The Hiring Process: Heartbreak and Bias

In Student Affairs, spring brings not only improving weather but also fresh candidates onto campus. It is a yearly tradition that rejuvenates the work environment, satisfies life-long career ambitions, and shatters dreams all in one full swoop. It consumes your life as a prospective employee, becoming a second job more or less. And as a current employee, little to nothing may change—depending on your institution of course.

At Ball State in the Housing and Residence Life department, the job search process begins at the beginning of the semester and may not conclude until after classes end for the summer. For the practitioners involved throughout the process, the traditional 40+ hour a week job takes on an entirely new set of roles which can consume a significant portion of your traditional working hours. This results in even more sporadic hours and an even more vague sense of a “work/life balance”. Yet while the hours and stress can become frustrating as an employee, you have to remember that people’s livelihoods are at stake with every interview or evaluation you conduct.

As we currently wrap up our RA selection process, I find myself emotionally committed to many excellent candidates. Whether they are young leaders within my hall, or the many fine individuals I have within my EDHI course, I am able to visibly see the strengths and weaknesses of these students while projecting mental images of their potential to succeed. Unfortunately as each round moves forward, many students get cut for the few open positions available for the fall. As with any highly sought after position, even the smallest of mistakes can be used to narrow the talent pool. Now while this is effective, this method also results in some great potential leaders not making the cut. In my case, there are a few students that failed to make the cut thanks to these arbitrary mistakes, and it pains me to not be able to place them. I know given some interview polishing and practice they would have made great RA’s, so why do we stress such a value on the highly stressful interview process? Student Affairs is highly accommodating to all individuals, but is there a more effective hiring process than the utilization of interviews? I feel compelled to want and fight tooth and nail for these students, but I am continually reminded to “trust the system” thanks to its effectiveness throughout the years.

Starting this weekend, the next step of the interview process will begin as we start interviewing potential graduate students for our department next year. While I am excited to take part in these interviews and learn from my mentors the best practices in conducting this type of professional interview, I struggle with my own personal bias as well. With such a large percentage of my close colleagues leaving this year because of graduation or moving on to a mid-level position, I am faced with a dilemma—How can I remain unbiased while interviewing when I want to be sure and have people I would enjoy hanging out with? My personality is definitely not for everyone, and there are thousands of professionals out there that are nothing like me yet much better at their positions. We have to hire for the department, but is there a way to remain unbiased in interviews when you have personal motives at stake? I will also be thinking about how I was in their shoes less than a year ago. Can I remain truly unbiased when I may be compelled to sympathize with their every mistake?

In the midst of the graduate selection process, we are also looking to hire a large collection of new professionals for next year. Once again my bias will be prevalent, but not only because of potential friendships but also those of the romantic variety. As a single professional in Student Affairs that works such unusual hours and lives in such a unique situation, finding romantic relationships is often far from your radar and last on your to-do list (unless you find them attractive, then they could be higher on your to-do list, Hiyooo!) Your incoming colleagues across all departments provide an excellent and convenient opportunity to meet similarly-minded adults with equally as difficult workloads. While dating within your department is less than optimal, it is still a possibility that when looking throughout the profession appears to be utilized quite often! With this bias inherent, will I be interviewing them as a candidate or a potential suitor?

So while this time last year I was praying for the search process to be over and for the unknown to be resolved, I never realized that the stress of this time of year would not stop. When I was going through the process, my mistakes and actions only impacted me. If I did not get a job, it was me that was punished not the institution. Now that I am the one hiring, the responsibilities have switched and the stress has increased even more. If my bias gets the better of me, I could hire an incongruent staff. If I get too emotionally involved, I may influence the hiring of a candidate that is not at the same level as others. If I don’t invest myself into the process, I may not have a voice in who my future colleagues are. And in two or three years, I will be back in the unknown abyss wondering where the next stop in my life’s journey will begin.

Charle Cherry

Student Affairs - the First Years

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