Merriam-Webster defines hospitality as the “generous and friendly treatment of visitors and guests.” Having led numerous searches and also taken part as a candidate I contend that the concept of hospitality should serve as the core of planning a purposeful on-campus experience. How are we being generous, warm, and friendly towards candidates before, during, and after an on-campus visit? Our work in student affairs is centered on being authentic and hospitable to all students. If we claim to be authentic and purposeful professionals then I believe that we must act, when planning and implementing an on-campus experience, in a way that is consistent with what we say we are about. The people, places, and things that comprise an on-campus experience should be filled with purpose.
Here are my top 5 tips for planning a purposeful on-campus experience.
1. Be authentically you
We have all heard and it is undoubtedly true – a candidate is interviewing us just as much as we are interviewing them. The on-campus interview is a prime opportunity to show a candidate who you are as a department and institution. All of the details of the on-campus experience communicate to a candidate what you believe and value, what you think is important and how you approach the work philosophically. Don’t attempt to be something that you feel you should be – candidates will see through the ruse.
This tip may seem intuitive but from experience, unfortunately, it is not. Communication is hugely critical to a purposeful on-campus experience. Be sure to communicate with the candidate before, during, and most importantly after the visit. Prior to arrival clearly and in a timely way communicate the schedule of the day, important logistics, and readings that will reveal to the candidate what your department is focused on and what you value. Having information as a candidate helps to give purpose to the interview and alleviates stress. Also, be mindful of tone and what is said to a candidate. Understandably, candidates hang on every word, and it is important to avoid saying things like “when you are in this role” or “I can see you in this role” during the on-campus interview. Being neutral (but still warm) is most effective.
Another key component to communication is the wrap up. Take time at the end of the day to process the experience, allow for final questions, ask the candidate questions that may have come up throughout the day, and explain next steps. Be transparent with the candidate about timeline, where you are at in the process, who the decision maker will be, and from whom the candidate can expect to hear. As a candidate it is extremely difficult not hearing ANYTHING from an institution after an on-campus interview. Even contacting the candidate to share that the process is ongoing is more helpful than no communication at all. Don’t tarnish a positive experience for a candidate by not following up after the process, even if they are not the selected candidate.
3. Carefully choose who interviews the candidate and prepare them
I once visited a campus as a candidate and saw on my schedule that I was meeting with “the department.” I was excited to meet and converse with future colleagues until I was brought into the conference room and saw twenty people around the table waiting for me. Unfortunately the interview felt more like a rapid-fire game where the interviewers were playing “gotcha”, waiting for me to mess up. There were simply too many people around the table for me to feel welcomed or comfortable. For the sake of the candidate limit the number of interviewers to five or six. Choose interviewers based on with whom the candidate will have regular contact or with whom they will collaborate regularly, and have interviewers share this connection as they introduce themselves. Choose interviewers who can be authentically honest about their experiences. Provide them with the job description including required and preferred qualifications and/or skills. Definitely provide the interviewers with questions and clarity about the logistics (time and location of interview, who will be hosting the candidate, and to whom and how to give feedback).
4. Involve students
Students are at the center of our work and it is imperative to include them in the process. Choose with purpose (broad experiences, various roles, different social identities, a positive attitude) so the candidate receives a broad exposure to your students. Give the students guidance. Be sure to review appropriate questions and provide them with a list of questions (ranging from the candidate’s favorite book to their leadership style) from which interviewers can choose.
5. Respect candidates
All candidates are our guests and we should plan and execute details through that lens. Where the candidate stays (if an overnight is required) dines are both important details that send messages to a candidate. Find a host who has knowledge of your department and who will be hospitable to and engaging with the candidate. Give the candidate a tour of campus and don’t forget to provide enough time in each interview for the candidate to ask questions.
A quick note about presentations. I have had many conversations with colleagues about candidates doing a presentation during their on-campus interview. My thinking is that a presentation is only necessary if the position requires regular presenting (a training position, for example). Presentations cause tremendous anxiety for candidates and they are already anxious enough! Does a presentation truly offer you insight not gatherable from all of the interviews and interactions during a day-long experience?
Give your on-campus experience purpose by replicating what it would be like for a candidate to be at your institution. Mimic the people (interviewers, students, host), places (accommodations, dining, tour) and things (communication, authenticity) so that a candidate can envision what it would be like to be a part of your team. Building community is what we do in student affairs and creating a purposeful and hospitable on-campus experience is the perfect opportunity to illustrate that expertise.
This post is part of our #SArecruits series, which will share experiences from a variety of #SApros who have hired new employees. We hope that these stories will give great insight for both professionals looking to improve their hiring tactics, and also those on the job search looking for an inside perspective. For more information, please see Bill Mattera’s intro post. Be sure to check out other posts in this series!