A Handbook for Staffing Practices in Student Affairs

"An excellent student affairs staffing program begins with hiring the right people and placing them in positions with responsibilities that allow them to maximize their skills, knowledge, and talents in the pursuit of student affairs purposes . . . The first commandment for student affairs administrators, therefore, is to hire the right people. The second commandment is to do it the right way."

Winston & Creamer, 1997, p. 123



Rationale for Recruitment and Selection Policy

Higher education is a human resource intensive enterprise. It is not surprising, then, that recruitment and selection of staff should be a very high priority in most if not all units and divisions of student affairs. Recruitment and selection should include procedures directed to analyze the need and purpose of a position, the culture of the institution, and ultimately to select and hire the person that best fits the position. Recruitment and selection policy should, then, be directed toward the following objectives:

  • Hire the right person. Conduct a wide and extensive search of the potential position candidates. Recruit staff members who are compatible with the college or university environment and culture. Hire individuals by using a model that focuses on student learning and education of the whole person.

  • Place individuals in positions with responsibilities that will enhance their personal development.


Recruitment and Selection Policy Statement

Every position vacancy will be filled based upon a thorough position analysis regardless of the level of the position or the extent of the search. The diversity goals of the institution, division of student affairs, and the unit will be addressed in all recruitment and selection processes.Units may use different processes for recruitment depending upon the circumstances surrounding the need to fill the position, but must take steps to ensure that the values of the profession are applied in all procedures that are used. Recruitment and selection committee members should be properly trained to assume the important responsibilities of recruitment and selection.Supervisors should adhere to any institution-wide recruitment and selection programs. This can not, however, substitute for an understanding of procedures and processes from a student affairs perspective.Recruitment and selection will be planned, implemented, and evaluated to ensure that each potential employee is provided equal opportunities to compete for the position.


Using the Staffing Model in Recruitment and Selection

The process of recruitment and selection of staff occurs within a student affairs culture shaped by many external and internal forces as described in the integrated staffing model. Such forces should be considered in every search process. Whereas many external forces are common among institutions, internal forces that are unique to the institution impact most campuses. These forces should be considered in the recruitment and selection procedures.Every administrator should consider applicable federal and state laws whenever conducting search processes.
However, the overriding institutional policies should be considered in all circumstances. It is wise to consult with
the campus personnel office before undertaking any recruitment and selection process. Once the campus personnel office has been consulted, the recruitment and selection process may begin.

Following are 12 steps that every effective search process should include:

1. Assess the Need For and Establish the Purpose of the Position

The institution's goals and mission statement should be clearly defined and understood prior to conducting a search for qualified individuals. It should also emphasize the people oriented nature of the organization.

2. Perform a Position Analysis

Every student affairs division should identify the characteristics and requirements of the vacant position and the personality traits that would most benefit the individual who assumes the position. It is important to create a profile that best fits the position in the context of the institution's culture. Whether the position is new or recently vacated, there must be a careful determination of why the position is needed, precisely how it will assist the division and the institution in achieving its goals and mission, how it relates to other positions in the division, and what skills and other abilities are necessary to carry out its responsibilities. Finally, the analysis should include a judgment as to whether other positions in the division should be reconfigured in light of the vacancy.

3. Prepare the Position Description

The division should first establish a hiring profile, consistent with the idea of choosing the person who would best fit the position. It is imperative that a position description clearly defines the institution's goals, including the definition of student services, and that employees are selected based on personality and chemistry that fit the defined services and goals. The division should offer leadership that embraces the concept and reality of the defined goals and practice them everyday. It should also simplify operations so the "people element" shines forth and stamps the institution. The job description should indicate the need for the position in light of the institution's goals. It also should make clear to other members of the unit in which the work is to be performed, what is expected of the new member. The position description should take heed of ethical consideration in regards to ethnic, gender, and minority bias.In writing a job description, one should avoid "must statements" such as "the candidate must possess a Ph.D.". Use of such statements create unnecessary limitations in the event the most successful candidate does not meet the qualifications that have been described as a "must." At a minimum a position description should include:

  • Position title Credentials or position specifications Administrative location of the position Physical and working conditions Goals for the position Work activities Procedures and conditions of employment

  • Institutional and divisional performance expectations

4. Appoint and Empower the Search Committee

The integrated staffing model suggests the use of a search committee to recruit and select staff. Search committees are most frequently the mechanism used to carry out recruitment and selection processes. Search committee members should be selected either from the unit or units most affected by the search, or selected from diverse units within and sometimes outside the division and the institution or a combination. This choice should be related to the level of the vacant position. As the level of responsibilities of the vacant position increases, the search committee members should be more widely representative of the entire campus and outside community.


