh has said GLA-cuho during the past 11 years.

What stands out about my professional involvement journey, though, is that it is truly that — a journey. And so I spent an afternoon crunching the numbers, calculating how many miles I traveled during my time in the association. When I entered the last number into Excel and finished the formula, the total was surprising – 14,833 miles.

Many the miles, but more importantly – many the memories and many the people. Along the way, I met and worked alongside incredible people with impactful stories. I visited some of the most beautiful parts of our region. I toured campuses, slept in bunk beds in residence halls, stayed up too late swapping stories, and laughed so hard that my ribs ached. I ate in
dining halls, met incredible student leaders from other campuses, and found a Starbucks in every single city I visited.

Over the course of those 14,833 miles, I took wrong turns and I made mistakes; I sometimes traveled too fast and let the world become a blur rather than appreciating the scenery. I encountered detours and roadblocks, many of which were self-inflicted. But I also remembered to take the long way, reveling in the views outside my window, views of city
skylines and slow-moving combines. I followed my heart, and I found myself on the miles between campuses and conferences, among wind farms and along winding roads, crossing bridges over rivers and driving through tunnels below cities. And my journey of almost 15,000 miles brought me here – where I’m supposed to be, still becoming who I am supposed to be.

When I ran for president-elect in 2012, I talked about the potential that we each have individually and as an association. During the past two years, I realized the really great thing about potential is that it’s limitless. Just as you achieve one goal, a new one manifests. There are always opportunities to learn more, to do more, to be more.

GLACUHO will always be an important part of my path – personally and professionally — and I hope it is for many of you as well. This organization has a wealth of history to be honored – it also has a future course to define. And that future is in your hands.

There is nothing I could say or give to all of you to adequately thank you for this experience. I am indebted to this association for the opportunity and for what I have gained. I can’t predict your path, but I can give you this tip – navigating the course is not about who stands at this podium with this microphone. It’s about all of you. Your journey should lead you to a place where you are valued, where you can grow. Your journey should lead you home.

Look around this room – at the people next to you, at the people tables away and across the room. If you open your heart along the way, you will find more than colleagues here – you will find friends and, if you’re truly open to it, a family.

If I leave you with nothing else from my time in the association, I leave you with this — take care of this family. Love the people in this room and on your campuses, and allow yourself to be loved in return. When you see someone who needs help, extend your hand. When you see someone struggling, offer your assistance without expectation or limit. When someone offers to help you, be gracious and thankful.

And now, if you’ll indulge me for just a moment, I need to live that value of gratitude and thank a few people who were important on my journey – my navigation points:

Dan Pedersen – He was the first person to believe in my abilities in residence life, and I’m so grateful to him for his unconditional support. You wouldn’t know it from looking at my resume, but I’ve had nine supervisors in eight years. Dan provided the consistency that I needed and craved in my professional life. Whether a well-timed joke or a heartfelt
note, Dan has stood by me for the past ten years, reminding me that I can
be better than I was and better than I imagined.

To my Lake Forest College Colleagues and Staff – Andrew, Andy, Kellee, Laura, Rex, Lee, Elyse, and Sarah – their support during this adventure is priceless to me. There isn’t a better team out there, and I’m grateful for the consistent reminders from them of why I do this work. They deserve thanks for the time and space they’ve given me to be on this journey and
for so often joining me along the way. Coming back to this staff team after being away always feels like coming home, and that’s a testament to each of them and the roles they play.

To Eric Musselman and Amanda Stonecipher – They have both been a constant source of laughter and support. I could not have done this without them, nor would I have wanted to. Their kind words, hilarious notes, and meaningful conversations all have meant more to me than they could know.

To Ryan and Ziena Miller – In the summer of 2007, I met Ryan for the first time in Fort Wayne as we endeavored to host the 2009 Annual Conference together. A few months later,at the GLACUHO Annual Conference in South Bend, I met his then-girlfriend, Ziena. I couldn’t anticipate that the two of them would become my family over the next seven years – conferences, weddings, birthdays, and the birth of a sweet baby boy. In my office, I have a picture of Ryan and Ziena in a frame with the quote, “Journeys are measured in friendships, not in miles.” The friendship from Ryan and Ziena – and now my littlest friend, Jacob – is the greatest gift I’ve been given in GLACUHO and in 14,833 miles.

