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


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


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.

How to Minimize Employee Mistakes

November 12, 2012

Employee Mistakes

Recently I dealt with a vendor who made some mistakes on a product that was delivered to our office. Upon discussing the issue with one of the company’s employees, I was told that I would receive a refund for the incorrect work, but was being discouraged to have the work corrected by them and to go elsewhere. This was puzzling because I simply asked for them to fix the product without being demanding, rude, or disrespectful.

I came to find out that the owner told his employees that they would have to discourage me from getting the product fixed or the supplies for the fix would come out of their own pay, which was hundreds of dollars. Granted, that is one potential strategy for handling an employee mistake, but not one that I myself would use nor recommend.

Here are some proactive strategies for minimizing employee mistakes:

  • Build in Room for Employee Mistakes – Always assume that your employees are going to make mistakes. Set the parameters for the goals of a project or task, and allow them to do it. Guide them in how to prevent mistakes from occuring with whatever project they have been given.
  • Anticipate Common Mistakes – You can better prepare employees to minimize mistakes by envisioning those common problems that arise for staffers in your organization. Give them the resources and training in order to overcome those typical problems.
  • Do Not Set Up an Employee for Failure – Delegate tasks with the proper levels of authority for the employee given the assignment. As the supervisor, you are the one who should have sound judgement as to who can handle what. Challenging employees is fine, but do not play games by setting up someone to fail to prove a point for whatever reason you may have.
  • Provide Thorough Training – The more employees know how to do their jobs, the better. Employees should always know the mission and goals of your organization. This is important because they become guiding principles for your staffers, which help them when faced with various decisions. This can be accomplished through regular staff training. Skills building through training is paramount.
  • Reward Accuracy – Staffers who achieve success by accomplishing tasks as assigned should be rewarded. This can be as simple as saying “Thank you” or acknowledging their accuracy during supervisory meetings or even publicly during staff meetings.

* Photo courtesy of Mark Puplava

Group Interview Strategies & Activities

September 27, 2012

Every activity that you include in your group process should be there for a specific assessment purpose. Don’t have an activity just to have an activity. You should include activities that get to the heart of your department’s mission, vision, values, and culture. If your department is very program-based in which your student staffers are developing activities and programs, then your group interview activities should be geared to assess skills needed for this area. Assess for the personality and skills that are essential for succeeding.  

Here are a few specific group interview activities based upon a few of the functional job areas typically encountered in Student Life:


  • Brainstorming – You can do this individually or as a group. Give the candidates sheets of paper and markers to come up with programming ideas based upon criteria that you give them (e.g., more than $25.00 per program; must be original / nothing you’ve already attended or exist on campus)
  • Planning – Provide the candidates with a basic idea for a program and have them list the specific steps they would take to implement that program.
  • Marketing – Similar to the planning activity, have the candidates develop a marketing plan for a program idea that you give to them. Provide paper and markers for them to draw actual flyers and / or posters. 

Student Conduct

  • Creative Sanctioning – Give each candidate a a sheet with various student conduct scenarios on them. They are to come up with suggestions for what they think are the appropriate sanctions for each violation and present them to their group.

“Soft Skills”

  • Following Instructions – This is a simple assessment that can be easily overlooked. All candidates should be evaluated on very basic habits needed to perform well in the workplace. This is an easy way to eliminate candidates from consideration. Do they show up on time for the group and individual interviews? Did they bring the required materials you asked them to bring? Did they complete any assignments and / or paperwork you asked them to?  Candidates who fail to follow instructions (or simply disregard them) during the interview process will most likely exhibit the same behaviors if offered the job.
  • Listening – Break candidates up into various groups and assign a current staffer to each group. Have the staffer pretend to be a concerned parent or student and read a one-page scripted dialogue that you create. After the staffer is finished reading, they then quiz the candidates on what they just heard. You can rotate staffers through each group with a different script and different set of quiz questions.  Each candidate should be given a sheet in which to write down the answers for each dialogue quiz.


  • Group Evaluations – In one of my doctoral courses, we were assigned a group project that has various components that were to be completed over the length of the semester. At the end of the semester, we had to provide a written evaluation of each of our teammates on their performance. You can do something similar in which you have groups who work together throughout the course of your group process. At the end of the group process, they can provide a written account of how they thought their team members performed. Not only will this offer some more insight that may corroborate what you already feel about particular candidates, but you can judge the content of the actual comments. Was a candidate particularly harsh in their criticism or did they provide constructive feedback? Was any feedback inappropriate? (i.e., discrimatory, foul language, overly negative).     

For more information, please see our previous post titled Creating Effective Group Interview Activities.

