Including RAs in the selection process for new staff involves more than having them interview potential candidates. So what can you do to make them feel included and heard?
I realize that every school has their own way of hiring staff. Some use committees, some have people interview by job level and some mix it up. Whatever you do, the more intentional you are in your hiring practices, the more involved and empowered your staff will be. Consider some of the following ideas when planning and managing a search process and including RAs:
Plan the process, don’t let it plan you
Your process has probably been in place for a long time. It has been passed down from person to person, repeated year after year. Or maybe you have been lucky enough to have time to rethink each step and work to make it better. Either way, each step of the selection process should have an intentional goal. This includes everything from the candidates housing and meals to their tour and interviews. For the sake of this article I am just going to concentrate on the RA role, but at some point it would be wise to see if each step of your process reflects the mission of your department and the University.
Have prepared questions and allow staff to ask some of their own
For consistency, every candidate should receive the same questions. This is especially true if there are different RAs interviewing each time. Instead of allowing RAs to come up with their own questions, decide what specific feedback will be helpful to get from the RA staff and then design questions with those goals in mind. Instead of giving the RAs a list of questions to choose from, give them the questions, written out, that you would like them to ask. If you plan to train them prior to their interviews, allow them some time to ask questions they might have that are not on your list, but make sure they understand how to ask good questions (questions based on past behavior, not “what if” questions, etc.) and make sure they know what questions are illegal.
Do a training session on how to interview
Interviewing is more than just asking questions. Spending some time with the RA staff who will be interviewing will be time well spent. We train RA staff to do virtually everything else we ask of them, why would we leave out this important piece? If you are frustrated with the lack of information you get from staff who interview or with the kind of information they give you, your problem could be solved by devoting time to training staff on how to interview.
Some key things to cover in the training:
• What types of questions are illegal?
• Ask them to consider who they are representing. All staff? Students, upper-class staff, etc. Use this to help them think of “big picture” questions and not their own agendas.
• What are the goals of the interview?
• How to read a resume including what to look for and how to ask questions from it
• What are the criteria that they should use to evaluate candidates?
• How to appropriately answer candidates questions about the department and University.
In the Tools of the Trade area of the Resident Assistant page of www.reslife.net, is a two-part article that I have written for RAs about how to interview candidates. This might be a helpful primer for them.
Give them perspective
Let them know exactly how their feedback will be used. There is nothing more frustrating for any of us than to give feedback and not have any idea if or how it will be used. Since we spend so much time working on building trust with our staff, this should extend to our selection process as well.
Include cross-sections and representation
Out of time and necessity sometimes the RAs who are available are the RAs who end up interviewing. However, the more the group represents your actual RA staff, the better. Try to use groups that represent as many RA sub groupings as possible, such as hall staff, apartment staff, new staff, returning staff, men, women, different buildings, minorities, Greeks, etc. These are just some ideas; only you will know best what sub groups are represented within your RA staff. Although this article is only addressing RA staff involvement, also make sure to include other students that interact with professional staff including judicial board, hall government, student workers and just some non-involved, hang out in the hall type of students.
Give them expectations
Just like we spell out expectations for our staff during training and throughout the year, you should do the same for interviewing. Tell them what you expect them to wear, to bring, appropriate behavior, to show up on time, escorting to the next interview, etc.
Include them in the decision as much as possible
If you are not going to, or cannot for political reasons, really consider the input of your RA staff; consider just not including them in the process. While they should not be present during discussions of candidate’s strengths and weaknesses, you should determine how to use their input. Also discuss with them the various aspects that go into making a decision such as references, other interviews, etc. The more they understand the process and their place in the process, the more buy in they will have. You can either have them fill out an evaluation or meet with the decision maker(s) to give their input, or both. No matter how you have them give feedback, make sure you follow up with their concerns. Ask them for more clarification, follow up with the candidate later in the day or in a subsequent phone call and then get back to the RA who raised the concern(s). If you hire someone who a RA or the RAs did not like, discuss the decision to hire and what went into it as much as possible.
Keep them informed
There are different philosophies about whether to tell your staff if you have offered a position or not. Some schools like to wait until they hear an affirmative response; others like to wait until they have a positive response. Whatever your philosophy, share it with your staff and let them know why you have the philosophy you do. Then throughout your process, include them as soon as you know something you are able to share. The sequence of who knows what when can be tricky and political. Be intentional about how and when decisions will be communicated. Does the committee find out first? Do the RDs find out and then tell the RAs? Be clear about your process and then stick to it. Let all those involved with the process know when and how they will be informed. Will it be e-mail? Phone call? Meeting? Perceived slights in information sharing can go a long way into eroding trust among staff.
Done well, the hiring process for new professionals can be an educational and rewarding experience for RA staff. Including them and listening to them will build trust within your department and so hopefully they won’t even have to ask the question, but if they still ask “Why didn’t you listen to us” you will be able to say with confidence, “We did, let me remind you how.”
Submitted by April Herring, Trainer, Group Works