Tricks and Traps of Student Affairs Hiring

May 25, 2014

HR_Tricks_Studentlife

Over the past two decades I have been involved not only with my own personal job searches, but have also been a participant in university search committees and have have hired full-time staff myself as a supervisor. In that time I have witnessed, personally experienced, and have had friends and colleagues deal with many unscrupulous and, in many cases, misleading hiring practices in student affairs, particularly because an institution already has a candidate in mind.

Below are some “Tricks and Traps” in Student Affairs hiring practices that you should be on the lookout for. Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that a school could still be running a legit search even if they display some of the following methods. “If it looks like a duck and smells like a duck, most likely it’s a duck. But it could be a goose.”  

Suspicious Position Description – Be weary of position descriptions requirements that are out of the norm and seem to be crafted for a specific individual or do not properly align with the norm for that position nationally. Generally there is a standard by which various requirements align with corresponding positions. For example, an entry level resident director at a public institution typically needs 1 – 3 years of experience with a degree in student affairs, counseling, higher education or closely related field. So if you see requirements for an RD position listing a degree in business management, accounting, nursing or something else unfitting, don’t get your heart set on it.  Or, more simply, steer clear of this position. Granted, if the position is related to a particular academic college / department and / or specific living-learning community you could see requirements that are out of the norm.

Position Inflation – Recently a colleague shared a personal example in which he applied for an assistant director position at a brand name institution. When having an initial phone interview, it was revealed that the institution was paying $24,000 for the position, which was totally unexpected considering that it was “master’s preferred” and two years experience. As someone once told me,  position titles come cheap. It doesn’t cost an institution anything to change a title and make it sound more prestigious or higher up in the organizational food change even though it doesn’t pay much and / or have any broad supervisory authority.

Fishy Application Timeline - Application and interview timelines can give a clue whether or not a college or university is serious about hiring someone from outside the institution. A public posting that has an application deadline of less than 14 days (and especially in cases of only 7 days or less) should raise suspicion. Additionally, an institution that only posts a position on their own human resources website, but not in nationally-recognized venues, such as the Chronicle of Higher Education, Higheredjobs.com, and / or regional publications is probably a strong indication that they are only hiring internally.

No Response - Worse than getting a “no” is getting zero response from a college or university. After putting the time and effort into crafting a cover letter and possibly a lengthy online application process, the least they could do is give you the boilerplate “Thanks, but no thanks” email or letter.  With the economy being what it is, it’s an employer’s market so colleges and universities can pretty much handle searches how they like (without doing anything grossly illegal of course). Right, wrong, or indifferent, you need to be able to stay resilient and move forward with any offers that do come your way. Don’t wait around for something that may ultimately end up in a failed search or a hire that they simply didn’t inform all applicants of.

Internal Candidates - There’s nothing more unnerving than finding out that someone on the search committee is also candidate for the job or was a candidate that was recently rejected. Not only is this clearly unethical, but causes an unfair and biased opinion against your candidacy for the opening. I’ve also heard colleagues share stories of being interviewed by a search committee with an internal candidate who was clearly adversarial during the interview process by asking over-the-top questions and being generally unfriendly. If you experience this, don’t take it personally. Be prepared, give your best effort, and stay professional. If there is a nasty internal candidate, don’t engage them. Remain calm, answer their questions, and proceed with grace.

Artificial Community Visits –  While it’s typically customary for a campus host to give you a tour of campus, there is also the possibility that you may be invited to dinner or evening events with some of the members of the search committee. Additionally, depending upon the culture of the institution’s search protocols, you may be given a tour of the local community to get an idea of what the surrounding area looks like, which becomes particularly important if they offer you the position. However, don’t put too much credence into this process because it does not necessarily mean they are going to give you the job. Unfortunately, this can simply be an exercise to kill time rather than having you sit in the hotel (or whatever accommodations they may give you) or to keep you occupied while they interview another candidate they have there the same day. During one campus interview a few years ago, a university actually had a real estate agent take me on a tour of the community and show me various houses in their market that were for sale. Unfortunately it ended up being a waste of time, particularly for the real estate agent, because not only did they not offer me the position, but they didn’t offer it to any of the candidates interviewed, but rather offered it to someone on the search committee. (Yes…that’s a true story!)

While going through a student affairs search process may be a daunting process, don’t lose hope. Keep applying and making yourself more marketable by expanding your skills and experience. While there are some dirty tricks out there related to the hiring process, there are also many other institutions that run a fair and ethical search looking for the best candidate.   

 


Training for Jerks: Five Tactics for Handling Difficult Team Members

May 5, 2014

Donny - Adventure Time

Managing difficult people on a staff is very challenging and can suck the life out of an otherwise awesome team. Granted, we all have our bad days and can treat each other in less than a civil manner from time to time, but there are those individuals who are habitually difficult and tactless on a daily basis. In other words, a jerk.