Sample Search Committee Membership

Director of Athletics (Reports to Vice President for Student Affairs)

  • Director of Residence Life
  • Director of Student Health
  • Director of Student Activities
  • Director of Campus Security
  • Student Government President
  • Student Athletes (2-3)

Area Coordinator (Reports to Director of Residence Life)

  • Student Health Representative
  • Counseling Staff Representative
  • Physical Plant/Housekeeping Representative
  • Administrative Assistant for Residence Life Staff
  • Resident Advisors (2-3)
  • Student Government President

As search committees tend to be ad hoc committees, members may not know precisely what is expected of them. The committee's duties and the role of the hiring authority should be clearly stated in writing. Because search committees are sometimes comprised of students and individuals outside of the division and others who may not be familiar with the credentials and experience required for professional work in the field of student affairs, it is vital that all members of the committee are well trained regarding the necessary qualifications. The members of the search committee should be educated as to the general progression of a career in student affairs and what level of responsibilities are required for involvement at the particular level of employment where the vacancy exists. The empowering official shall clarify the following responsibilities with the search committee members:

  • Select a search committee chairperson
  • Prepare the position description (this responsibility is sometimes fulfilled prior to appointment of the search committee)
  • Determine the timeline of the search process
  • Prepare the position announcement
  • Advertise the position Manage the overall search process
  • Determine the finalists
  • Make arrangements for interviews
  • Make or recommend the final decision

5. Prepare the Position Announcement

This crucial step informs all who are interested in the position precisely what the search committee is looking for in clear and unambiguous language. The announcement should include such information as:

  • Title Location and demographics of the institution Supervisor Mission of institution and division Contributions expected by the staff member toward the accomplishment of these missions Goals and work requirements of the position Minimum education Experience and knowledge requirements Conditions of employment Date for beginning of review process

  • Individual and office to contact for further information

If stated clearly, the position announcement can unencumber the overall search process by encouraging self-elimination of candidates who clearly do not fit the announced requirements.

6. Advertise the Position

The student affairs division should evaluate all possible avenues for advertising a position vacancy. Limited budgets may determine the means by which a position vacancy is advertised. Therefore, it is important to consider carefully which advertising medium is most likely to target the audience most important to reach. Possibilities to consider are

Extra care should be taken to ensure that the announcement reaches potential minority candidates. Good sources for this are the American Association of University Women, and other publications that target minority educators.

7. Conduct the Search

The individual and office listed in the position announcement should receive all applications from candidates. Acknowledgment of the application should be sent to both the applicant and the search committee. All correspondence and activity should be recorded in a log to ensure careful tracking of the candidates' materials and status. Applicants that the division would normally judge unacceptable suddenly seem desirable when the need to hire a body, "any body", becomes severe. The division will face a natural temptation to short-circuit the standard screening process and hire a replacement immediately. One way to avoid such crisis hiring is to encourage qualified individuals to submit employment applications even when the division has no current job openings. The applications may be kept on file for future consideration. Another way to maintain possible candidates on file is to ask exemplary staff members to refer their friends who might be looking for work, even offering the staff members rewards for referrals.

