I’ve never not worked in student affairs. Until recently, I’d never held a professional position that wasn’t in residential life. For most of my career, I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. I recently moved into a new role focusing on organizational development where I get to spend a lot of time focusing on the new employee experience within our department. As we’ve welcomed several new staff members to our team from outside of student affairs, I’ve embraced the value that these professionals bring and how we can be better at making people feel that they belong. Here are the top five things I’ve learned as we’ve broadened our team: 

  1. All skills are transferable skills.
    • One of the key aspects of this shift was redefining transferable skills. Communication, project management, problem-solving, and leadership skills, among many others, are just as crucial in student affairs as they are in other industries. By broadening our definition of what constitutes relevant experience, we can open the door to a more diverse and innovative workforce.
  2. Take the risk: offer the interview.
    • Looking at our hiring practices is another vital component of welcoming individuals from diverse professional backgrounds onto our team. It requires us to depart from the familiar, a willingness to step outside of our comfort zones, and explore the potential of candidates who may not fit the traditional “SA pro” mold. By doing so, we can tap into a wealth of fresh perspectives, approaches, and ideas that can invigorate and elevate our practices. 
  3. Be open to change.
    • Hearing ideas and processes from outside of the student affairs bubble can be an enriching experience if we let it. Stopping the “that won’t work here” reaction to new or uncomfortable ideas is the first step. Listen to professionals with diverse backgrounds and make space for challenging established norms. Let’s be open to questioning established practices, policies, and traditions to ensure they are relevant and effective. 
  4. If we train them well, they will do it well.
    • New staff want to learn; they want to know what to do, (and what not to do), how to do it, and quickly fit into the team. As we create training programs, they should not only cover the core aspects of the job, but also provide insights into the history, culture, and other areas of the institution. For example, individuals who have been “brought up” in student affairs may be accustomed to the acronym and jargon-filled environment. Recognizing this, we can facilitate a smoother transition by providing resources and training to bridge the knowledge gap to enhance communication and foster a sense of belonging. This intentional approach ensures that our new hires feel supported and equipped to contribute meaningfully to their roles
  5. It’s really about accessibility and belonging.
    • At the end of the day, we’re just talking about accessibility and ensuring that everyone has the tools they need to succeed. Just like we want for the students we serve.

This journey to welcome outstanding staff from a variety of career paths has required a shift in mindset, a willingness to embrace change, and a commitment to continuous learning. By redefining transferrable skills, taking risks, welcoming new ideas, and creating intentional new employee welcomes, we can create a more vibrant, innovative, and inclusive community that is better equipped to meet the evolving needs of today’s student population.