To James Baumann from ACUHO-I – he isn’t here tonight so I’m counting on someone tweeting this. James asked me to thank him in my speech some day when I’m ACUHO-I president. That likely isn’t in the cards for me so he’ll have to settle for a mention here. In 2009, James helped me find my professional voice and reminded me that it had worth during the
lowest point of my career. Over the next five years, he became an unexpected advocate, a mentor, and a friend.

To Miranda Perry, Lynn Ellison, Kathryn Magura, Sarah Wilson Merriman, Chris Conzen, and Karen Jones – I often say that the universe gives us the people we need when we need them. You all are evidence of that. Thank you for the support, laughter, proofreading, and cheerleading you provide.

To Paul Hubinsky – For ten years, he has been a colleague and friend. He is a touchstone for me of where I’ve been and mile marker of where I’m going. In 2004, his notorious smile greeted me in a lounge of the Gruenhagen Conference Center before an interview, and it’s a smile I’ve come to rely on – I am so incredibly proud of Paul and the risks he takes
and the ways he gives to our association.

To Julie Payne-Kirchmeier, who also isn’t here tonight – Thank you for the
countless reminders to be brave, be bold, and to not to downplay my skills and strengths.

And last, but certainly not least, to my husband Dan – Or, as many of you know him from social media, Tall Dan. He’ll stand up later, I promise, and you’ll see the accuracy of that moniker. When I became president-elect six weeks after our wedding, GLACUHO became our honeymoon baby of sorts. His love and support over the past nine years is my lifeline, and I
couldn’t accomplish a fraction of what I do without him. Whether nodding along to a belabored story or serving as our invisible 24th board member by weighing in at home with his opinion, he is part of this journey too, and I’m immensely grateful for him, especially his patience and love. Dan, thank you – for loving me, for letting me fly, and for always welcoming me home with open arms. I love you bigger than the

Confusing a Platform With Power

I am Jewish.

I am an alumna of Ohio University.

And I work with college students.

It seems important to be up front about those facts because they are the foundation of my conflict regarding the current events at my beloved alma mater. As a Jewish alumna, my heart aches watching this situation unfold at a place I called home for six years. And as someone who works with college students, I can understand how Ms. Marzec arrived at this place, how she made these decisions without full concern for unknown consequences. I’ve worked with students like Megan — students who confuse having a platform with having power. They are students who, well-intentioned or not, fracture a community with their actions.

To be clear, my identity as Jewish is also confusing during this time. Being Jewish does not require also being Zionist and believing in a Jewish homeland. And, further, being Zionist does not require believing in violence to create a Jewish homeland.

Much of this conflict, both on campus and in the Middle East, is composed of gray areas. And that, from my perspective, is where Megan failed.

She failed to acknowledge the gray; she failed to acknowledge that this isn’t a black and white issue that can be resolved by Ohio University divesting from Israel as she requested in her video. She failed to acknowledge the people in the community who are impacted by her words and actions. She confused her platform and passion for power; she lost sight of what her role as student senate president is and should be.  Ohio University was never going to divest simply because Megan made a video requesting it — that was a narrow attempt at influencing change.

Megan had a platform in her role as student senate president in which she could have fostered civil conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how it relates to Ohio University; instead, she took a stand that polarized a community.

I tell my students often that black and white is where there are clearly defined processes; the gray is the place where there are people moving through those processes. The gray is where emotions and intellect converge, creating ambiguity. The gray is where we truly find ourselves and clarify our values and priorities. The gray is uncomfortable and challenging because it’s a test of our character.

It’s interesting with the benefit of time and distance to watch Megan now process through the gray, to find herself in a situation she didn’t anticipate. For a community to heal, the person who caused the strife must show remorse for their actions or demonstrated growth — Megan has shown neither publicly. I hope she reaches that point — not only for the benefit of the campus community, but also for her own self-efficacy.

Mindset List: Think Before You Share

Beloit College released its annual Mindset List today, a list of whimsical historical and pop culture facts intended to help “inform [our] work with [our] students.” The list is released annually in August as new students enter the Ivory Tower.

Seems harmless, right?

