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!


10 Keys to Effective Student Employee Evaluations

December 10, 2013

10 Keys to Effective Student Employee Evaluations

Being able to supervise student employees is one of the most rewarding parts of being a student affairs professional. It is crucial to offer each student employee a formal evaluation at least once per semester. While there are a diverse assortment of paper evaluations that can be used for this purpose, there are essential tactics that need to be used when formally evaluating your student employees.

1. Permit the Student to Self-Evaluate

  • Let your students evaluate their own performance. This can come in the form of a paper assessment or simply a conversation during your scheduled meeting. This process will aid you in helping to grasp how that student leader perceives themselves and the work they have accomplished. A self-evaluation assists them in thinking critically about their performance and how they are perceived. It will also benefit your evaluation, insomuch that there may be areas that both you and the student know needs improvement so bringing it up will not be a complete shock.

2. Remain Objective

  • Being objective when evaluating your student is paramount. Regardless of any personal feelings or issues that may have occurred throughout the year, you need to keep an open mind. You are evaluating the work and work ethic of your student, not your personal feelings of them. Additionally, be fair and do not play favorites.

3. Seek Understanding

  • Be open to the fact that there were a number of factors that played into their performance. Go into the evaluation with an open mind and willingness to listen. See this as an opportunity to understand what went on from their perspective, but also having the opportunity to have express yourself as well. Then you can work together on developing ways to make improvements.

4. Listen

  • The evaluation is an opportunity for you to not only share your perspective, but also listen to theirs. See the evaluation process as an opportunity to gain a better understanding of your student employee. Also, see it as a chance to learn about what you can do as their supervisor to support them and help them to become a better employee.

5. Provide Honest Feedback

  • Be open and honest with your student. The evaluation process can be stressful and cause anxiety. It is as much an opportunity for them to learn and grow as it is for you as well. Explain the evaluation process ahead of time so that any anxiety is reduced. Be sure to help them recognize how their work and work ethic are perceived; use as many examples as possible. The student also needs to have a clear sense of the areas where they need to improve.

6. Remain Positive

  • The evaluation is an opportunity for you to not only address areas that need improvement, but also to highlight your student’s strengths. Be sure to strategically inject statements that show you realize and appreciate their strengths. Being positive with your student will help further develop your relationship with them, as well as let them know you appreciate the work they have done.

7. Think Like a Mentor

  • See the performance evaluation as a chance for you to mentor your student employees. Remember that one day soon your student will become a professional in the employment world. They could even be one of your next professional staff members so this is an opportunity for you to help them develop and grow into a positive and productive employee.

8. Be Thorough with the Evaluation Process

  • Don’t just rush through and try to get each evaluation done as quickly as possible, spend time on each one. Being thorough in shows that you value and appreciate the work they do. Spending time on the evaluation also lets you to think critically about and process their performance. Spending time aids in your being thorough and effective in your assessment.

9. Plan Together

  • Part of the evaluation is figuring out what you need to do together to make improvements. Spend time at the end of the evaluation working on specific goals that your student needs to meet for improvement. Also, ask your student how you can help them meet these goals. Be sure that these goals are achievable and fair.

10. Follow-Up

  • Don’t let all your hard work on the evaluation process lead to improvements not being made; follow up with your student employee. Let them know that you expect the goals outlined in their evaluation to be met, but that you are also there to help them if needed. Offer suggestions for how they can meet their goals and encourage them to come up with creative solutions. By following up, you are letting that student know that their improvement is important to you and the organization.

The evaluation is as much about the student as it is about you as their supervisor and the organization. Encourage the student to be honest about their performance so you can help them improve to best benefit themselves and the organization. Although there are strong expectations for our student employees, they are still learning, and we need to mentor them appropriately. Keep in mind that learning and growing is a part of the process for all of us.

What are some tips and tactics that you use when evaluating your own student employees? Please share your comments below.

* Graphic courtesy of Dominik Gwarek


5 Career Mistakes to Avoid in Student Affairs

November 18, 2013

Mistakes in Student Affairs

1. Job Hopping – While switching jobs is endemic in higher education, job hopping is typically not a good idea. Chasing money, position titles, or trying to find the perfect institution that emulates your alma mater can unintentionally make for a sketchy-looking resume to prospective employers down the road. A resume that illustrates a job for every one or two years can communicate that you are hard to get along with, never happy, or “too big for your britches.” No one goes from being a resident director to a vice president of student affairs overnight. Promotions, responsibility, and a higher salary come from experience and patience. “Paying your dues” is very true in our field.