The best way to deal with jerks is to simply not have them on your team. One of the most important pieces of advice I’ve learned when hiring is this: fire fast, hire slow. This basically means to get rid of negative elements on your staff quickly while taking thorough time to recruit, screen, and hire new team members. Now this does not mean to simply boot a staffer that has a differing opinion than you or is having some difficulty with the job.

However, this does mean that you should strongly consider terminating someone if they are chronically negative, disrespectful, and ultimately affecting the mission and vision of your organization. Here are some tactics to consider when attempting to manage and train “jerks” that may rear their heads on your team:

1. TEAM RESPECT AS A CULTURAL EXPECTATION – Make it explicitly well known during the recruitment, hiring, and training phases that respect is the #1 hallmark of being a part of your team. Those applicants and / or current team members who do not display respect among others will not be a part of the team. Your team culture should be shared and celebrated; having positive and respectful teammates should be a part of that culture.

2. CONFRONT QUICKLY – Make it a habit to confront “jerk” behavior when it occurs: Confront, document, and educate. The sooner you handle problematic behavior, the quicker you can get back to business as usual. Not only will the offender get back in line, but others on your team will see that you are holding the standard that you have set, which will be appreciated.

3. REWARD “GOOD BEHAVIOR” - Make it a habit to recognize and reward kindness, civility, and generosity. This can occur during team meetings, publicly via social media, or through personal notes and supervisory one-on-one’s. Publicly acknowledging remarkable displays of positive teamwork will go a long way for continually communicating behavioral standards.

4. TEACH CONFLICT “RULES” – Teaching team members how to manage conflict among one another is crucial. Provide mediation and confrontation training so they are equipped with the necessary skills to respectfully handle disputes and differences of opinion among each other. Additionally, give them instructions for how problems are formally mediated per institution policy so they don’t result to making up their own process and making a bad situation worse.

5. CELEBRATE SUCCESS – Be explicit in what team goals will be celebrated. Minimize status differences among your team, and celebrate goals obtained by the entire team. This helps to emphasize the “we live and die as one” message. Celebrations don’t have to be overly fancy or expensive, such as lavish end-of-semester banquets or award ceremonies. Small and simple celebrations can work just as well (and be more economical and meaningful at the same time!) And, to be honest, don’t simply have the obligatory end-of-year bash. Celebrate successes that are related to the vision and mission of your organization and not “just because.”

Artwork courtesy of Chris Szczesiul. Check out his other awesome artwork!


Being a Servant Leader within Student Affairs

March 31, 2014

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Last night I had the opportunity to spend time at the ACPA awards reception with a former student who is now an accomplished colleague and a close friend. Opportunities like this inspire me and make me further appreciate the joys of being a Student Affairs professional.

At the convention we heard from both Kohl Crecelius and Erik Qualman about making a positive impact upon others and leaving a legacy. That is the heart of what it means to be a Student Affairs professional and a servant leader. We all have the opportunity to impact people in many life-changing ways. I, like most of you, want to serve others by enabling them to be stronger, more prepared, and to be able to thrive both personally and professionally. Furthermore, I want to influence others to be servant leaders.

Use the time at the convention to connect with others and found how they serve their employees, their institution, their students, and their communities. What are new and innovative ways they are serving others? In kind, share your own successes and even your frustrations and gain some feedback on how you can do better (and more!)

As you explore your own journey as a Student Affairs professional and servant leader, please let me know how I can help you. I am always willing to listen, lend advice, and collaborate.


ACPA Convention Professional Development Scavenger Hunt

March 23, 2014

ACPA Professional Development

The upcoming ACPA Convention allows each of us to connect and learn from one another in very impactful ways. Each of us can create our own customized convention experience, but sometimes this can be haphazard and without little or any thought behind how we determine what to do while there. I would like to suggest that you follow a professional development “scavenger hunt” to get the most out of your convention experience. By following this scavenger hunt, you will be able have some concrete goals going into the convention that can further develop your career rather than simply catching up with old friends and attending interesting sessions.

1. Attend a technology-related session and jot down ideas of how you can incorporate session lessons into your department.

2. Meet a new colleague from a different region of the country and make plans to check in on each other throughout the year via phone, email, or social media.

3. Attend a session in an area or topic unrelated to your department and attempt to collaborate with colleagues from that area when you return to campus related to the information you learned.

4. Lend some help by signing up to volunteer for one of various functional areas throughout the convention.

5. Go to a Commission meeting and plan to participate regularly in their activities and discussions throughout the year.

6. Purchase a book from the available publisher on the convention floor and share its content when returning to campus.

7. Meet a younger colleague and offer to mentor them with your experience.

8. Tweet from a session to share its content with your followers and those who are not at the convention.

9. Talk to at least one of the session presenters and offer to collaborate on a project together.

10. Take random brainstorming notes to prepare for presenting a session for next year’s convention.

Good luck with the professional development scavenger hunt. Enjoy your convention experience!