But the Beloit Mindset List is a list of sweeping generalizations. It assumes all students are between the ages of 18-22, an assumption that is becoming increasingly wrong across the United States. It assumes all students will graduate in four years by labeling them as the Class of 2018. According to U.S. News and World Report, even Beloit College itself only has a 68% four-year graduation rate. The authors assume students have a certain level of socioeconomic privilege, making reference to things like access to health care, insurance, and technology such as Skype and Netflix. It assumes all students are from the United States, another increasingly erroneous assumption, as more and more institutions increase their international enrollment.

Before you share the list, I encourage you to consider what it really says about students. Does it inform your work in a meaningful way? Or is it click bait for higher education and student affairs?

Last week Lake Forest College welcomed its largest group of new students. I’ve met some of them through move-in and orientation events. If there’s anything I’m sure of, it’s that 55 historical and pop culture references don’t really tell me who they are, what they’re excited about, and why they’re here. Two men affiliated with Beloit College can’t tell me who these new students are; only these students can.


I was ill during the ACUHO-I Annual Conference and Exposition. This was evident to anyone who knows me well. My extraverted nature was quashed and replaced with quietude; rather than seeking out large social opportunities, I connected with people individually or in much smaller groups. I left socials early and, in fact, left D.C. early thanks to a compassionate friend who drove me to the airport twelve hours before my scheduled flight and also thanks to a gate agent who watched me cry as I pleaded to get onto any earlier flight  [he got me on a flight that left 35 minutes after I walked into the airport – that man is a saint in my world].

It’s not a surprise then that my favorite moment of the conference came in a one-on-one conversation in the hotel bar, where I sipped green juice and Matt had coffee. We talked about everything – social media, former supervisors, the future of our field, our respective futures in the field.

I shared with Matt something that had been on my heart for several months —

We spend too much time worrying about the groups we aren’t part of rather than appreciating those to which we belong.

Social media, in many ways, makes this worse because of the constant influx of pictures and posts from people who are with other people doing other things. It’s easy to caught up in the idea of being left out and lose sight of where we are connected most meaningfully.

When we’re always confronted and inundated with pictures of where and what we’re not, we forget where and who we are.

I’m not naive enough to think this issue solely exists within the circles of student affairs; I do think that the size of our field and our propensity to place others on pedestals contributes to this. The number of Twitter followers, blog posts, and bullet points on a resume blur together to create a picture of a person that’s not entirely realistic — or attainable.

In the months since first having this revelation, I’ve more intentionally invested time and energy into the relationships that matter most to me. I send more notes and emails checking on friends. I let people in more often, showing my vulnerability and asking for help or support.I did this just a few weeks ago — still ill and a bit emotionally drained, I reached out to a core group and asked for their support as I awaited some further testing. And that support was exactly what I needed — a boost of positive energy to remind me that the people with whom I surrounded are there for all of the right reasons.

As I wrote in my journal after the conference, I now spend more time with the people who matter to me rather than those to whom I want to matter. And it’s made all the difference.

Can I Help You Tweet Better?

I like to help people. And today I am going to help some of you with an unsolicited Twitter lesson.

When you start a tweet with a person’s username, only people who follow both of you see that tweet appear in their main twitter feed. For example:

@LynnEllison: The ACUHO-I volunteer call went out. Shall we three-peat our tandem volunteer shift?

Only users who follow both Lynn and me see the above tweet in their main twitter feed.

So why is this important?

If you’re live tweeting an event such as a conference, speaker, webinar, etc. or participating in an online chat and start the tweet with the presenter or moderator’s username, only people who follow both you and the tweeter will see it in their main feed. Your great, valuable content may be missed.

There’s an easy workaround for this.

.@LynnEllison: The ACUHO-I volunteer call went out. Shall we three-peat our tandem volunteer shift?

Add a period in front of the username and the tweet will then go to all of your followers’ feeds, regardless of whether or not they are following the other person.

Of course, using a hash tag will populate the tweet into the feeds of those following the feed of that specific tag.

@LynnEllison: The #ACUHOI volunteer call went out. Shall we three-peat our tandem volunteer shift?

Using a hash tag makes it unnecessary in most cases to include the presenter or moderator’s username, which gives your additional characters to share your great content in the tweet.