A guiding principle of the student affairs profession is to “meet students where they are.” This entails recognizing and appreciating students as individuals with unique developmental needs, abilities, and timelines. Push someone too hard, too fast and they will likely shut down. Underestimate a student’s developmental abilities and they may fail to reach their full potential. We know this and do it well. It is the hallmark of the service we provide to our students and institutions.
Why then, do we sometimes struggle to do this for each other? And why so rarely in a job search situation?
We put together search committees of five to six full-time professionals to hire entry-level academic advisers and residence hall directors, but Assistant Directors, Directors, and Deans often meet with one or two people and are sometimes even appointed without an interview. This seems counter-intuitive given the depth and breadth of the knowledge, skills, and experience required for such positions. Is asking a (usually) young, new professional to buy a suit, prepare multiple Prezi presentations, and endure 48 hours of interviews with everyone from students all the way up to Deans and Vice-Presidents really necessary?
Yes, I know we have always done it this way. But why? Have we ever stopped to ask ourselves how a candidate’s developmental needs are being seen and honored in such a process? This type of interview feels more like hazing than a developmental exercise designed to discover “fit.”
Some individuals and institutions do the on-campus interview well. I am lucky and grateful to have been on the receiving end of such a process. The absolute best candidate interview experience I have had was for my current job. I wasn’t actually searching when I found my current position. I happened to be looking at the University’s website for something else and saw the position post. I called the woman, now my supervisor, to ask questions about the position. She answered all of them. All of them. She was, and continues to be, honest, upfront, and professional. Based on what she told me about the position and the college, I decided to apply.
There was no phone interview. I was invited for an on-campus interview. The interview was three hours total. I met with the search committee which consisted of three people: my potential supervisor (who chaired the committee and why wouldn’t you?), the Undergraduate Programs Director, and a potential co-worker. Then, I spent some time with the Associate Dean (my supervisor’s supervisor), and then ended the morning with a conversation with two of my potential co-workers. That’s it.
As an introvert, I usually leave interview situations ready for a nap. I distinctly remember that day feeling like I could run a 10K afterwards. I wasn’t thrown to the wolves or put through the ringer. I have experienced situations where interviewers (who are supposed to be colleagues) were intentionally trying to bait me or put me on the spot. One time, it was so awkward that two members of the search committee apologized to me afterwards. Not this time. I was asked legitimate, professional questions throughout the morning.
I was respected. I was met where I was: qualified (maybe over-qualified), with years of experience, but applying for a position in a different academic discipline. The process I experienced also reflected where the college and office were as well. They needed someone who could handle the student load, who didn’t need to be taught the inner workings of a small college within a larger system, and they needed someone with the confidence and skills to jump in and get started quickly. I was treated the way all candidates should be: as someone who brings worth and value to the table.
About ten days after the interview, my supervisor called to tell me that the update was there was no update. She said, “I promised I would let you know what was happening and right now, nothing is happening.” Whoa. That was the first time I ever got a phone call from anyone giving a personal update about my candidacy in a search process. I remember being absolutely stunned that she took the time to call even though there was no update to my candidacy. Her taking the time to call me showed me that she valued my time and appreciated how hard it is to wait in limbo. How often do we think about the candidate’s experience of waiting? I was part of a failed search once; the department secretary who was not on the search committee sent me a letter saying that they “were going in a different direction.” I had to call the search committee chair for clarification. Huh?
Twenty-six days after my interview I was offered the job and started my position eighteen days after that. The whole interview process took less than two months.
I have been in my current position for three years. Since I started, we have hired two other staff and those searches were run the exact same way mine was. Both times, we got our top choice candidates. I think that part of it is because our process was honest, quick, and transparent. Our process reflected the needs of our office and demonstrated how team members would be treated should they join the staff- like the professionals they are.
This post is part of the month long series #SACandidEx, a series looking to highlight stories of the on-campus interview: the good and the bad. We will feature posts from various points of view to better understand what we can learn from in this important process in a SA pro’s career. Check out the intro post written by Monica Fochtman for more information. If you are interested in contributing to this series, please email Monica at firstname.lastname@example.org or find her on twitter @monicamfochtman.