Ways to Handle Staff Power Struggles

September 17, 2012

Most of us have the joy of supervising people who are mild-mannered, team-players, and get along with their co-workers. But occasionally we have those vocal staff members who feel the need to be in charge. Unfortunately, they are typically untactful in their approach and this creates discord among the staff. This can eventually lead to conflicts and, ultimately, a lack of production. The situation can be worse if you have multiple staffers who enagage in the same behavior.

As the leader of the group, you need to be able to quickly and efficiently handle power struggles that will occur on your team before they get out of control.

Here are some tactics you can use to alleviate team power struggles:


Hire for Attitude – Take the time to thoroughly assess candidates for postivie attitude, getting along with others, and the ability to work effectively on a team. Purposely ask questions that assess for potential staffers’ need to control and be in charge. Examples include: Tell us about a time you felt that you had to take charge of a situation? Give us an example of when you had a conflict with a co-worker over an assigned task? While we certainly want staffers to take control of situations, we don’t want them power hungry and starting staff civil wars. Mark A. Murphy better illustrates this in his book Hiring for Attitude: A Revolutionary Approach to Recruiting and Selecting People with Both Tremendous Skills and Superb Attitude.

Employ the “No Asshole Rule” – Robert I. Sutton recommends that supervisors utilize the “No Asshole Rule,” which essentially means not tolerating those who act like bullies with whom they work or are supposed to serve, particularly subordinates. Setting this expectation during staff recruitment sessions, training, and supervisory one-on-one’s are important tactics in helping to maintain a drama-free staff. I highly recommend Sutton’s book The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One that Isn’t. He includes a short survey to see whether or not you yourself display these types of behaviors in the workplace.

Be the Role Model / Set the Standard – Staff will typically emulate your example in how they conduct themselves and interact with their co-workers. If you exhibit pushy, demeaning, and demanding behaviors, your staffers will see this and potentially use the same approach with their colleagues. Take stock in how you rare representing yourself to your employees. Humility goes a long way in setting a positive example. Dan Rockwell (@leadershipfreak) explains more in Secrets to Leading without Position or Authority.

Illustrate the Chain-of-Command & Discuss Expectations – Fully explain who reports to whom and who is in charge of what. Additionally, illustrate what tasks and responsibilities staffers are NOT in charge of or are NOT supposed to be involved with. This helps to clarify expectations so there is no confusion among staffers. These expectations should be directly tied to specific job descriptions and supporting literature in employee handbooks.


Channel & Direct Their Energy – Give those who need to be in charge something to do. And I don’t mean busy work for work’s sake. Create projects or new responsibilities purposely for them to allow them to stretch their wings while also being challenged. Keep a close eye on them and have them report their progress during your regularly scheduled supervisory discussions. However, be careful not to “feed the beast” by enabling their ability to boss around their staffers with the new project(s). This can be accomplished by having it as a solo project or by having them work exclusively with you.

Supervisory Discussions – Use one-on-one supervisory meetings to quickly address staffers that are extending their reach. Seek to understand why they are getting overly zealous. They may actually perceive that they are being helpful when, in fact, they are creating more problems than solutions. If necessary (and use this very sparingly), tactfully remind them that you are ultimately the supervisor of the team. See my previous post, 10 Tips for Mentoring & Supervising a Know-It-All, for more advice.

Limit Work Scope – Supervisors who have a laissez-faire attitude about what can and should be done among staffers can create an environment that breeds uncertainty. While some staffers may become aloof, others will see this as an opportunity and will go overboard trying to solve or fix things that may not be broken (including their colleagues). As stated previously, clarify roles and position expectations. Staffers with unlimited reach can create complications.

What are some insights and stories that you can share related to staff power struggles? Share your comments below you will be entered into a drawing to win a copy of  The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One that Isn’t by Robert I. Sutton.

Combating Staff Fatigue

September 3, 2012

Work can be satisfying, gratifying, and challenging, but it can also be demanding and tiring. Have ever felt exhausted, had your creativity stifled, or found yourself irritable with your coworkers?  If so, you are not alone as this is a common theme among overworked employees called “staff fatigue.” If you are unsure whether you or your team is suffering from staff fatigue, there are a few behavioral warning signs and questions you can ask yourself:

  • Have you noticed a significant change in attitude?  (Those who were once easy going are now on edge.)
  • Do you or your staff members perceive most things in a negative way?
  • Is there are breakdown in communication? Are staff members having trouble communicating with one another?
  • Have you noticed significant changes in performance or production?
  • Are you staff members complaining more than usual?