Why Your Programming Sucks! (And What To Do About It)

February 10, 2014

sucks_stampCampus programming is part art and part science mixed with some luck. While programming efforts vary from institution to institution, there’s no denying that many veteran student affairs professionals agree that attracting the attention (and attendance) of college students has become increasingly difficult. With the advent of Facebook, Netflix, smart phones, and an ever growing catalog of video games and entertainment options, campus programming can easily be perceived as passé by someone out of the realm of Student Life.

Please understand that I myself am a programming “purist” and wholeheartedly believe that student programming efforts add to the extracurricular personal development of our students. However, programming without a strategic plan can lead to poor results, including a waste of time, resources, and the creation of disillusioned staffers and students alike. Having over 20 years of experience in campus programming, I would like to share some thoughts on why your programming sucks and what to do about it:

1. Your Programming is a Mainly a Means to an End: If your activities are simply there because it’s required of you, you’re probably not putting your heart and soul into program development. This is going to be obvious as you won’t be inspiring your staff or your students into putting forth innovative and quality work. If you don’t want to be there, your students certainly won’t want to be there either (i.e., circular causality). Furthermore, if you are programming simply for programming’s sake without any formal goals or student learning outcomes in mind, there’s a good chance your programming will become stale because there’s nothing to challenge you to push past mediocrity.

Resolve: Whether you’re an RA, hall coordinator, assistant director of student activities, or director of a student affairs department, if you find programming a chore and something you have to do for the paycheck, it’s time to refocus and recharge or simply get out. You can refocus by finding out what colleagues are doing across the country. Suggestions include subscribing to Student Affairs blogs, reading tweets from other college and university departments, participating in webinars, and attending regional and national conferences. Get out of your own department and find other colleagues at your institution who inspire you and achieve great results with their own programs. Additionally, ASK FOR HELP if you find yourself struggling.

2. You Concentrate Solely on Attendance: While numbers are certainly good, they shouldn’t be the sole reason for why you program. Rather than focusing on worthwhile activities that students will appreciate and find worth their time, programmers can easily fall into the trap of offering gimmicks and prizes to attract attendees. Of course pizza, gift cards, and t-shirts are awesome, but don’t create a situation in which students only come to grab the free stuff and bolt.

Resolve: Refer to your department and university’s mission and vision when developing your programs for the semester and year. Determine the purpose behind your programming and plan accordingly. If success is only determined by numbers at your institution, I challenge you to illustrate the student learning outcomes you achieve to your superiors rather than following status quo. It is hard to argue against programs that foster student development and education. (It’s even better if you can do this without spending a lot of money to achieve those results!)

3. Your Marketing is Lacking: Throwing up a few flyers and sending out an email and a tweet isn’t going to cut it. Students are inundated with loads of information and a lackluster advertising effort will go unnoticed. In large part, the bulk of students don’t care about what you’re doing. Furthermore, if they don’t see your message, they can’t make plans to attend.

Resolve: For all intents and purposes, your marketing campaign should be as well planned as the program itself. Try to make the marketing fun as well. A message that sets itself apart from all of the other “noise” of departments hawking their events will have a better chance of getting noticed. Don’t simply use one avenue of marketing, such as only using Facebook, but use all of the tools you have, including social media, email, handwritten personal invites, flyers, announcements at organization meetings, sidewalk chalk, and even guerilla marketing techniques.

4. You’re Trying Too Hard or Not Trying Hard Enough: We’re not going to compete with the likes of Playstation, Netflix, and off-campus parties so don’t try to. You’ll quickly burn yourself out on multiple half-assed programs that little if nobody will attend. On the other hand, if you’re hosting programs that you yourself wouldn’t want to attend, why would you think your students would come? Programming takes creativity, and most importantly, hard work.

Resolve: Sometimes simple can be better. In large part, students want the opportunity to interact with one another and do something fun. If you can add in some education in there, all the better. Yet, you can’t just throw a pizza in the study lounge and expect 100 people to show up. Float some ideas by a bunch of students prior to rolling out a program. You’ll get a quick sense whether or not an idea is decent or not. Also, consider giving some program types a rest while bringing old ones back that haven’t been done in awhile. What’s new is old, and what’s old is new.

Good coordinated and creative programming is challenging, but should be fun for you, your staff, and your students. Spend the time to develop a programming and marketing plan to ensure better success. And if something doesn’t work, get rid of it. Don’t hang onto traditions just because that’s the way it’s always been done. Programming needs to stay fresh, innovative, and fun.

