So – we all go through it – time to select RAs for next year. I have been through 17 RA selection processes in my lifetime from the Interviewer side. This has been on five different campuses. I have had my share of learning experiences – positive and negative – and I think I’ve learned a few things. I want to share some of those things with you. Some of this may be obvious – some not so obvious. So – when I started doing this so many years ago, I would say what I looked for consisted of the following:
- Were they outgoing?
- Did they have a ton of leadership experience?
- Were they confident?
- Did they have energy (could they be a cheerleader)?
- Were they involved?
Now – this was a good list mind you. But very short sighted on my part. You see – as a supervisor –this sort of made things really easy in the beginning. These were the people who would get to know all their residents, plan great programs, lead the staff, etc. I am not knocking these qualities. But what I found over the years is that these were not good measurements or predictors of whether the person would be a successful Resident Advisor. In fact, I couldn’t predict at ALL given these questions that the staff member would do well or quit midyear. But I have seen what makes a successful RA over the years.
If you are interested in becoming a Resident Advisor – consider what I am about to tell you carefully. If you are a Resident Director – consider this in choosing your staff. It is just one man’s opinion – and I would LOVE for folks to include THEIR list in the comments below. Here is what I believe ARE the biggest predictors of a successful staff member:
- Positive Attitude
- Humility/Not insisting in their own way
- Academic Success
Allow me to expand:
- Kindness – As a person choosing a staff – I consider the things I can train folks on, and the things I cannot. No amount of training will make an RA kind. They either care more about others than they do themselves (within reason), or they are, at the core, selfish. Kindness permeates the issues with deal with – whether it is social justice issues, caring that a student is struggling, buying into being a part of the team, being kind will help a staff member understand, that at the core, the RA job is about caring for people.
- Passion – Now for some of you, Passion means they are outgoing. But if I see a student who is shy – but LOVES collecting figurines – or has a passion for community service – or a passion to become a doctor – that will do for me. Because I believe in what we do – and I believe someone with passion will ultimately develop a passion for their residents – and their staff team. Being kick-back is one thing – but if there isn’t anything you are passionate about –that gets you excited, you’re not going to have a good time in this position. Again – it is more difficult with some of our shy candidates to find their passion. Sometimes we discard a candidate because in group process they don’t say a WORD. But I’ll be honest – if the group is awful – and two folks are dominating the group and talk all the time – sometimes keeping quiet is a positive thing in my book. As long as I know they are passionate, they will be pushed through. When I was an RD, there were some candidates I knew would be good – but because colleagues didn’t see them be outgoing, they weren’t given the chance. When I was a young RD, I did the same. As Assistant Director, I have a little more weight, and sometimes RDs are surprised when I push a candidate out there – they wonder how they could be an RA because they are shy. And most of the times (I am not perfect by any means) once that person gets on staff – others see their passion – and it is a beautiful thing to behold. Besides – it adds diversity to the staff. Not everyone can be the outgoing cheerleader!
- Positive Attitude –If I were to list attributes in order, this MIGHT be the top of the list. Once again, I cannot train someone to have a positive attitude. You either have it, or you don’t. When things don’t go your way, do you make lemonade out of lemons, or do you become a sour puss? I have witnessed a negative attitude DESTROY a staff. It is like a cancer. As a supervisor, if I have a staff member with a bad attitude, I have three choices – sit back and let it spread, bend over backwards trying to make an unhappy person happy (usually alienating the other staff members with a positive attitude) or start the paper trail where either they are able to change or not. Being able to handle change positively, dealing with things beyond your control are attributes that are like GOLD.
- Humility/Not insisting on your own way – Ok – so you are probably starting to sense a theme here- once again – choose folks who have qualities you can’t train on. Confidence is good, but cockiness is no good on an RA staff. Insisting your way is correct and being unable to see any other way to do it is problematic. Yes, I struggle with this – but again –you aren’t going to find perfection (usually). But having a humble staff vs. staff who think they are “too cool for school”, I have found has resulted in a better experience.
- Academic Success – So – a good friend of mine once said “I have NEVER had to fire someone with a 4.0 GPA.” And this is so true. I wasn’t a big believer in academic success early on. I mean – if they were doing amazing programs, getting to know their residents, etc, but they had a 2.0 or 2.5 GPA – what is the big deal? Well…the big deal is…even in housing, if you have a great hall, that is having fun, but your students are struggling and dropping out of school – you aren’t supporting the educational mission of the University. And if you have staff who can’t do school, they aren’t going to be good role models for the students. Now hear me – I am not saying that staff can’t be successful if they are getting 2.5s – I am merely saying that a staff member coming in with academic success already a part of their lives has demonstrated an ability to “jump through hoops” and tackle the administrative side of the job. One more thing about Academic success. One of the WORST moments in my career was being told by my boss I needed to fire a staff member because they didn’t make grades. I hated it. But basically if I didn’t, I was told I would lose my job. So, I did it. I REALLY struggled with it. But I have learned, that by placing a priority for our staff to keep their grades in a positive realm (at least above a 2.5) it does make a difference with the students. I have actual data that shows there is correlation between the GPA of the staff, and the residents GPA. As the GPA of my staff has improved overall, so has the GPa of the residents. Again, this probably isn’t causal, but there is correlative data, at least for some of the institutions I have been at.
So there it is. I DO want to make a special note of two things I also believe are predictive of RA success, but unfortunately are hard to gauge in an RA interview process -mainly Judgment and Integrity. How do you measure integrity in a process? The best I have seen is asking a candidate to define integrity and to share a story with the team that demonstrates their commitment to integrity. But alas – someone WITHOUT integrity could completely make something up, and there is no way to know. Also – Judgment. A staff member who displays good judgment will be successful, but the best way I have found to measure that in an RA process is by doing case studies. But again, seeing it on paper is one thing - but actually making good judgments is another.
One final note: rarely have I found someone who possesses ALL of the qualities above. It HAS happened – but I merely give the list above to give you something to think about as you start on the journey of picking your next staff. What do you think? Agree? Disagree? What are OTHER qualities you look for in a candidate?