When my supervisor asked if I would chair the search for the Dean of Campus Life position on our Long Island campus, I was thrilled to do so but had a few ideas about how this search was going to operate. First and foremost, this search definitely was not going to look like typical job search processes in our field.
The first question that the search committee asked each on-campus finalist was “What is one thing that the student affairs field does not do well and what would you do to improve it?” If I were to answer this question, I would have said that we are awful at recruitment and hiring processes. Interviews are much too long, boring, and often repetitive.
Furthermore, we are also poor at communicating with candidates in our processes and tend to unnecessarily draw out searches—why would it take 8 months (or longer) to run a search for any position? I decided that NYIT was going to be part of the solution and provide the following framework for us to consider how we might improve the job search experience for employers and candidates.
At the beginning, I reflected on our goals for the search and my brain immediately went to three words that were ultimately our guiding principles throughout the process: innovation, relevance, and fast.
I looked at books and articles that discussed how the corporate world constructs interviews. I chatted with colleagues and peers about creative ideas they had seen in other searches. I thought about what would generate buzz regarding the position and focused on attracting a large, diverse, and talented pool.
Informational Memo: We widely distributed a publication that contained information about the position the day after we received the letter of resignation from the previous dean. We knew that it would take a couple of weeks to get approval to post the position, so we shared information about the role and the institution as a sort of a “Save the Date” to generate discussion about the opportunity. This provided us a couple of weeks to have conversations with interested candidates before the position formally posted. It also allowed us to shorten the timeframe from when we posted the job to when we started the interview process.
Promotional Video: We hired a student to create a commercial to promote the position that generated over 2,000 views! It was a humorous attempt to showcase our division, our values, and our divisional culture. Whenever people talk about why a job didn’t work out, they often mention “fit” as a key reason. We wanted to highlight our culture which focuses on innovation, trying new things, and having fun! Honestly, if you don’t have a good sense of humor (and perhaps a thick skin) this environment might not suit you.
Our goal was for potential applicants to see the video and either say “Uh, no thanks, not for me,” or “Hell yes, I’m applying today!” The video allowed others to see who we really are. As a result, the quality and potential fit of candidates were high. This idea allowed candidates to catch a glimpse of our personalities and to think about if they would want to be a part of our division.
Weighted Rubric Scale: We evaluated each candidate on 13 different areas. Instead of looking at the basic skills and experiences that a candidate should have, the highest weighted category was termed “Evidence of Overall Leadership” which was measured in the following way: “Candidate displays a professional history of innovation and supporting evidence of moving a unit/department forward. Demonstrates creative problem-solving abilities. Higher marks should be given to candidates who demonstrate employing creative methods to solve problems or provide a new service/resource to students/staff to minimize any service gaps.”
This allowed us to consider the candidate as a whole person and evaluate their potential for success, not just check off the professional experiences (or penalize them for the ones they do not yet have) in their career.
Skype Questions: From a deep and talented pool of over 150 applicants, we offered Skype interviews to 17 qualified candidates. We attracted a diverse and talented pool. Over 65% of our Skype interviews were people of color and over 90% had a terminal degree.
It was extremely important to not ask traditional questions to these semi-finalists. After all, how many times can we ask “Tell us a little about yourself and why you are interested in NYIT?” Shouldn’t the cover letter have already told us all of that? We wanted to focus on finding out information that was relevant to assessing the skills and fit of each candidate.
We focused our questions on things that allowed us to understand how they think—of their place in the field, their leadership style, and how they view students. A few of my favorite questions included:
(Opening question) Tell us two things about yourself that we wouldn’t know by looking at your resume about the kind of leader you are.
What are you really, really good at? In other words, what is something that you do better than most people at work?
What is one piece of critical feedback that you have repeatedly been given during your career that you continue to work on?
What is one major contribution you have made to the field of higher education that you are most proud of? (Outside of the job. Can be in association work, writing, presenting, leadership roles, etc.)
These questions allowed us to learn more about the candidate’s experiences and how they view their work. We received overwhelmingly positive feedback that these questions made them reflect and process and the search committee enjoyed the variety of answers shared.
