A Perspective on Aligning Divisional Philosophy to the Search Process

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    Byron Hughes, Ph.D.
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Recently I spoke with a colleague that calculated their budget for recruiting and selecting new team members at over $30,000. With a number this high invested in the recruitment and selection of a team member (and it does not reflect the human hours expended in the effort) the cost is significant and our highest hope is a return on the investment. If our expenses are going to be this tremendous then it is critical that identifying new talent be mission-driven. Candidates can adequately portray their skills, credentials, and years of experience as it relates to the position description. These aspects of a candidate profile may not, however, help us in identifying candidates and finalists that advance our mission as a student affairs division.

Most student affairs divisions exist to increase learning, leadership, and capacity within their students. Educating towards those ends requires people that believe in them and view their primary role as moving students in this direction. In the search process our most important work should be to evaluate candidates on the basis of our learning outcomes as a division. At Virginia Tech our work in student affairs is grounded in our Aspirations for Student Learning, which calls student to encapsulate their learning in an understanding of their strengths so they may: commit to unwavering curiosity; pursue self-understanding and integrity; practice civility; prepare for a life of courageous leadership; and ultimately embrace a life of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve). 

When constructing a search process to recruit and identify new team members it is important to us that our aspirations are the lens through which potential candidates view the position, division, and university. There are many ways to accomplish this goal that start with how we advertise and promote the opportunity. A “Call for Applicants” for example, may be structured to convey ideals of central importance to the division. My team recently recruited for an assistant director role in our department and included the following in our materials:

Members of the Fraternity and Sorority Life team embrace a strengths-oriented paradigm, and believe that meaningful interfraternal membership is a tool for learning – for a lifetime. Our principle aim is to structure belonging as our fraternity and sorority community of approximately 5,700 students with membership in over 50 chapters advances the mission of Fraternity and Sorority Life.

Within this statement, potential candidates not only learn demographics of the community population, but they are also able to discern that our work is oriented in a strengths-based philosophy and that fraternity/sorority is a tool for learning. Candidates participating in this search discover through our initial communication regarding the role that “knowing and being known to students” is an outcome we work towards in Student Affairs. Throughout their involvement in our search processes, we reiterate this language as we describe the Virginia Tech experience no matter the position or department. Through incorporating this language throughout the process our applicants are aware that our Aspirations for Student Learning are not simply a marketing tool  - they are lived and enacted daily by students, faculty, and staff.

In preparation for virtual interviews and campus visitations I have found it important to place a significant emphasis on sharing resources about our institution that further illustrate our divisional mission and how it is reflected in our programmatic efforts. Included with these resources are often articles and book chapters that my team has read together. For example, because our university is a strengths-based institution I often include an article from About Campus titled “What’s right with you: helping students find and use their personal strengths” (Shushok and Hulme, 2006). Another text we utilize in an effort to reflect the emphasis placed on developing multicultural competencies are passages from Designing Transformative Multicultural Initiatives (Watt, 2015). There are no opportunities during virtual interviews or campus visitations to “test” their knowledge of these materials, but it will be evident in our discussions with them if they understand how mission-centric our work is as team members.

Beyond our promotional materials and resources provided for their interviews, I have often geared my time with finalists towards discussions about their philosophical underpinnings and how our mission resonates with them. The résumé and screening by our search committee has already demonstrated they have the skills, credentials, and years of experience. Thus, my time with a finalist is devoted to determining that there is philosophical alignment. The only way for that to be achieved is to be sure that from the initial point of their interest a candidate has been able to engage our mission, vision, and strategic goals. Aligning divisional philosophy to a search process increases the probability that a successful candidate will be identified that is endured to the work of your division. Consequently, no matter how many human or financial resources are required for your search endeavors you can rest easily knowing that the return on the investment will be prolific and a value-add to your learning organization.

Byron Hughes, Ph.D.

Dr. Hughes serves as the Director of Fraternity & Sorority Life at Virginia Tech.  His experiences have spanned new student programs & orientation, student conduct, and housing & residence life. Byron received his bachelor’s degree from Salisbury University, a master’s degree from Ball State University and a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from Virginia Tech.

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