Friendly Advice:

  • Do your best with where you are at. While your current work situation may not be the best, use it as an opportunity to further develop your skills and your experience. If it is a negative experience, do your best to turn it into a positive for you (no matter how difficult that may seem!)
  • If you are excelling in your current role, ask for more responsibility without the expectation of increased income, which typically should not be expected anyway given the current financial climate of higher education in the U.S. This can only help you in the next step in your career path. Create the experience you want to showcase on your resume and portfolio.

2. Getting Involved in Negative Politics – Colleges and universities are rife with politics in both academic and student affairs. Unfortunately, negative politics can consume your time and energy and get you away from your department’s mission and vision. While it’s easier said than done to avoid the politics of your institution, ultimately you are in control of how to interact with your colleagues and contribute to the success of your students. That’s why we do what we do, right?

Friendly Advice:  

  • Simply put, stay away from those who exhibit negative energy. There’s enough challenges and complications within the institution outside of negative attitudes and drama. Contribute your time and energy in creating solutions and not more problems.

3. Negative Social Media Presence – Social media is now ubiquitous and entwines both our personal and professional lives. Gone are the days when all that a prospective employer knew about you was from what you listed on a paper resume. Many employers screen your online presence, and in some cases, will expect that you will have a positive and impactful presence online related to your department and the field in general. We should be role models for our students after all, right?

Friendly Advice:

  • Understand that it is extremely difficult to have a completely separate personal and professional life online. Given this, the best practice is to keep your online presence as positive, professional, welcoming, and “restrained” as possible.
  • Social media outlets are not the place for uninhibited opinion and “diarrhea of the mind,” particularly if you are looking to land the next best position in student affairs.

4. Failing to Seize Opportunities – There will be the proverbial “two roads diverged” at some point in your career in which you will be faced with a choice to participate in various opportunities. This could be anything from committees, travel, presentations, grant writing, and other institutional initiatives. It pains me when I hear colleagues complain about such opportunities and whine about extra work or not getting compensated for projects outside of their normal workload. By failing to seize these types of opportunities, you limit your exposure to meet new colleagues across the institution, share resources, and impact students on a larger (or simply different) level.

Friendly Advice:   

  • Don’t be the person who said, “Man…I wish I would have been a part of that!” Hindsight is always 20/20 so take on the prospective of keeping your eye open for opportunities as they arise. Even better, create opportunities rather than waiting for them.
  • Keep in mind that NOT every opportunity is a good one nor has to be pursued. Keep your options open and take advantage of those that will fulfill your department’s mission while also appealing to your own interests and expanding your student affairs experience.

5. Failing to Make a Difference – You are what you do; And if you’re not doing much, you’re not making a difference. I will share the same message with you that I try to impress upon student leaders: what are you creating, what are you changing, and what are you influencing? If you don’t have much to show during your next job interview other than a bland job description, others who have made an appreciable impact upon their institution will clearly win out.

        Friendly Advice:

  • Like Stephen Covey stated, start with the end in mind. What difference do you want to make? Figure that out and work toward that end. Develop goals, write them down, and display them so you can see them daily. Also, create initiatives that you can assess. This way you can qualitatively and quantitatively illustrate the difference your work has made.
  • Don’t spin your wheels to impress colleagues. You’re there to impact student learning and retention (among other goals) and not create a club of cronies. As was the case with #2 above, stay clear of drama and concentrate on your work.

* Photo courtesy of Zsuzsanna Kilian


30 Ways to Motivate Organization Members.

May 13, 2013

Leadership with education

Motivating organization members can be the most challenging part of a leader’s responsibilities. Yet, this should be the driving motivation behind why the leader is their position. Mentoring and motivating people is key is accomplishing the mission, vision, and goals of the organization. Here are 30 ways to motivate organization members:

1. Make the members in your group WANT to do things.

2. Study members, and determine what makes each tick.

3. Be a good listener.

4. Criticize constructively.

5. Criticize in private.

6. Praise in public.

7. Be considerate.

8. Delegate responsibility for details to members.

9. Give credit where it is due.

10. Avoid domination or “forcefulness.”

11. Show interest in and appreciation of others.

12. Make your wishes known by suggestions or requests rather than demands.

13. When you make a request or suggestion, be sure to tell the reason(s) for it.

14. Let the members in on your plans and programs even when they are in an early stage.

15. Never forget that the leader sets the style for the members.

16. Focus on the positive.

17. Be consistent.

18. Show your members that you have confidence in them and that you expect them to do their best.

19. Ask members for their advice and help.

20. When you’re wrong or make a mistake, admit it.

21. Listen to ideas from members.

22. If an idea is adopted, tell the originator why, and that you appreciate their ideas.

23. Accept that people carry out best their own ideas.

24. Be careful what you say and how you say it.

25. Don’t be upset by little hassles.

26. Use every opportunity to build up members a sense of the importance of their own work.

27. Give your members’ goals, a sense of direction, something to strive for, and to achieve.

28. Keep your members informed on matters affecting them.

29. Give members a chance to take part in decisions, particularly those affecting them.

30. Let your members know where they stand.

What are some other ways in which you motivate your organization’s members? Please share below.