If you find that you are answering yes to the majority of these questions, then you or your staff could be suffering from staff fatigue. It can affect anyone at any time, regardless of the type of work they are performing. Staff fatigue can be caused by overwork, dissatisfaction, poor balance between work and personal life, and lack of control over the work environment. It typically occurs during the busiest work times because staff members are working extra hours and spending more time together than usual. We can notice it in our student staff member because it can be particularly difficult for them to separate their work from their personal lives due to them living around one another and having constant interaction.

So if you feel that there is an issue amoung your staffers, how do you go about devising a solution and returning your team to its fully functioning and creative zenith? As a supervisor or team member you should:

  • Relax and take a deep breath before acting.
  • Extend your hand in appreciation.
  • Toss in some time off to give everyone some breathing room.
  • Understand the issues from each staff members’ perspective.
  • Recognize the work and effort of your staff.
  • Create open dialogue and the need to maintain open communication.

When team members spend more than eight hours a day with one another sometimes personal quirks can work their way under each others’ skin; after multiple days of the same routine it can become too much. As a supervisor, you must remain aware of your staff members’ feelings towards the work they are doing and realize when they are at their breaking point. As a team member, you need to be open with how you feel and communicate your feelings with those who are directly involved. Whether you are a supervisor or a team member, communicating with one another is one of the most basic and essential functions, and also it is what is needed to help return the team to a positive, productive, and creative dynamo.

For additional information, click HERE for a 30 second video (“30 Second MBA”) from Fast Company titled How do you re-inspire exhausted team members? by Dr. Joseph Folkman, Ph.D.

Have you ever encountered a situation where you or your staff has been overwhelmed by fatigue? If so, how did you work through it? What techniques did you use? We welcome your stories, thoughts, and ideas on this topic.

Creating Effective Group Interview Activities

April 4, 2012

Nothing should be as crucial and important as selecting top-notch student staffers for the upcoming semester or even for various summer sessions. Colleges and universities employ various processes for screening and selecting staffers, which in many cases includes a group interview process. For those of you not familiar with this, a “group process” is a day when potential student candidates are invited to participate in various activities to assess their worthiness to move on through the job selection process. The length of the group process and the types of activities involved are institution-specific, and many of the activities are handed down from one “generation” of professional staffers to the next.

While a group interview process can be a very powerful assessment tool, I have observed many that were filled with “fluff” activities and ice-breakers that did not help in assessing whether or not a student will be a good fit for the open position(s). Having student candidates solve puzzles or perform the “human knot” to determine if they would be a good resident assistant or orientation leader is just as effective as having medical students sit down and play a card game to assess their level of concentration for surgery. The only benefit of these types of group interview activities are to screen out the “show-off’s” and those who hide in a corner.

Here are some strategies and suggestions for creating effective group process activities:

  • Create actual quizzes to determine their level of knowledge about campus information and resources necessary for the position. While most of this information is something that would naturally be covered in training, there is nothing wrong to determine the level of awareness a student has pertaining to job-related information. A 10 to 20 question quiz can be distributed to everyone during a group process. Scored quizzes can serve as a source of valuable information to see if they take the quiz seriously and write mindful guesses even if they do not know the exact answer (or to see if they attempt to cheat!) Additionally, quiz scores can be used as “tie-breakers” should the selection process get down to a few candidates left for one remaining position. (Question examples could include: 1. Where is the counseling center located on campus? 2. What is the phone number for campus police? 3. What are the dining hall hours?)    
  • Include activities that require them to create or demonstrate something job-related. I like to see job candidates actively show me effort and motivation. If they give a half-hearted effort during an interview process, they most likely are going to perform in a similar manner if they are hired; past behavior usually predicts future behavior. One example: Having them come prepared with a leadership portfolio to present to the group will allow you to see if they actually do the work ahead of time, the quality of the work, and if they present well to the group. The presentation is particularly important since you are hiring for positions that require high levels of interaction with people. A handful of candidates may simply self-select out because they do not want to put the time and effort into this project. An example for screening orientation leaders could be to break them up into smaller groups with a current employee and have them give impromptu campus tours. Each candidate could give a short five minute walking tour while the other candidates ask questions posing as new students. Each candidate would get the opportunity to serve in each role (i.e., tour guide and new student). Given that not every situation can be trained for, this allows you to see how they think on their feet, handle potentially difficult questions, and also to see if they are a good sport when given the opportunity to ask questions to a fellow candidate (i.e., Did they try to stump them out of malice and competition? Were they helpful despite not being the guide? Did they even ask questions? Did they take the activity seriously?)  

Keep in mind that a group interview should only be one part of the entire screening and selection process; the group process should be seen as one tool in your toolbox along with individual interviews and application materials.

Please leave suggestions of group interview activities that have and have not worked for you below in the comments section.


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