The student affairs hiring process is stressful.
Institutions want the positions to be filled as quickly as possible. Hiring committee members have to take time away from their everyday work. The hiring department may have to operate at a deficiency while they wait for the process to conclude.
Last, but not least, the job applicant faces stress across the board — from applying to interviewing to balancing their old job while transitioning to a new one.
Stress in the hiring process is inevitable.
However, it’s important to prevent additional and unnecessary stress, complications, and inequities that will surely arise when you implement non-inclusive barriers.
These failures often prevent great applicants from applying, interviewing, and accepting positions.
Understand that creating these barriers and being exclusionary is harmful to all parties, not just the applicants. Missing out on a great candidate because of something avoidable or exclusionary is inexcusable.
I have chaired and served on numerous search committees, and I have participated in hiring processes (both as a committee member and as a candidate) that were made worse, more stressful, and more difficult by failing to be transparent and inclusive.
As a result, I’ve incorporated multiple ways to make the process more inclusive and accommodating for everyone involved.
Here are five tips.
5 Equitable Practices
1. Eliminate ableist language and requirements
Job postings often require certain physical demands from applicants — such as standing, walking, lifting, moving office equipment, pushing or pulling, using hands/feet, or carrying items. Consider if these physical demands are necessary for the position.
If any demand is not necessary or can be completed by someone else without undue burden, those demands should not be listed as a requirement.
Some institutions list requirements followed by a statement specifying that reasonable accommodations can be made. But what does this stipulation do other than create a perception that people with particular needs should be viewed as “others”?
It sends a message that the institution prefers able-bodied individuals or would merely “settle” for individuals who are outside of supposed norms.
2. Eliminate unnecessary education requirements
We have all seen job applications that have a huge list of education requirements and wondered what purpose those requirements served.
To be inclusive, hiring committees should closely re-examine these requirements. Is it truly necessary for the applicant to have the level or type of education that’s listed?
Certainly, there are times when education requirements are necessary. For instance, to teach certain classes in law school, applicants likely need a Juris Doctor, a Master of Studies in Law, or another type of legal degree.
However, education requirements are often listed without justification.
Ultimately, If an institution deems it necessary to have a certain amount of education, the institution and hiring committee should be able to articulate exactly why that level of education is necessary prior to posting the job.
Hiring committees should also be open to nontraditional types of education. For instance, although an applicant may not have a particular advanced degree, they may have pertinent training and certifications that should qualify as apt education.
It’s also important to justify whether specific degrees are necessary. Applicants may have degrees in other fields outside of higher education, such as an MBA or JD, that show that they are capable of advanced coursework. These degrees can greatly benefit applicants in many higher education roles.
For example, I do not have a degree in student affairs, but I do have a JD and an advanced degree in philosophy.
For both of my degrees, I focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion, specifically as they relate to race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and ability.
So, when I applied for my first student affairs position, I had more than enough knowledge and experience to make me a great fit for the position.
However, if my employer had only been open to applicants with a highly specific education, I wouldn’t have been considered.
3. Eliminate unnecessary requirements related to experience
You should also reevaluate what experiences and skills are listed as requirements for the position.
The focus should usually be on certain skill sets rather than on narrow experiences. This allows hiring committees to place a greater value on transferable skills.
Anyone who has ever had a position at a college or university knows that their teammates’ experiences are almost never exactly the same. However, certain skills, including adaptability, are essential for everyone.
Someone who excels in student affairs is always learning, acquiring training, and educating themselves in order to stay on top of the constant changes and trends in our industry.
For instance, someone with a school counseling experience might be perfect for a student affairs position because they’re likely empathetic and have great communication and advising skills.
Or someone with experience as a philosopher would bring their analytical skills, advanced writing experience, and logic skills to the role.
Institutions also need to carefully consider how many years of experience are necessary for a role.
While some roles will require specific experiences and skills, institutions need to include the number of years they believe are actually required to perform the job well. In other words, do not list that a position requires a minimum of eight years of experience when someone with six years could be a great candidate.
4. Consider the effect of internal candidates
Prior to finalizing the job description and listing the job, institutions should consider how internal candidates will be evaluated.
This is particularly important if your institution has largely homogenous staff populations. Giving internal candidates an advantage merely for being internal candidates presents an issue for inclusion.
To be equitable and inclusive, internal candidates need to go through the same (or as close as possible) processes as external candidates.
As a committee, be clear on how you will evaluate your internal candidates. Will you base your assessment solely on their interviews, or will you factor in information you might already know about them?
Though it is almost impossible to eliminate bias, I recommend that committees create an assessment rubric which clearly states that the evaluation of all candidates should be based only on the interview. Additionally, all discussions about candidates should be limited to what was stated during their interview, what is listed on their application materials, and any other information that is available about every candidate.
Be sure to tell any internal candidates about your assessment plans as well. Remind them to imagine that those on the hiring committee have no knowledge of their work or experience beyond what is included in their application.
5. Eliminate Financial Burdens
Job searching can be very expensive.
There are costs associated with purchasing interview clothing, taking time off work, and securing family care. Applicants are also often asked to purchase a flight, book a hotel room, arrange for transportation, and pay for food — all on short notice.
Those costs aren’t always reimbursed fully. And even when they are, applicants have to face the burden of figuring out how to pay for travel costs upfront and waiting for reimbursement.
Reimbursement can often take weeks, and for many student affairs professionals, facing the possibility of going that long without hundreds of dollars could inhibit them from participating in an in-person interview, especially if they are interviewing in multiple places.
To be more inclusive in the hiring process, make it clear to applicants (during their first interview) which fees you’ll cover for in-person interviewees. Additionally, if you can, highlight the institution’s willingness to pay for travel costs upfront.
Note: I recognize that some institutions may worry that applicants will fail to appear after their travel costs have been paid for. You can work around this by requiring applicants to sign a contract agreeing to repay the institution if they’re a no-show.
Some institutions may not be able to afford the cost of in-person interviews. In that case, they should conduct all interviews using a video conference platform or another method that is accessible for every candidate. Even if an applicant is local or offers to pay their own way, this request should be denied in order to keep the process fair.
The hiring process is stressful, but it should — and can — be inclusive and transparent.
There shouldn’t be barriers related to ableism, education, experience, internal bias, or affordability.
Incorporating these five components into your student affairs hiring process can go a long way to promote inclusion and eliminate barriers.