Ask the Administrator: Trying Not to Hire Jerks

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In response to Monday’s post, in which I mentioned that I’ve never been disappointed when I’ve hired for temperament (as opposed to experience), a new correspondent wrote:

 

“You said, “When I’ve hired for temperament, as opposed to experience, I’ve never been disappointed.” Can you talk more about how you glean temperament from the search process? Do you use a lot of behavioral interview questions throughout the process? Or is this more about when you get to the finalists who you’d bring to campus and observe over the course of the campus visit? I’m curious because I agree that self-awareness is tremendously important, but I could easily see this characteristic as falling into the ambiguous “right fit” category that is sometimes (even often) problematic, especially with regard to candidates from underrepresented groups. How do you thread that needle in determining temperament? “

 

It’s a great question.  I’ll offer some methods that I’ve used, and ask my wise and worldly readers to suggest other ways.  This certainly isn’t a comprehensive answer.

 

One of my methods is to ask my admin assistant how any given candidate treated her.  Candidates who kiss up during interviews sometimes show uglier sides of themselves when dealing with staff.  The “kiss up, kick down” personality is toxic.  If they don’t pass the assistant test, I don’t hire them.  (Schools that have the money to take candidates out to lunch or dinner sometimes use the “how did they treat the waiter” test.  It’s the same idea.)  

 

I also listen for pronouns — is it always “I” or is there some “we” in there? — and the ability to own mistakes.  Can they admit when they messed up, and if so, how did they handle it?  Evidence of constructive initiative is always welcome, too.  

 

Obviously, it’s easier with internal candidates, since there’s a track record.  But I’ve been surprised at how quickly people show who they are.  And having interviews by committee, even in the final round, definitely helps.  I always make sure to have several folks with me in the final round, each of whom brings a different expertise and background.  (For example, I routinely include the campus DEI officer in the second round.)  There have been times when one member of the group caught something that the rest of us missed.  It also tends to correct for individual idiosyncratic biases.  

 

In terms of “fit,” it’s true that a term like that can cover many sins.  I tend to think of hiring as something more like casting, in the sense of casting a movie.  You’re looking for the right person for a role.  That role may require fitting in, or it may require challenging (productively) the folks who are already there.  I can say that I’m proud of my hiring record at both Holyoke and Brookdale; the cohorts hired on my watch are both outstanding and more diverse than those who were already there, and in neither case did we have high salaries with which to do it.  The key, I think, is twofold.  First, be aware of your own assumptions, and subject them to scrutiny.  The second is never to interview alone; always have a group, even in the final round.  More sets of eyes can make a difference.

 

Wise and worldly readers, what would you suggest?  Are there other fair and reasonably effective ways to assure that you don’t hire jerks?  

 

Have a question?  Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.

 

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