I often think about my staff’s characteristics and my selection process for university positions. The majority were individuals that others had released from positions for various reasons but in whom I saw potential based on skill set match with the position at hand.
During my career, I learned that the degree to which an employee successfully performs position responsibilities is attributable to the quality of the supervisor or leader. Because an individual was considered nonproductive or ineffective in a previous college position does not mean that he has not learned from that experience, modified his behavior, redirected his life or career, and matured professionally. An opportunity to recover from a less than stellar work history is equitable.
When evaluating applicants, my recommendations are to: (1) Match the applicant’s credentials to the position description and qualifications – period! This is no time to introduce extraneous or rumored information. (2) Invite every qualified applicant to interview. Subsidize expenses for the most qualified applicants, if applicable. Even though interviewing many applicants might be time consuming, taking time to select the best from all the applicants should be the objective. (3) Discuss past work experiences during the interview where sensitive but legal questions can be asked. This is also the time to use intuition or gut instinct about personality, forthrightness, and organizational or team fit. (4) Set the ground rules and performance expectations immediately, address your leadership and supervision styles, and stress that the position can be used for career recovery and launch to future higher education positions. Shouldn’t this be the process for every applicant?
It is important that we do not allow poor work history color an individual’s reputation forever. This is especially true when that history is not characterized by violence or other criminal acts. In those cases, it is wise to be cautious but to also have confidence in human capacity for behavior modification and maturation.
D. A. Gary (pseudonym) has 30 years’ administrative experience in higher education, and is currently employed at a “high research activity” university in the southeastern United States.
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