8. Screen the Applicants

Screening of applications should be conducted from the beginning of the search process, and reviews should begin immediately following the announcement. The division should test to ensure that each applicant fits the profile and hire a person who fits the profile remembering that good selection reduces turnover, training and recruitment costs, and thereby produces stability, consistency, low operating costs and an ability to increasingly reward desired behavior. Selection methods that focus both on crucial requirements and organizational culture include:

  • Interviews Biographical data Work samples Self-assessment Personality tests Cognitive abilities Physical abilities

  • Use of an assessment center

A comprehensive employment application is the cornerstone of every successful pre-employment screening program. It will identify many undesirable applicants early in the selection process. The completion of an application form is important for Equal Employment Opportunity reasons, for record keeping, and for gathering information from which to make a good employment decision. Some institutions require that all applicants complete an employment application. Taking a critical look at the institution's employment application, the recruitment staff may see ways in which it can be improved. The one page, stationery-store variety is too brief if it fails to elicit vital information that can be legally requested. The nitty-gritty of the employment application is the work history section. Recent jobs are the best predictors of future job performance and permanency. An application should provide enough space to allow the applicant to list every job he/she has held for at least five years. Their personal saga of success or failure often is displayed clearly in their unabridged employment record. Beginning and ending dates of each job, month as well as year, are also necessary. Precise dates of employment expose gaps between jobs. Instructions should direct job seekers to list every job, including part-time, second jobs, and volunteer jobs. The search committee should always carefully study each applicant's employment history.

9. Arrange the Candidate Interviews

Once the applicant pool has been screened and individuals to be considered are identified, interviews should be arranged with those candidates. Often, the size of the departmental recruitment budget will determine both the type and the number of interviews that will be conducted. Many times, schools with limited budgets will begin the interview process by conducting telephone interviews. Telephone interviews can be held with either an individual or a group of people as the interviewer. If a group of people interviews the candidate, arrangements should be made to conduct a conference telephone call with the candidate. If an institution is fortunate to have a healthy recruitment budget, the search committee may wish to invite one or more candidates to visit the campus and participate in the interview process in person. Or, an institution might wish to conduct campus interviews after conducting phone interviews has narrowed the pool of candidates. Regardless of what method of interviewing is used, certain arrangements are necessary prior to the interview:

  • Arrange and confirm dates and times with candidate

  • Develop the interview schedule and confirm with all individuals who will be involved in the interview process (provide a final copy of the schedule to the candidate, the interviewers, and the search committee members)

  • Arrange for escorts to and from all interviews arrange overnight accommodations if necessary

  • Arrange for transportation if necessary arrange for a campus host (and pick up from airport, train station, etc. if necessary)

  • Arrange for any meals provided outside of the interview schedule if necessary

  • Develop an evaluation tool for all interviewers to use upon completion of the
    intervie, including the following:
    • Title of Position
    • Interview Note
    • Candidate Name
    • Evaluator Name
    • Strengths
    • Weaknesses
    • Rating (unsing a pre-defined scale)
    • Other Comments
    • Instructions for completion

The candidate should be reimbursed for all travel related expenses incurred in order to attend the interview unless other arrangements have been made.

10. Interview the Finalists

Interviewing an applicant from a resume can lead the search committee to overvalue assets and never see liabilities. The purpose of the applicant's resume is to highlight assets and hide shortcomings. Most applicants do not overtly lie on their resumes; they just omit negative information. Unsuccessful short-term jobs, reasons for leaving and dates of employment are the items most frequently omitted from resumes. As a result, interviews must be conducted from completed employment applications. The search committee should never grant an interview to an applicant who has not fully completed an application form. Interviews are most effective when they include questions based on a careful analysis of job functions. Interviews should be consistent from candidate to candidate and should evaluate a candidate's interpersonal and communication skills. Interviews should involve multiple interviewers. It is always instructive to see how different interviewers give different points of view on the same applicant, which leads to a better overall hiring choice. Additionally, it is easy for search committee members to forget some of the material that was covered in the interview. It is useful to document every interview session and to have one interviewer from each interview team provide brief notes regarding the gist of the interview.

