I admit it. I am a frustrated job seeker. I am a viable candidate for positions within residence life and other areas of student affairs except that I suspect my underlying disappointment with the search process has bubbled to the surface a few too many times. “Why?” you might ask. “Why is the author discouraged by what she has seen in the past few months?” Allow me to provide some pointers to anyone with responsibility for coordinating a search process and to share some of what I have experienced as a candidate:
Please confirm that you have received my application. Send a letter, send an e-mail, send a camel, I don’t care how, but let me know that you have my application in hand. Yes, this is time consuming, but, frankly, it’s the polite thing to do. Yes, I can contact you myself but likely I am employed full time, searching for a job, and trying to have a life while it’s part of your job to organize a selection process. Additionally, you will build a good impression with your candidates that you are organized and professional in this area, likely this is the case in other areas.
If my application is incomplete, let me know. I know what you are thinking: if the applicant can’t submit a proper and complete application, who wants her? Guess what? You might! You might be surprised to learn that not all job postings are created equal. On more than one occasion, I have found postings for the same position to include different information. This is more likely to happen when you and Human Resources split up where the position is posted. Ask yourself: do you want a good pool of candidates? If so, make a bit of effort to insure you don’t eliminate candidates for purely administrative reasons.
Provide candidates, particularly those who interview on campus, with a job description. I was provided with a complete position description for only two of eight campus interviews. A great deal of information is on-line and many position postings are quite lengthy. Unfortunately, most were not official position descriptions, blatantly omitting key information. In addition to helping your candidate prepare for the interview, a position description is considered a legal contract. It is as much to the benefit of the employer as it is to the candidate to be informed of expectations in advance. Plus you’ll look pretty dumb if asked for a position description and you don’t have one readily available.
Be up-front about interview arrangements and expenses. More often than not, I had to ask about expenses for the interviews as well as details about who would participate in the interview. I know that funds are tight everywhere, but to put the burden on me seemed, at times, like a way to save money. I had to wonder if the offer to reimburse would have been made had I not asked. To be honest, if I have to pay for travel and housing, that may be a factor in whether I accept the interview offer. I was also skeptical of situations where I was provided with little information about the interview schedule. It should be easy for me to obtain information about who I will meet, or at least the departments/constituents to be represented.
Talk with me about salary and related issues early on. No one wants to waste the time for the candidate and interviewers when the remuneration will not be acceptable. You might lose a candidate or two, but better that you don’t waste your time.
If your approach does not include sharing salary information before the interview, do share it during the interview. Give the candidate some time with Human Resources to ask questions about benefits and other matters. It will not hurt your chances with the candidate if you provide information. Withholding information or making the candidate do the work by calling Human Resources has the potential to disenchant your candidates.
Be flexible, rather than standing on rigid structure. I was offered a campus interview that would have involved a six-hour one-way drive for only one hour of interview time with a search committee. I pointed out that I would have to leave my home at 6 am because of the times they had available for me and would not return home until 7 pm. I asked if a telephone interview was possible and was told no. I was also informed that no travel reimbursement or housing would be provided (this, during the summer for a residence life position). Had I wanted to split up my travel between two days, I would have to bear the hotel expense in a metropolitan area. It is likely that this employer has routinely hired local candidates and has not previously encountered the issues I presented. However, their inflexibility painted the outlines of a picture that I did not care for. I declined the interview and, as may be obvious, was left with a less than positive impression of the institution.
In a similar vein, after a very good telephone interview experience, an employer offered me a choice of three consecutive interview dates. I described that a previously scheduled interview and the distance between them would make it impossible for me to interview on any of the noted dates. I was told that these were the only dates the search committee was available and that they would move to other candidates. I later received a letter noting that the search was not successful and they plan to re-open in the spring. Go figure.
If you delegate tasks related to campus interview communication to someone else, make sure that this person knows as much as possible about the process. I had some unfortunate interactions with support staff that obviously had not previously arranged interviews. Their lack of preparation was staggering. Everything from whether housing would be available, to the structure of the interview schedule, to whether a parking permit would be necessary. By all means, delegate the details to someone else, but be sure they have the necessary information.
Provide the candidate with a printed interview schedule, including the names and titles of everyone present. It is awkward for a candidate to handle multiple introductions, make eye contact, shake hands and get proper spelling, titles, and other information. Simplify this for me, rather than presenting yet another barrier to an inviting climate. I’m a little stressed by the interview so anything you can do to make me feel welcome will enhance my opinion of you, other staff and the institution.
Okay, here’s a tough one. Let me know when you fill the position. Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? Except that I have been “notified” that positions have been filled simply by looking at websites. I don’t quite understand how employers overlook this in this age of technology. If I learn of the vacancy from your website, chances are quite good that I will check that site periodically. While I could assume that this means the position is filled, for some employers it means there are interviews in progress, which, as we know, does not mean those interviews will be successful. Send me something (maybe another camel) to let me know that the position is no longer vacant.
A corollary to the last comment: if I travel to your campus for an interview (no matter how long an interview) please have the common decency to personally notify me of the outcome. Two of seven potential employers lacked the ability to pick up the phone and tell me that a different candidate was selected; they sent letters. I’m a grown up, for goodness sake! When I spoke to one Human Resources director about this, I was told that sometimes the conversations were unpleasant because the unsuccessful candidates became upset. Let me remind you that this is a telephone call, not a face to face meeting where the candidate could potentially leap over a desk. If a candidate is going to be upset with a phone call, won’t that person be as upset (or more) when they get a form letter? And isn’t this your job? In fifteen years of hiring and calling unsuccessful candidates, not one reacted negatively when I informed them we were not extending an offer. Pick up the phone and spend ten minutes with me. I’ll respect you as a colleague, which could lead me to speak highly of your process to others. Which leads me to…
Provide the unsuccessful campus interview candidate with some feedback. The candidate spent their time in the interview and traveled to your campus. Most likely, s/he spent quite a bit of time researching and preparing for the interview. While you and others are investing time, the candidate is not getting paid for this and is probably taking vacation time to participate in the interview process. So please, when you call me to tell me you’ve hired someone else, toss me a bone and tell me what I did well. If you have the courage, point out where I could have improved or where there were significant differences in philosophy. I want to improve my chances at a job. Perhaps not with you, but you can help me adjust what I am doing.
Now that I’ve provided a litany of complaints and suggestions, let me tell you that I have interacted with a number of employers this summer who practice all of the suggested actions…and more. Most employers are courteous and professional, and are interested in sharing information about their organization and position. They are respectful of candidates’ time and effort, welcoming, upbeat, candid and realistic about what they have to offer the candidate. . I met and/or spoke with countless people who, regardless of the search outcome, treated me well and made me feel good about their program and institution. The best search processes are those where the employer recognizes that the hiring process is two-sided and both want to end it on a positive note.
Submitted by an anonymous housing professional involved in a job search