Hiring student staff can be one of the most rewarding experiences for student affairs professionals.
It also can be stressful and time-consuming. I’ve been hiring students for over a decade and know firsthand how impactful this process can be for both students and professional staff.
So, here are a few factors to consider when hiring new student staff members — before, during, and after the selection process:
Before Your Search
You need to consider hidden biases. Acknowledge that everyone holds biases and that by understanding, confronting, and challenging our current beliefs, it’s possible to work past these biases to build more diverse, inclusive, and supportive teams.
Accepting our personal biases, building resources to learn from, paying attention to how biases could present themselves (and when), and reducing outside influences are just a few suggestions outlined by inclusion strategist Ruchika Tulshyan.
“It’s not only the organization that benefits, we personally have a lot to gain by working with people from all different backgrounds.” – Ruchika Tulshyan, author of The Diversity Advantage: Fixing Gender Inequality In The Workplace
Job postings should accurately depict the work and responsibilities expected of the student. Having an accurate posting will allow students to make more informed decisions about the position and ensure they understand the scope and time commitment of the work, in addition to anticipating any evaluation metrics.
Closely examine any unnecessary barriers that may have been created. These barriers could include access to technology, required job materials, or even the hiring timeline or interview schedule not being congruent with student schedules. Consider removing ableist language and requirements (such as physical stipulations that may not actually be necessary for the role), as well as requirements related to education or experience.
And are there financial burdens associated with the job or hiring process — such as requiring professional clothing that students may not own or required travel when students may not have access to a personal vehicle or public transportation? If so, how could those burdens be reduced or eliminated completely?
Plan ahead! Incorporating equitable practices in hiring is critical to hiring the best team possible. Viewing the process through an inclusive lens will take time but it’s absolutely worth it.
Time to Interview
Although students often bring tremendous energy and fresh perspectives to the work, they may not have previous experience writing a resume, completing job applications, or interviewing.
Not all students will have a mentor helping them navigate the process, but that shouldn’t stop a good candidate from getting a chance at the job.
Student affairs professionals know there is learning to be gained from every experience. So, closely examine each applicant’s current skills and knowledge sets, focusing on how the position you’re hiring for could build upon those. Frame the interview process in a way that allows students to showcase their strengths even with little or no prior experience.
Be transparent and communicative with your students, letting them know where they stand in the process. Consider providing resources to all applicants, including informational sessions about the job and how interviews will be conducted, including a few of the questions that will be asked. You can also share mock interview practices and online resources.
Perhaps your career center could host events that are advertised through your department. While not everyone will take advantage of these offerings, the students who do will likely appreciate it a lot.
Interview questions should reflect the expected work and your departmental values. There are many resources available online to help you formulate questions. You could also collaborate with your career center to formulate appropriate interview questions.
They’re hired! Now what?
The hiring process should continue well past the interviews. Training, on-going communication, and feedback are all vital to success in the job. Students are a valuable employee group needing flexibility and on-the-job training experience.
Schedules change throughout the year, and students have to balance their work with both their course load and high-pressure times of the year, like midterms and finals. Maintaining open lines of communication and addressing concerns in job performance early is key. Supervisors should be supportive of student needs, as well as realistic with their expectations and workload.
Some students may come into the job with plenty of experience, while others may have very limited experience prior to their start date. Orientation and training should adequately prepare students for the road ahead. Support students through a training program that gets to the heart of the work and aims to set them up for success.
Consider just-in-time and just-in-case training methods — what information will students learn on-the-job and in-the-moment vs. what information should students learn now because it will likely come up at some point.
Follow-up is incredibly important. Students who aren’t hired may understandably want to know why. Providing an opportunity for them to discuss their interview performance will ensure that the hiring committee indeed had justified reasons for not hiring a student, while also providing students with feedback that will increase their self-awareness and growth.
Staff could even take this opportunity to direct students to other offices or external employers that may be a better fit for the student’s skills. If giving feedback to someone you didn’t hire isn’t your cup of tea, do your research and come prepared for the conversation.
Hiring season is one of my favorite times of the year. Meeting students and spending countless hours with colleagues interviewing, reviewing applicants, and putting together our future teams is so exciting! Taking the time to be intentional, inclusive, and provide support throughout the process will set up our students (and professional staff) for success down the road.
What lessons have you learned through the student staff hiring process? We’d love to hear about your experiences. Connect with us on Twitter at @HelloPresence.