The On-Campus Interview: I was adamant that we were not going to have a candidate sit in a conference room all day in front of ten different groups of stakeholders answering the same questions ten times. Again, we wanted to focus on creating an interview experience that was relevant and applicable to the job they were seeking. A few interesting opportunities each candidate experienced during their on-campus interview at NYIT included:
1) Ted Talk: Each candidate was asked to deliver a 15-20 minute Ted Talk in an area of their own professional expertise. We asked for high-quality visuals and encouraged them to view it as a true presentation and performance. In senior-level leadership roles, strong verbal communication and presentation skills are a must. This dynamic opportunity allowed campus partners to learn more about the experiences and talents of each finalist.
2) Experiential Exercise: Crises situations often arise in Student Affairs and we are asked to craft a strategy and response quickly. Each candidate was given a scenario and an hour to think about and craft a 1-2 page response. We gave them a private office and laptop and they worked on this exercise as a part of their interview day. This helped us to evaluate their critical thinking skills and helped us to understand how they address issues when they are not given much time to make decisions and enact strategies to move forward.
3) Vision presentation: Each candidate was asked to prepare a 10-15 minute vision presentation that shares their goals for the role and what they hope to achieve in the first year. Members of the campus community were invited to ask questions regarding their experiences and ideas for working with students, faculty, and staff at NYIT. By having two presentations as a part of the interview, it allowed for more people to see and assess each candidate throughout the day. We were pleased by the turnout at each session including staff and faculty from general counsel, security, academic deans, and the registrar among others.
Delegation: One key factor in the in the success of this process was having a highly capable search committee. We set clear expectations for prioritizing the work of the search committee, honoring due dates, and checking in frequently. We divided up the work of the committee by creating review teams of 3-4 people to assess each candidate as well as doing the reference checks (prior to the on-campus interviews) within those teams. Each person had the opportunity to host a candidate during their visit, recruit students, staff, and faculty to the different presentations, and assist with the marketing and social media promotion of the job posting. This committee moved swiftly because everyone was committed to maintaining an ethical process that also met all of its deadlines.
Timeline: From posting the job to making the offer, it took us 93 days to complete this process. 150 applications were reviewed and evaluated within three weeks. 17 Skype interviews occurred on 8 different days spanning three weeks. 5 finalists were brought to campus over the course of 12 days. It was extremely important to not have the position sit vacantly. We wanted students to know their Dean and we wanted to have a strong colleague advocating for student success throughout the university. With careful planning and a strict timeline, we were able to move swiftly but thoughtfully.
Assessment: We sent each on-campus finalist a four-question evaluation of their experience at NYIT. We wanted to know if this non-traditional interview format was helpful, stressful, useful (or all of the above) and assess our communication methods with the candidates.
“It was thorough. I believe that after this process the search committee and decision-makers will have good data to make a solid decision. I think it served both me as a candidate and the institution well.”
“The Ted Talk challenged me as an individual to be introspective in what I have to offer to another institution. This exercise moved beyond simply preparing me for an interview by researching an institution. This encouraged me to really focus on the needs of the students and NYIT and showcase where I (as a candidate) may be able to support them.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the concept of having a host for the interview day. This individual was available for questions and made the candidate feel welcomed throughout the process.”
“This was a creative method of interviewing. I enjoyed each and every challenge.
Communication and Transparency:
“NYIT was very transparent and open with the process. They provided information and answers before I even had to ask questions about the process and next steps.”
“The support before and during the interview was great. Communication was clear and consistent.
“All communication was transparent and allowed for questions and feedback.”
While I believe that recruitment and hiring processes are still an area that our field needs to work on, I am pleased with how we were able to manage this process in a way that respected the candidates (and their time) and was innovative, relevant, and fast.
There is nothing more important than recruiting top talent and putting them in positions where they ultimately serve students and support their success. As a field, I challenge us to consider how we can tailor our search processes to 1-attract a qualified, diverse pool of professionals, 2-engage them in a recruitment process that truly evaluates their ability to be successful in the role and 3-allows campus stakeholders multiple opportunities to interact with them throughout their on-campus visit. Each hire we make either enhances or detracts from the student experience. We must choose thoughtfully and wisely.
Are you implementing some creative and innovative strategies for recruitment and hiring? I would love to hear about them!