As a student affairs professional, you know how vital RAs are in building community within residence halls.
It’s no secret that being an RA comes with its perks and its challenges, but given the added responsibilities related to the pandemic, recruiting and hiring RAs may feel especially daunting this year.
So, I consulted Kelly Brochu, the former associate director of residence life at Regis College. Kelly has served in a variety of roles in res life but was recently promoted to director of Regis’ health services testing center.
Read on, as we share how you can recruit the best team of RAs ever this semester — even if you have to do it all virtually.
Reshape Your Lens
Before starting the recruitment process, look to the following resources to help you establish your priorities:
1. Current RAs
Current RAs can be beacons of knowledge, as they’re now the experts on what it’s really like to be an RA during the pandemic. It’s critical to listen to your RAs; since you haven’t been there yourself, you cannot truly comprehend the rigor and added responsibilities that COVID-19 brought RAs.
You could host a panel or roundtable with current RAs in which they discuss the top skills they relied upon over the past few months. It’s also okay for RAs to share the parts of their role that are not so glamorous, but be sure to prompt them to talk about what they learned from these challenges and how their triumphs shaped them into better leaders. Additionally, ask current RAs what motivated them to apply for their role.
Keep these testimonials in your back pocket for recruitment marketing.
2. Custodial, facilities, and security staff
Kelly describes residence life as a “three-legged stool” consisting of residence life, physical operations, and campus security.
Your colleagues across other campus offices are integral to your work of community building, so their voices should be valued in RA selection. Given that custodial and facilities staff are essential to every residence hall’s functionality, these staff can teach SA pros surprising lessons about what works in supporting folks with their boots-on-the-ground in the residence halls.
3. Health and wellness staff
Discuss what qualities and characteristics will make a great RA with health and wellness staff. They’ll have interesting insights into the skills needed to support students through a health crisis, which the pandemic is.
There may also be great opportunities for RAs to add wellness responsibilities into their roles. For example, overseeing aspects of COVID-19 testing may be a great resume booster for a student who is interested in a healthcare administration career.
Additionally, you should discuss with health staff how RAs can contribute to more than just the physical wellbeing of their residents. Discuss all of the six different types of Wellness to attract potential RAs who may be interested in going into the fields of mental health counseling, social work, or even financial planning — enticing them with the ability to lead a workshop or build a bulletin board on the topic to add to their resume.
4. Drive with data
You probably know how valuable data can be in improving everyday practices. Res life departments should make sure to include community engagement and student voices in their department priorities. Develop assessment strategies to measure students’ learning, senses of belonging, and satisfaction with being an RA.
Take the data from last semester’s community engagement assessment to hone in on the skills and personality traits that make for the best RAs. Use data to show why you’re seeking RAs with a diverse group of interests and backgrounds. Display data that illustrates the impact RAs have had on their residents and campus life more broadly. For example, you could include the number of res hall programs and attendees last semester on recruitment materials. Showcasing the quantity and quality of current RAs’ work can entice new applicants!
Promote with a Purpose
Advertising the role this year is going to be different than years prior. Rather than flyers around the student union, SA pros are going to need to think outside the box to spread the word that residence life is looking for change-makers to become RAs. Here are some tips for doing so.
5. Get creative with your social media
Try using comedy, highlighting your staff’s personality, sharing student-submitted content, highlighting former RA celebrities (such as Donald Glover, Kerry Washington, and Adam Sandler), and other innovative methods to build excitement, rather than relying on boring flyers to share that you are hiring.
6. Dust off your testimonials
Bring back those testimonials from RAs, current students, and other staff who have had a better res life experience thanks to stellar RAs. Bonus points for marketing these stories via TikToks, Instagram takeovers, or a Meet our Alumni RAs series.
7. Reach out to alumni
Encourage former RAs who recently graduated to share why they decided to be an RA and what they got out of it. Their stories can inspire those on the fence to apply!
Share voices representing diverse backgrounds and majors, asking your young alum to describe how being an RA helped them build essential skills that they wouldn’t have learned otherwise.
8. Flip the script
Kelly emphasizes the value in reversing the script from “why you need to be an RA” to “why our residence halls need you as an RA.”
Demonstrate to students who want to go into helping fields — like education, human services, and healthcare — that being an RA is a wonderful way to help their peers feel welcome on campus and navigate the pandemic. Remind students that being an RA comes with a truckload of transferable skills.
9. Encourage nominations
Get creative in sourcing RA nominations from non-traditional routes. You may ask dining staff, athletic coaches, academic advisors, club advisors, deans, custodial staff, spiritual life staff, first-year services, and other campus community members. You can create a form, host open meetings or office hours, or even post an announcement in the employee newsletter. Casual conversations are also a great place to start sourcing RA recommendations.
Kelly points out that quiet leaders — the sort who are great listeners and shine in more subtle ways — are often overlooked, even though they’d make great RAs. Take the time to reflect on the students you have worked with that you may be overlooking for leadership positions.
Bring on the fun
The prospect of interviewing and holding a leadership role on campus can be anxiety-inducing even for the most confident student leaders. Fortunately, you can help demystify the RA role and selection process through these methods.
10. Have fun with the interviews
Encourage creativity in your interview answers through open-ended questions, puzzles, and other activities that challenge interviewees to demonstrate how they’d address a challenge while showcasing their personality. Not every potential RA will shine in the spotlight of a one-on-one interview so offering a variety of hiring techniques can better allow them to showcase how they’d succeed in the dynamic role of an RA.
11. Recruit a variety of interviewers
Since RAs will work with so many staff around campus, you should recruit a diverse group of interviewers to help with the selection process too — including current RAs, health center staff, custodial staff, and admissions officers. Make sure that these interviewers come prepared to discuss why RAs are essential to their own roles.
12. Give and receive feedback
Not only is receiving feedback about the RA recruitment process important for improving your future RA selections, but giving feedback to all candidates (both those who are hired and those who are not) can help improve the selection process for years to come. For example, referring students to the career center can help them improve their resumes and interview skills in order to reapply for the role.
13. Appreciate your current RAs!
Appreciating current RAs in ways large and small can attract new candidates and show how rewarding the job really is. Highlighting amazing RAs through social media can not only attest to your department’s hard work but also emphasize why students should apply.
14. Give yourself grace
Last (but not least), acknowledge to yourself, your team, and your colleagues who are aiding in the process that RA selection might look a little different this year than in the past. Remember to practice self-care and give yourself grace if there are bumps in the road; you’ve got this!
Seeing a student blossom from being a nervous rookie into a confident leader is my favorite part of working with RAs. Hopefully, with these tips, you will recruit a stellar group of RAs who will be ready to take on the fall semester.
For more tips on bringing the magic to your RA program, check out 5 Easy Ways to Make This Year’s RA Training Your Best Yet.
What additional advice do you have about RA recruitment? Connect with us on Twitter @HelloPresence.