Today’s #SAchat was the ever popular topic of how to effectively recruit and hire student leaders. I feel like this is an ongoing challenge for the field, and my experience on several different recruitment and selection committees has been no different. Whether hiring for Residence Life staff, Orientation Leaders, or students to staff your front desks, what are effective ways to get students to connect with the posters, process and people, of the recruitment cycle? While these tips are by no means all-inclusive, here’s what I’ve picked up along the way.
Posters and Marketing
Branding is your friend: Take time, energy and care when creating your publicity. If you decide to tie in to pop culture, make sure it is culturally relevant and will still be relevant when implemented. A fabulous meme or dance craze may make sense during planning meetings in September, but could be passé once students see the posters in February. Also, consider choosing one timeless theme and keeping it from year to year. This allows for brand recognition from continuing students. My University settled on “YouLead” and has kept the same theme for nearly five years. Students know what you are talking about when you say refer to the YouLead process and are able to articulate it as well.
Use your student leaders! A few years ago my department starting taking pictures of current student leaders and placed them on the recruitment materials to make them stand out is a sea of text. We even went so far as to create unique posters for each residence hall community that featured student leaders from that community. This helped students make a personal connection to the position and we saw our number of applicants increase. Additionally, we also had each RA team make a YouTube commercial for the recruitment process through a competition. These were then featured on the community’s Facebook page and helped reach students who may have missed the process otherwise.
Don’t just market the fun parts of the job. It is really easy to just market the perks of the position. Can’t you just see the poster now? Leadership skills! Free housing! New friends! Resume builder! Your own single room! While these may indeed be perks of the job, we need to do our due diligence in educating candidates as to the reality of the job. It doesn’t serve us as supervisors or the candidates as future leaders to not have a full grasp of what it means to actually do the work. Perhaps this makes its way to the process through an Open Forum with current student leaders, or required panels candidates must attend before they can apply. I have also had luck with candidates shadowing current leaders in their position, perhaps at an event or while on duty. These opportunities for experiential learning can allow candidates to ask candid questions and perhaps weed out students who aren’t quite ready for the responsibility that is asked of them in these roles.
Consider collaborating with departments who have similiar timelines for shared recruitment/selection: Several years ago my campus realized that we were seriously duplicating efforts and resources when it came to recruitment of student leaders. There were three separate processes for Residence Life, two for Admissions and another for our Orientation Leaders. Students had to fill out individual applications for all of these and it was incredibly cumbersome. We streamlined this into a shared recruitment strategy called “YouLead.” We share all posters, branding, due dates, use the same essay questions, and students are able to apply for all positions by simply clicking the box on the common application. We also hold shared information sessions so students who may be interested in a Res Life position still hear from current Orientation Leaders and Ambassador teams about their positions and vice versa. This allows for greater visibility for all positions and the pool for all positions are much deeper. Yes, you may lose some departmental autonomy, but the net outcome may be worth it.
Understand how privilege and identity can impact your process. Do you have a Group Process that gives points for people who speak up more than others? How could this help to enforce gender dynamics? Introverts versus Extroverts? Upperclassmen versus First-Year students? How could socioeconomic status come into play when you require business casual clothing for interviews? How could a student with a disability be weeded out of the process by not having a hand-out with large enough font or enough time to process the information? Are we unintentionally excluding entire groups of rising student leaders through our process?
Recruitment for student leaders begin the moment they set foot on campus, if not before. There is no such thing as “recruitment season,” because you should always be recruiting. This means the training and expectations for your current leaders must be stellar because one or two poor interactions could turn away a student with untapped potential. Communicate this with your student leaders, especially in relation to the status that certain positions can give students. If an RA is on a power trip, why would a new student want to join the team when the process rolls around? If a student has a disengaged Orientation Leader, how can they see the incredible impact this role could have on incoming students?
Broaden your idea of what it means to be a leader. We can often pigeon-hole an effective student leader as someone who is energetic and super outgoing. Some of my most effective RAs have been total introverts. Sure, they may not be the one running down the hallways getting people to come to programs, but they are the ones who will process until 3am with a student in crisis or be incredibly thoughtful and reflective during a roommate meditation. I have to be especially careful of this because I’m an extrovert and the energy is intoxicating! Encourage your department to have a discussion about what it means to be an effective leader, and perhaps just as importantly, what it means to create balanced teams that all students can find a connection with during the year.
What has worked for you? How is your campus recruitment student leaders?