In housing and residence life we spend many hours of our time hiring staff. Most of us however were never trained in fair and legal hiring practices. For some professionals the human resources department at your college or university does a majority of the work, for others it is left up to you. Whatever your level of involvement is, chances are you have some part in hiring staff. The following guidelines should help you to make sure your hiring practices are equitable and legal.
** In this article I will focus on undergraduate staff selection, however many of these principles apply to other positions as well.
** This is not legal advice and I have no law background. This information is based on Human Resources information compiled while doing a conference presentation.
Hire based on skill, not personality. Every job should have a job description that accurately reflects the expectations of a person who holds that position. In hiring you should attempt to hire those individuals who have the greatest potential for meeting those expectations.
Do a job analysis. Using your job description, make a list of the knowledge, skills and abilities a person in this position would need to have in order to be successful. Using this list you should design a search process that attempts to accurately measure which candidates possess this knowledge and these skills and abilities before training. These are the candidates who would be most qualified for the job.
Design the various parts of your process to measure who is most qualified. Each part of your selection process should be used to measure a candidate’s knowledge, skills or abilities in regards to the position. You should not have anything in your process that you do not use. You should also work to determine if the way you are trying to measure a certain skill is the most effective way of measuring it (see group process for further example).
The various parts of the process usually include some or all of the following: Application, group process, individual interview and references.
Many schools use essay questions on their applications. You should only do this if you are rating these questions and using an anchored rating system. For example if you ask a question such as “What is an ideal community?” you need to know what knowledge skill or ability you are trying to measure. Let’s say you are trying to ascertain their knowledge about what a community is. How do you decide what a good essay is? You need to determine what an ideal answer will include and create an anchored rating scale.
For example if you (the selection committee) determine that the best answer would include identifying that an ideal community has a common identity, activities and community member involvement and ownership, then maybe you would create the following rating scale.
0 – did not answer the question
1 – common identity
2- common identity, common activities
3 – common identity, activities and community member involvement and ownership
The key is that each essay needs to be evaluated and needs to be evaluated using the same scale.
If you are trying to measure writing skills then evaluate them based on those criteria. If writing is a very small part of the RA job then this part of the process should be a very small part of the application. Ask yourself what you are really looking for and if it is really a necessary part of the job. If you do not use the essay or you do not evaluate them on a rated scale, you should not use it.
Many selection processes rely on a group process. Usually the aim of such experiences is to see how students interact within a group. In terms of appropriate assessment this tool is not very reliable or valid. If the goal is to accurately assess a person’s performance and role within the context of a group, the best way to measure that would be to ask for feedback from someone who has observed them in such a role. A much better assessment of group skills could be obtained from a coach, a teacher in a class with extensive groups, an advisor or a previous employer. Developing a reference sheet that asks the types of skills you are trying to measure in the group process will give you much better insight into a candidates actual skills in this area. Group process more accurately measures their level of extroversion and/or their acting skills on a given day with a given group. It cannot and does not measure the types of skills necessary in a RA role.
What you will measure in a group process is a person’s ability to work in a group where they know no one, there is no designated leader and are trying to accomplish an artificial goal. This is not a skill they need in their job. If you stretched it you could say that applies to their first floor meeting or their first staff meeting, but even those in no way mirror what the group process actually sets up. Usually you are measuring whether the evaluators like a person within the context of a group that is different for every candidate.
All questions asked in the interviews should have the purpose of measuring knowledge, skill or ability the candidate needs for the job as determined by your job analysis. Every candidate should be asked the same questions and those questions should be rated on the same scale by everyone who interviews. While follow up questions may vary, you should ensure that every candidate has an equal ability to demonstrate their qualifications for the position. Just as with the application essay, each question needs to have an anchored rating scale to insure inter-rater reliability. Here is an example of what that might look like:
1. Tell us about a time that you had to include someone in your group who you really did not want in your group? What did you learn from the experience?
0 – Could not identify time they did not want to work with someone
1 – Identified an experience but had not processed it
2 – Identified an experience, identified why they didn’t want to include them
3 – Identified an experience, could see value in other person – use of empathy
4 – Identified an experience, understood their role and responsibility in group, learned how other person might have felt, able to get past own issues for the good of the group
This is a good opportunity to gain information that is hard to obtain in an interview. Choose what type of reference and what questions you will ask based on what your process is unable to determine regarding what knowledge, skills and abilities a candidate will need. The candidate’s ability to work in a group and their past job performance are two valuable possibilities. Also make sure you ask references applicable questions. If doing complete work, writing skills, being on time or other specific skills are needed then asking a faculty member to comment on those skills is appropriate. Asking a faculty member to comment on a student’s emotional stability or maturity may not be appropriate unless that faculty member has a close relationship with a student.
Other important items
Oftentimes members of the Division of Student Affairs or current staff are asked to comment on candidates. If you are considering that information in the hiring process, a candidate must be given a chance to respond to that information. If a particular RA has found that candidate to be rude, ask the RA for an example and tell the RA you will be asking the candidate about that situation. If the RA is unwilling to let you ask the person about it, it is not appropriate to consider the information. It is unfair to take a one sided perspective and not allow the candidate to give their perspective. Otherwise you are assuming you have all the information and it is accurate and may be making a hiring decision based on only one persons opinion. Or, perhaps the person was rude but can identify that and talk about what they learned about themselves and what they would do differently. A person who has insight and can learn from their mistakes might be exactly the type of person you want on staff.
The same rule would apply for judicial history. Set a minimum standard for hiring i.e.: no one currently on probation can be a staff member and then for those that apply whom do not fit into that category, discuss their judicial history with them. If we claim our process is educational, why not believe ourselves if the person can demonstrate they learned from it.
Any staff who are involved with the selection process need to have training. Even those who should “know how to do it” should be required to go to an orientation session. In this session have a sample candidate answer a question and have each person rate his or her answer according to your scale. Discuss the score and similarities and differences. Also go over how to ask questions, teach them how to use your process and make sure they know what an illegal question is.
Once you have scores for the candidates, rank candidates according to scores. If you have done the steps above your best candidates should have the best scores. Follow these scores. If someone has a 40 and someone else has a 35, the person who has the 40 should be hired. She or he is the candidate who has the most knowledge, skills and abilities that this job requires. Yes, you can train the person with the lower score, but you should be hiring the person with the higher score.
Submitted by April Herring, Associate Director of Community Development, La Salle University