What it’s like to be a university residential assistant

Ever wondered what it’s like to work as a university residential assistant in one of our halls of residence? Sam Chikowore decides to lift the lid.

Something permanent

As my first year drew to a close, I decided to look for a more permanent job. A job where I knew I would have guaranteed hours, a fixed wage and a sense of job security that no part-time gig had offered me before. The job hunting commenced, and I was keen on being able to secure a job. Up until this point, I had worked part-time around my studies. But now I was more settled after my first year, I wanted a job that would challenge me. I wanted to be part of an organisation, or something bigger.

One day, I was roaming around the corridors of the internet searching for student employment on the University of Derby careers website run by the Student Employment Agency. I stumbled across the University of Derby halls web page where I noticed a vacancy for residential assistants in the halls of residence.

From the first of day living in university halls of residence, I had always noticed a group of students with light blue hoodies going about their business doing various tasks supporting our students who lived there. They were friendly and I got to know them as residential assistants (RA) as the year progressed.

Seeing the job vacancy made me curious, I went down to the office where I knew one of them would be on duty and asked them about their role. They were very helpful and explained to me that they kept the halls site running during the hours when the hall manager was not on duty. This conversation got me interested.

Applications and interviews

Luckily, applications for the RA position had just opened, and I decided to apply. I managed to progress through the application process. This involved was filling in an online application form that would equate to a preliminary interview. Some of the questions were really in depth and required you to express why you would make a good candidate for the job.

I secured an interview with the RA coordinators. This was really one of the most relaxed interviews I have ever been to. It allowed the RA coordinators to get to know me better, for me to explain why I had stated the answers I had given in my application, and why I wanted the job of being a RA.

As part of the interview, I was also given a range of scenarios I would possibly encounter on the job and how I would approach each. After the interview ended, my interviewers informed me they would be in touch in a couple of weeks and I would know the outcome then.

As sure as their word, I got an email a couple of weeks later saying I had been successful. I was bursting with excitement and now it was all just a matter of time before I would start the role and move on to the next challenge of my life.

As I’ve been in the role for a couple of months, I wanted to share my experience and tell you why I think every student looking for employment at the University of Derby should consider applying to be a residential assistant (RA).

Teaching responsibility

I won’t lie, during the initial RA training, you realise your level of accountability and how much you are responsible for.  Initially, it felt quite daunting and overwhelming. By being a residential assistant, you are one of the first point of calls for students if help is needed. Hearing this was quite the reality check.

Essentially, when the hall manager clocks out, you step up and are responsible for the smooth running of the site. Of course, managers are on call and can support if there is an emergency, so there’s really nothing to worry about. And there are always other RAs on duty at other halls so you’re never completely alone while on shift. There is a great support network.

Your role comes in various forms, such as the simple act of giving residents their post or having to deal with something as critical as a fire alarm. With this, a certain level of responsibility is engrained within you. You become more aware of yourself as well as other people around you. It’s a great way to learn responsibility and to learn how to be prepared for potential situations.

Money

You are a university student and money can be tight. Ever since I became an RA, my bank account has not stopped thanking me. This job has been an ideal way for me to make a bit of extra money while studying. I can easily cover my upkeep, have a reasonable amount to treat myself and save a portion with my monthly pay cheque.

It keeps you busy

As a student, the cycle of going to lectures, working on assignments and projects with the occasional binge on Netflix can become monotonous. Being an RA breaks the vicious cycle of potentially becoming unproductive. You meet and form friendships with new people from all walks of life and you get to tackle different tasks that may challenge and stimulate you. It’s a great way to just keep busy and stay active outside your studies.

Working around your timetable

One thing that I am super grateful for as an RA is the flexible working hours. As a student looking for a job, high on my priority list was finding a role that would fit around my deadlines. With many jobs, especially ones that are outside of the University, it can be hard to find one that is accommodating towards your schedule and timetable, as well giving you space to have a social life as well.

With my RA rota, I have found that it rarely interferes with my university timetable. When it does, it’s relatively easy to get someone to cover for me until I’ve met my uni obligations. The working hours are not too demanding either. They are reasonable with most of them being evening hours. 

You meet great people

Being an RA is hugely social. You must be approachable and personable so that people are comfortable coming to you and seeking help or advice. It may be as simple as asking you for directions, it could be that a student is locked out of their flat, or maybe someone is looking for advice who isn’t in a great place mentally and needs someone to talk to.

Naturally, I am a shy guy but, as I progressed within this role, I was able to grow more confident and step out of my shell. It can be a very rewarding job as you are able to form friendships with a very diverse group of people. It’s quite an eye opener when you realise that the world’s a much bigger place than you initially thought. You’re constantly meeting people who have all been on a unique journey. It can be quite the cultural experience being on shift. Not to mention the friendships you form with other RAs that you work with. They are a terrific bunch of people that are relatable and support one other on the job.

It looks great on your CV

Lastly, being an RA looks great on your CV. I am now able to demonstrate traits of leadership, responsibility, empathy and show how I am able to adapt to various situations. In essence, thinking on your feet. It’s a great taster that gives one an insight of what working life is like, being a part of an organisation and working as part of a team in pursuit of a collective goal.

Being an RA is great work experience. I would advise anyone looking for employment within the University of Derby who wants to live in halls in their second or third year to heavily consider this opportunity. You wouldn’t regret it.

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