Part 1 of a 2 Part Series
If your school is typical of most, then one of the supervisory staff is leaving next year and it is time to begin interviewing new candidates.
Every school does professional staff selection a little differently. Some have a committee who does all of the interviews. Some have staff groups interview by position (i.e.: all the RDS interview the candidate, a group of RAs. etc), some have interview groups mixed by position and some do a combination of the above things. In most cases – RAs are involved in the interview process in some way.
As you begin to form questions in your mind and talk to your fellow staff members about the qualities you want in a new supervisor, here are some things to keep in mind as you participate in a search process for a new professional staff member in your department:
Before the interview:
1. Find out if you will be given specific questions to ask. If you are given questions, ask if there will be time for you to ask any of your own. Some schools will give you questions to ask, others will leave it up to you to come up with questions.
If you are required to come up with questions, here are a few things to think about:
•Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. Ask questions about what they have done in the past. A “what if” question regarding what they might do in the future does not tell you anything except their ability to be creative. For example, if you want to know how they would handle staff disagreements ask them a question such as “Can you tell me about a time where you had co-workers who disagreed and how you handled it?” This will tell you a lot more than “What would you do if two RAs disagreed?”
•Do not ask questions that really have a hidden meaning.
•Do not ask questions that a candidate cannot honestly answer. Questions about what they would change at your institution, or questions about their impressions of other people who work at the institution are not appropriate. Also asking them about “how they would handle” a situation that potentially puts the RA staff in opposition to the residence life professional staff, are a no win situation for everyone involved.
2. It is important to find out who else is interviewing with you. Once you know who else is interviewing, you can get a perspective on what levels of staff are represented. Then ask your staff and others what types of things they would like to know about the candidate. Use this information, as well as your own interests and experiences, to think of questions.
3. You should get a copy of the candidates resume. Look over the resume to find out what experiences they have. A good way to start an interview is to talk a little about something you find interesting on their resume. You don’t have to dive right into job related questions, but you can ask them about an undergraduate experience, why they choose the school they did, extra-curricular clubs, etc.
4. Be careful not to ask them any illegal questions. If you are in doubt about what those would be, ask residence life to share those with you.
During the interview:
1. Get to the interview early if possible. This will allow you some time to review their resume and your questions.
2. If there are others interviewing with you, try to touch base with them during this time and decide who will go first, who will ask what question and any other logistical concerns.
3. Pay attention to time – the interview time slot should allow time for you to ask questions of the candidate and for the candidate to ask questions of you. A good candidate will want to get the RAs perspective on things and should come to the interview with questions for you. Make sure you keep an eye on the clock and give the candidate at least 10 minutes to ask you questions.
•Most often candidates will ask you about your experience as an RA and as a student at your institution. It is not appropriate to bad mouth anyone at your institution; this includes the person they might be replacing and the person that will supervise them. This also includes putting down other departments. If residence life has a difficult relationship with another department you can certainly mention the challenges of that relationship, but anything too negative is not appropriate. Professional staff interviewing with the candidate will best be able to represent the challenges the residence life department faces on campus.
Evaluating the candidate:
1. You should note how they speak about their previous institution. A candidate who puts down their previous institution extensively should concern you. Student Affairs is a small field and “airing the dirty laundry” of one school to another is not appropriate. It lacks professionalism and may indicate a negative attitude, which may follow the candidate to this job as well. Any good professional knows how to see the big picture, when to talk about it and with whom to talk about it. The interview is not the time.
2. You should also be concerned if they try to be too chummy with you and/or “take your side” on issues. They don’t know enough about a situation to take sides. While it might seem fun that they act like “one of us”, in the long run this is not a supervisor who will be helpful to you as a supervisor or to the institution.
3. Finally, notice how they treat you and others. Are they polite to the people who they think “matter” in making the decision? Even more importantly are they courteous and attentive to other people too, such as secretaries, custodial staff you pass, other students they meet, or anyone else you pass as you are walking them somewhere, at a meal or any other chance encounters.
After the interview:
1. When you fill out the evaluation of the candidate use specifics. Just circling numbers on an evaluation sheet is not helpful. Explain your scores using specific quotes or examples from the interview.
2. If you have to walk them to their next interview, point out things along the way or ask them questions about their stay, such as how long will you be here, will you have a chance to see anything in the area, etc. Do not continue the interview on the walk; they need a break from being on stage.
3. Other staff will want to know what the candidate was like. Make sure you only talk about your perspective (i.e.: Instead of saying “everyone thought he was great!” Tell them that you thought he was great and why). If you did not like a particular candidate, you can be honest, but be sure to present a balanced viewpoint. It may be that you just didn’t click with him/her. If you badmouth someone and then they end up working there it can start both the candidate and the staff off on a bad foot.
4. You can ask professional staff about the process, but do not bug them. Also, understand that they may not always be able to share everything that is going on.
5. Don’t talk about how the person looks. How a person looks is irrelevant to if they will do a good job or not, and discussing looks is unprofessional and inappropriate. How would you feel if after your RA interview all the RDs had talked about if you were cute or not?
You’ll all be looking for a job some day. You can learn a great deal about interviewing by participating in a search process and evaluating a candidate for a position on your campus. So go ahead… the next time you have the chance to participate, make this contribution to your department.
Submitted by April Herring, Group Works