Evolving SA Hiring Processes to Recruit Diverse Talent

I had an amazing internship during my graduate school days where I was able to cultivate my abilities as a content creator.

I created a podcast, weekly newsletter, and wrote blog posts in addition to being involved with other parts of the organization. I was encouraged to follow my interests wherever they took me, experiment with things, and find my professional voice. I used my strengths and aligned them with my values and passions.

I felt a sense of authenticity in my work.

Using tools like StrengthsFinder and MBTI gave me terminology for the strengths I leveraged and offered in my role.

Using personality tools is just one way to cultivate an appreciation of unique contributions from individuals, and intentionally build teams of people with diverse essential skills.

I like to say it’s the “language of leadership.”

With the right language in tow, interviewees can genuinely showcase themselves to potential positions they’re interviewing for, but alas, this is only half the battle.

On the recruitment side, hiring can be a tricky endeavor to undertake.

Higher ed professionals aren’t typically trained to hire.

Hiring is often added as another to-do item during hiring season without regard to knowledge of hiring and balancing primary job responsibilities. As such, many teams compromise on finding the best people, and make decisions that stem from personal biases.

Representation matters when recruiting talent

Recruit people who will be a value or cultural addition to your team, not people who ‘fit in’ with a cookie cutter culture.

According to Hire Vue, making the excuse that your team is solely hiring for “cultural fit” can often hide biases in hiring processes. For example, it’s illegal to pair down applicants and not interview them because of their race, class, or gender—and sometimes making the excuse for “cultural fit” intentionally screens out marginalized folx because they don’t fit in with the existing identities of the organization.

The truth is: most people hire people that reflect their behaviors and look like themselves. Our brain wants to naturally take the easiest route, which happens to be the people we get along with. The fallacy in this however, teams end up worse off, and breed an environment that is not inclusive in nature.

This can be hard even when you are aware of it. Position descriptions may be excluding diverse groups—and if your hiring team is composed of people with privileged backgrounds, you may not notice your intentionally driving people away from your institution or department.

For example, when a salary or salary range is not included on a job posting, it’s extremely difficult for a prospective employee to know if the job is a good fit for them or will support their life. When a candidate finds out a salary at the end of an interview process, and it’s lower than what they expected, it wastes everyone’s time invested in the hiring process—only to find out that the candidate cannot support their family on the salary offered. If the salary is negotiable, indicate that up front to avoid perpetuating the gender wage gap. Often times women and people of color don’t negotiate on a job posting because they come from an upbringing or culture where negotiation is not a norm.

Diversity and inclusion are multi-faceted issues which higher education needs to continue to address head-on. Committing to goals in recruitment processes increases equitable processes for all including Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, LGBTQ, disabled, veterans and women.

In order to fight back against unconscious bias mentioned before, and get to a place where you have diverse people to help represent your team, here are some specific ideas to help get you started:

  • Take names off applications to have a more “blind” process
  • Don’t require any initial photo submission or video interview
  • Be open to transferable skills, don’t limit candidate to specific amounts of years working or education

Interview in an accessible way, and create effective hiring committees to give different (and fair) perspectives. Bias can sneak in subconsciously, so we need to be dedicated to design processes to discourage it. Not only is it the right thing to do, it benefits our teams, and in the end, it will benefit the campus community.

Creating accessible interviews

You’ve found a great candidate to interview for a position in your department.

Are you designing an interview process to help them to present themselves in the best way possible? If not, folks may be at a disadvantage before they even start to tell their story. Think about how much walking around you plan to do, the rooms you choose, whether you provide the questions written down, bias potential interviewers, and what skills you’re highlighting (or not) throughout the process.

Check to make sure elevators are working in older buildings, and book back-up rooms in case room reservations fall through. It’s even as simple as making sure the heat or air conditioning is functioning properly, something that can throw an entire interview off.

We often try to give a one size fits all approach to interviewing, and we need to make sure we’re creating processes that are universally accessible and explore how the person would actually perform in the given role. Have them give a presentation on a subject they need to teach people on if that makes sense, or have them solve a sample problem if that’s more relevant. Make sure people can feel prepared and supported to showcase themselves to you without any barriers. Then, bring in the right people in to fairly evaluate them.

Acknowledging strengths in the office

Once someone is hired, working to support their strengths is an important place to elevate their work. Make one-on-one time with a new employee to discuss their perceived strengths and how you can support them in their role. Of course, as mentioned, StrengthsFinder is a great tool to delve deep into this, and I’ve found that using a free site like 16personalities.com helps differing personalities understand each other within a team.

The next level to strive for on a team is to continually cultivate the nexus of strengths with passion. This can be where employees find purpose, fulfillment, and joy. This isn’t something that is static either. Interests change, and people should be able to try new things to keep variety in their work, without fear of some sort of repercussion. Allow for people to shadow other people in the organization, create opportunities for collateral assignments or committee work, and generally be open to people’s interests and desires in the workplace.

Identify ways in which people can clearly advance in or outside of the organization if they choose to do so.

In the end, work needs to be something people are interested in, skilled at, and where strengths are leveraged. People should feel supported to bring their best selves to work and unleash their full potential. Reflect on how your team is poised to do their best work in the upcoming year and how you can support greater departmental outcomes in your recruitment processes.

Dustin Ramsdell

About the author: Dustin is a graduate of the Rutgers University College Student Affairs Ed.M Program. He is a proud nerd and self-affirmed "Higher Ed Geek" who is excited to connect with folks who share his love of deep conversations! Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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