How Good People Can Destroy Organizations

May 6, 2013

no_smiley

Contrary to popular belief, good people can destroy an organization as quick as their less noble counterparts. Good people in leadership positions often have the best intentions, but can unknowingly sabotage the organization’s efforts by perpetuating counterproductive practices. If you find yourself or your colleagues using the following tactics, you may want to reconsider how you are managing your organization.

1. Focusing on Feelings and Not Results – The hallmark of any high performing organization is the unrelenting focus on positive outcomes and results. Unfortunately, results can be sidelined unintentionally for people’s feelings, which will ultimately lead to agendas other than the goals of the organization. This can be as simple as a supervisor not confronting an employee for poor performance as to not “hurt their feelings.” Another example includes a department’s leadership passing on certain strategies because staffers may become upset by the resulting decisions even if they are advantageous to the organization. Organizations must focus on results and make smart decisions that lead to those ends.

2. “Good Guy” Hiring – I have encountered many colleagues who hired a candidate because they seemed to be “A good guy…” or “A nice girl…” I’ve even had a supervisor who demanded that my colleagues and I hire a handful of candidates because they were “good guys.” Someone that may have a nice personality in passing can end up being a nightmare employee. Furthermore, this “good guy” may not have the necessary skills to perform the job. Take the time to assess each candidate thoroughly prior to hiring. As the adage goes: fire fast, hire slow.

3. Being Unrealistically Optimistic – There’s a big difference between being optimistic and being delusional. Being unrealistically optimistic can prevent smart and quick decisions from being made that if not made can cause irreparable harm to the organization. Stay grounded in reality, plan accordingly, and make data-driven decisions.

4. Performing Favors  – Constantly doing favors can be a slippery slope as typically exceptions are being made in some shape or form. This generally means a policy is being undermined or a double-standard is being created. This can easily destroy moral among employees and clients alike. Additionally, performing favors always translates into sacrificing time and or money.

5. Avoiding Tough Decisions - This goes back to focusing on feelings and not results; results depend upon making tough decisions. Smart and ethical decisions can be made even if they are difficult. While tactics such as cutting a budget or laying off a staffer are never fun, tough decisions of some shape or form will always need to be made by every organization. Delaying the inevitable can lead to bigger problems.

 


What is Your Programming GPA? (***free handout***)

February 6, 2013

MH900400047

Planning and attending programs and activities is typically the most fun part of a student affairs professional’s year. Successful programming is not only a skill, but an art. However, we need to be able to teach our programming standards to our full-time and student staffers so they understand what is and what is NOT an excellent program. Unfortunately programming expectations can be very nebulous, subjective, and many times concentrate on quantity rather than quality.

In order to better define the standards programming for my own student staff, I developed a simple, one-page Programming Rubric. Simply stated, a rubric is a written set of criteria for which a task is measured against. Rubrics are typically used by K-12 teacher and professors in the classroom in order to set the standards for how an essay, research paper, presentation, or other assignment will be graded.

The rubric includes a rating of Excellent, Good, Average, and Poor for five areas, including Pre-Planning, Marketing, Finances, Evaluation, and Overall Assessment. There is also a section for comments specific to the actual program being evaluated. Each rating has a numerical value attached to it so you can evaluate a program by creating a programming grade point average (GPA). Given there are five areas of evaluation, including the overall assessment, the points will range from a minimum of five to a maximum of 20. After adding each area together, you divide by five in order to get the program GPA. A programming GPA is a great standard for students because they can relate to it very easily, is easy for them to conceptualize, and offers you the opportunity to discuss results during one-on-one’s and semesterly and / or annual evaluations.

As a specific example, imagine you have a resident assistant who plans a resume writing workshop in which she invites an employee from career services to speak and offer tips. The RA discusses the program with you ahead of time and gets the proper consent as well as advice on how to improve the program. She advertises only using Facebook and spends $75.00 on pizza. Unfortunately, only five students attend the program, and there is little follow up of regarding student feedback and / or learning outcomes assessment. Using the rubic, you give a grading of “Good” (3.0) for Pre-Planning, “Poor” (1.0) for Marketing, “Average” (2.0) for Finances, “Average” (2.0) for Evaluation, and “Average” (2.0) for Overall Assessment. Adding these together, you get a score of 10 points. Divide that by five (for the five areas of assessment), and she earns an “Average” (2.0) GPA for the program.

Download the free Programming Rubric handout to help assess your programming. Feel free to utilize the rubric as a template that you can edit in order to create an appropriate tool for your own department and staffing needs.


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