For further information regarding programming, I encourage you to read Developing Activities (Free 650+ Activities Handout) as well as What is Your Programming GPA? (***free handout***)


Why Your Spring Training is Largely Ineffective

January 15, 2014

Why Your Spring Training is Largely Ineffective

Now is the time Student Life staffers are looking for advice and resources regarding spring training for student employees and student leaders. Each college and university has its own tradition regarding how they provide training at the beginning of the spring semester whether its for resident advisors, orientation leaders, student government representatives, and other student leaders. The philosophy behind that training and how its implemented can be very different from institution to institution. In some cases the results of spring training can be largely ineffective.

Here are some questions to consider and strategies to implement as you assess your own spring training program:

Do You Have Loosely Defined Learning Outcomes? What is the purpose of your training? What is it that you want your students to learn as a result of attending your training? Do you have any formal or informal learning assessments to implement during and after your training? Define what you want your students to learn and create your training to teach that knowledge. Don’t simply present random topics loosely related to your department and hope that your students will learn something from it. Create short and simple surveys, quizzes, and / or require a demonstration of some sort so you can determine if they learned what you wanted them to learn.

Are You Are Training for Training’s Sake? Is your training strategically created or are you simply following tradition of what was done in the past? Take stock in the value of your current training practices and assess whether or not you need to need to modify it. I don’t like to waste people’s time, and I don’t like my time wasted. With that being said, create something that is worth everyone’s time. Don’t simply bring students and / or staff back early just for the sake of bringing them back early and force lackluster training content. Also, don’t outsource all of your sessions to guest speakers from across campus who may not add real value to your training just to get a training schedule together.

Is Your Training Actually “Training” At All? Are you scrambling to find activities just to fill the schedule? Is your schedule mostly filled with social rather than educational activities? What would happen if you didn’t have your spring training altogether? Would it truly be missed and have a negative impact on your semester? Have sessions that are impactful, memorable, and directly relate to your daily “business.” Understand that fun activities and team bonding are appropriate as a part of training, but they should not constitute your entire schedule.

*** Photo courtesy of Tomasz Szkopiñski


50 Leadership Resolutions for Student Life Professionals

January 2, 2014

list of resolutions on blackboard with three blank, numbered sticky notes

As we begin a new year, it is good to reflect back on what we have accomplished while also examining areas we can improve upon going forward. Here are thoughts to consider as you develop your own resolutions related to your work in Student Affairs.

  1. Modesty is key; be humble.
  2. Open your mind and listen more.
  3. Seek out feedback while implementing changes.
  4. Engage in positive thought for encouragement.
  5. Help yourself by helping others succeed.
  6. Forward thinking encourages positive change.
  7. Embrace and foster a shared vision.
  8. Nothing is impossible when you put trust in yourself and others.
  9. Recognize the value and talent in quality staff.
  10. Make data-driven decisions.
  11. Self-motivate to stimulate creativity.
  12. Get out of your head and into the now; live fully in the moment.
  13. Don’t pop bubbles; think outside of your own bubble and inside others.
  14. Challenge yourself to examine issues from multiple perspectives.
  15. Re-evaluate your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT).
  16. Set attainable and result-driven goals for you and your team.
  17. Focus your energy around creative collaboration.
  18. Encourage on-going and engaged teamwork and development.
  19. Don’t like something?  Then change it.
  20. Check your attitude at the door, while holding that door open for others to shine.
  21. Give more than you receive.
  22. Use that which you receive efficiently.
  23. Be honest with yourself.
  24. Practice transparency with others.
  25. Simplify daunting tasks; let go of some rigidity.
  26. Manage your time efficiently; prioritize.
  27. Be good to and take care of yourself.
  28. Encourage collaborative problem solving.
  29. Discover something new about yourself and others.
  30. Smile, laugh, and then laugh some more.
  31. Do the footwork it takes for the team to be successful.
  32. Don’t settle for the quick fix, find a long-term solution.
  33. Take value in the presence and work of others.
  34. Be innovative while encouraging team synergy.
  35. Patiently respond rather than immediately reacting.
  36. Always give the best you possible.
  37. Learn to say NO when you are overwhelmed.
  38. See opportunity where others see uncertainty.
  39. Empower those you lead by embracing change and unconventional thinking.
  40. Focus on your strengths by leaving your weaknesses.
  41. Breathe deep and let go of lingering frustrations.
  42. Be yourself and let others see the real you.
  43. Be deliberate and reach out to those you lead.
  44. Inspire others to exceed your expectations.
  45. Maintain a healthy balance of positivity and honesty.
  46. Acknowledge and address problems straight away.
  47. Emerge from uncertainty stronger than you went in.
  48. Seek out opportunities to learn and grow as a professional.
  49. Look back to remember but forward to inspire.
  50. Listen to and accept constructive criticism.

What specific resolutions are you working on related our profession? Please share your comments below. If you liked this article, please Like and/ or  Share it on Facebook and Retweet on Twitter. 


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