Part 2 of a 2 Part Series
Often times in RA culture there are stories, traditions and myths handed down from RA generation to RA generation. You may even have your own thoughts, feelings and experiences that reconfirm these myths. Whether you have them or not, there are few myths that need to be de-bunked before you head into any professional staff interview process:
Myth #1 – They don’t listen to our opinion anyway
RA staff members are just one part of a decision process. There are usually a number of people who have input in hiring decisions. This can include anyone as high up as the president of the University and continuing down the organizational chart, depending on the institution. When staff members raise significant issues or concerns these concerns are most likely at least explored in reference calls or even second interviews. Another thing to consider is that RA staff input may have a different weight than others involved in the decision. Remember that there can be a lot of people who want to have input into hiring decisions. If the president really likes a candidate that an RA does not, there may be times where his/her opinion carries more weight.
You also don’t necessarily know who gets to make the final decision. It could be one person, a committee or a small group of people. It could even be that one person appears to be making the decision but is actually told what to do by someone else. As you can see it can be a rather complex process!
Myth #2 – They didn’t offer the job to the person I liked
Many times schools will have a number of candidates come on campus for a position. They may offer the position to someone and that person then turns the job down. Often, no one will know about those offers so that when someone is hired neither they nor those that will work with the person who is hired will feel like he/she was “second best”.
Myth #3 – I know everything there is to know about this candidate
Your interview with the candidate is not the only one that will take place. There has probably been another interview before that person even came to campus. This interview occurred either on the phone or at a conference. During the candidate’s day they will interview with a wide variety of people. Then there will also be reference calls made. All of that information is used to paint a picture of who this person is, what they bring to the job and how they will fit with your institution and its mission.
Myth #4 – They had already decided before the person came
A selection process is expensive. After the position is advertised, often there are interviews at a conference, phone interviews and finally campus visits. To bring someone to campus takes resources including housing, lodging and travel and it also takes a lot of time out of everyone’s schedule. Most schools do not offer jobs to anyone before they have come to campus. This campus visit is a very important opportunity for both the candidate and the school to see if this is a good fit. If they already knew who they would hire, they would not take the time and energy to bring the candidate to campus.
Myth #5 – They are looking for a __________(minority, programmer, woman, man, gay person, etc).
Sometimes hires are made on the basis of gender if they are hiring for an all male or all female hall. If this is the case then the position is advertised as such. Overall however schools want to get the best possible person for the job and that can include a large number of characteristics.
Myth #6 – I must tell the candidate the negative things about the position and/or institution to “prepare them”
During the interview the candidate will ask you questions about the school and about your department. Every student and every employee has things that frustrate them. Maybe you wish training were different or that maintenance had their act together, the list could probably go on and on. A good candidate knows that every school has their challenges and should even ask you what those are. How you choose to respond to their questions will tell the candidate more about you and potentially the RA staff then it will tell them about the University. If you complain about everything and do not present a balanced approach the candidate is most likely to view the RAs as a negative group, not view the school as problematic. Be honest with a candidate about the struggles, but make sure you balance those with positives. Candidates are looking to work with an RA staff that can see the big picture and do not spend all their time complaining.
Myth #7 – I have to hire someone who has RA experience
We often think that in order to supervise someone well you must have done the job yourself. You most likely have not had experience with every problem your residents come to you with, yet you are probably able to help them with their problems and do so very well. This same principle applies to candidates. If they went to college and lived in a residence hall they will bring enough of an understanding to do the job. They may require a little longer than someone with RA experience to understand and learn some things, but if you give them a chance, they will surprise you. One important thing to remember is however; with this type of candidate you will not be able to ask them about their RA experiences in the interview. Instead you should focus on other jobs they have had and any student leadership experience they have had.
Myth #8 – This person should be someone fun to hang out with
As much as you want your supervisor to be fun, it is not the main quality that makes a good supervisor. You can probably think of some RAs that are really fun, but when it comes right down to it, they don’t do their job. The ability to relax and have fun is an important quality in a person, but your supervisor’s job is to help you be the best RA you can be and contribute to the residential life program and mission of the college. Identifying what makes a good supervisor and then looking for those qualities, in balance, is what is most important.
Myth #9 – This person should be physically attractive
This might seem trivial to mention, but I have heard many an RA commenting on candidates looks right after they come out of an interview. Imagine if RAs were hired based on looks. You can probably think of some good-looking students who wouldn’t make good RAs.
Myth #10 – If a candidate turns the job down, there must be something wrong with our institution
Sometimes you may hear about a candidate or candidate(s) turning down a position. If it was someone you really liked it can be hard not to take it personally. If there are a number of candidates who turn down the position often staff jump to the conclusion that there is something wrong with the job, the residence life program or the institution. People doing job searches in Student Affairs tend to cast a wide net. Especially at the resident director or area coordinator level, they are still somewhat new to the field so they are looking at a wide variety of schools and regions. You never know how many schools they are looking at, what personal factors might come into play (significant other, family, etc) or what the best job fit is for them.
Myth #11 – I should hire someone like/not like/ my last supervisor
Whether you liked your last supervisor or not, you will probably enter into a job search thinking about them and use that when evaluating future candidates. While this is human nature, don’t get into the trap that whatever characteristic you did or did not like about a supervisor needs to be the same or different in your next supervisor. Just as RAs have different styles yet can still be effective, the same is true of supervisors. Having a different style than your last supervisor will actually be good for you. As you enter the work place the more practice you have adapting to and working with new supervisors, the better you will be at your job.
Myth #12 – I must tell the staff all the negative things about the person who gets the job to prepare them
Sometimes someone you did not like in the interview ends up getting the job. When this happens you may feel the need to tell others that you didn’t like the person. This can be done for many reasons including pretending to be altruistically looking out for other RAs or being mad that the person was selected. Whatever the motivation, resist the urge. See Myths 1 -3 to understand why.
Submitted by April Herring, Group Works