11. Conduct Reference Checks

One of the most crucial but often neglected steps in the hiring process is reference checking. Reference checking is often forfeited when a student affairs division is pressured to hire in a hurry. Additionally, reference checking can be a frustrating exercise that yields little useful information about a candidate. Nevertheless, the desire to save time and avoid legal ramifications should not prevent any recruitment staff from conducting thorough reference checks on all prospective new hires. Reference checks round out the profile of a job applicant by providing third-party support for first impressions. Reference checks should be made only for those candidates who have advanced to the finalist stage and who are under serious consideration for the job. When calling a reference, be friendly and courteous. Ask if it is a good time to talk then put the person at ease by mentioning something or someone you both have in common. For instance, maybe both are members of the NASPA. After developing rapport, begin with basic questions about the applicant. This will yield essential information while breaking the ice. Ask for confirmation of employment dates, title, job duties, salary and the name of the previous employer. Next, segue into a brief description of the experience and skills you have been looking for and ask the reference to comment on the applicant's ability to handle some of the typical responsibilities associated with the position. Some ways to improve reference checking are:

  • Inform the candidates that, if they advance as a finalist for the position, the hiring supervisor will conduct a reference check. This information should encourage candidates to be frank and honest in their responses to questions.To increase the chances of contacting candid references, ask each applicant for at least five names, including immediate supervisors. Additionally, request a fact about each contact, such as membership in professional associations, which can be used as an icebreaker when calling. The position supervisor should call all references personally. That person knows best which skills and personality traits will be optimal for the position. Ask open-ended questions in order to elicit broad information. Some people may be fortunate and contact a reference that is willing to frankly discuss the candidate's qualifications. But it is just as likely that the reference will be reluctant and offer minimal information.

  • Avoid inquiring about the candidate's marital status, age, disabilities, religion, ethnicity, gender, or other personal issues. Such information may not be used in making a hiring decision.

12. Make the Offer

After the search committee has completed all of the interviews and has evaluated the candidacy of the finalists, the committee will submit a recommendation to the hiring authority. The committee may submit one of the following types of recommendations, depending upon the charge that was originally given to the search committee:

  • the name of one candidate the names of two or more candidates in order of hiring preference
  • the names of two or more candidates in no particular order

Once a qualified candidate or candidates has been recommended to the hiring supervisor, the supervisor should strongly consider the recommendation that has been presented. The supervisor may accept a hiring recommendation or charge the search committee to continue the search. Should a hiring recommendation be accepted, the supervisor should contact the preferred candidate and make the job offer. Some important issues that should be addressed in the job offer are:

  • starting salary starting date length of contract employee benefits moving expenses (if applicable) living accommodations (if applicable)
  • any other points of negotiation

The candidate should be given sufficient time to either accept of reject the offer. However, the hiring authority should not compromise the availability of other candidates if the candidate of choice declines the offer by allowing too much time to pass between the offer and the decision. If the candidate accepts the position, the offer and conditions of hiring should be sent to the candidate in writing as soon as possible (sample offer letter). If the candidate declines the position, the hiring supervisor should make the offer to the next candidate of choice or should reconvene the search committee to make other arrangements. Once an individual has been secured for the position, all other candidates should be notified immediately (sample notification letter) . They should be informed of the closure to the search and thanked for their interest in the position. It is proper etiquette to notify those candidates who were interviewed, either by telephone or in person, personally.

Finally, the search committee should be dissolved with acknowledgments of their time and service. Appropriate announcements should be made regarding the outcome of the search process.


Avoiding Ethical Breaches When Conducting a Candidate Search

It is important to act ethically at all times when conducting a candidate job search, not only out of respect for each candidate, but also to protect the integrity of the institution. It is not uncommon for hard feelings to develop between candidate and institution as a result of thoughtless acts or misbehavior on the part of those involved in the search process. It is important for institutions to avoid any disrespect or malfeasance on the part of the institution to help ensure success for current as well as future candidate searches. Following are some behaviors, that if adopted, will help ensure a legitimate and respectable job search:

  • Train all search committee members to understand and recognize the necessary credentials for the particular position.Acknowledge receipt of all application materials.Do not make offers that are not honest. For example, do not tell a candidate the position will be offered to him or her unless it has been agreed upon by the entire search committee and the hiring authority.Never misrepresent the campus or the position in any way.Maintain confidentiality throughout the entire job search.Provide the candidate with professional materials representative of the institution.Conduct open searches. If there is an internal candidate or candidates for the position, announce this to all other candidates.

  • Never mislead a candidate as to his or her status in the search process.



Updated 2008