Choose the Right Students: Pre-Selection Necessities

By Josh Frahm posted 17 days ago


Whether hiring a student for a part-time or work-study position or selecting one to lead a student organization, what you do in the pre-selection process sets the tone for the type of performance you will get from the student. Selecting students has inherent disadvantages (built-in retention issues, job hopping), but you can mitigate those risks with a great process.

If you remember applying for your last role, how long did it take you to form an opinion on the organization or department culture?

Was it through the way the job was advertised?
Was it through the job description you viewed?
Through the quickness of their responses to your questions?
Through the smoothness of their operations during the interview process?

My guess is the answer is yes to all those questions. These actions all make a difference, and today we will discuss how to create a process that serves your unit well.

Advertising? Here’s What to Consider

It’s simple: Attracting more serious and motivated students will lead to better performance. Your first question should be do we need to advertise to find these students, and if so, how?

If you can find your student through a referral or proactive searching, do so! Referrals are proven to have a higher retention and performance rate at all levels and can help alleviate some risk. If you are an on-campus department, where do students you want to recruit go?

Find students who really want to gain experience by providing them opportunities to be proactive:

  • Post the position on your department or organization website
  • Use social media: Facebook and LinkedIn for a targeted approach
  • Use targeted marketing such as flyers in areas of interest and tailored emails to specific degree types
  • Attend job/organization fairs on campus 

In my experience, students who proactively look for opportunities are the individuals who work because they want to, not just because they have to. The key is finding the right way for your unit to identify intrinsically motivated students.

Creating a Position Description

A job description is the foundation of the human resources (HR) process. What does that mean exactly? By creating a thoughtful and thorough description of the position, your department can answer key questions about the value of this student role to your unit, and further entice students to the experience you will provide:

The HR Foundation That a Good Description Provides:

  • Compensation (How much is this position worth? Should it be paid?)
  • Advertising (Where and how should we advertise and what should be in the posting?)
  • Recruitment (What types of students are we looking for?)
  • Selection (What skills should these students possess?)
  • Expectations (What do we expect these students to accomplish starting day 1?)
  • Training & Performance Management (How do we train and measure performance?)

By coming together as a unit and determining answers to these questions, creating the job description will help form the HR foundation that allows you to onboard successful students.

Job Description Components:

  • Position Functions—Make sure to not only include what the job entails, but also what the students will learn on the job as well. Include the transferable skills their future employers are looking for!
  • Position Attributes—Otherwise known as qualifications
  • Evaluation Criteria—Let students know right away how they will be evaluated—make sure they are aware the difference between meeting and exceeding expectations

 At the University of Iowa, our most popular job title is office assistant; The number of applicants varies from three up to 50 depending on how well the employer describes the role. You want to come across as an organized unit and make the job more attractive? Create a detailed position description.

Culture Defining Interview Process

Too many times I hear excuses of why departments go through the motions with student interviews:

“It’s too time consuming as we need to bring in students quickly”
“It’s only a part-time role so we just need someone to fill a spot” 
“All I need to know is what their class schedule looks like so we can figure out a time where they can be here.”

What do those common attitudes say about the position you are filling and your department? 

For me, it makes it seem that the job is not that serious. If you treat the job like “just a part-time job,” that is how the student will treat it. If you want to improve retention, take the time on the front end to have a serious process. The extra time you spend initially, will pay off long-term when you are not constantly replacing students.

What an Interview Establishes:

A professional interview process (even 30 minutes is plenty!) establishes three key things:

  • Does the student have the skills, expertise, and experience to perform the role?
  • Are they enthusiastic and interested in the position?
  • Will they fit into the team, culture, and department?

Ask questions in each category but focus mostly in the areas you care most about. With students, experience may be limited so my goal is always to figure out through questioning why the student wants the role. Are they motivated to gain experience and learn or are they just trying to make money?

My first interview question is always “What do you currently know about this role and this department?” (I’ve asked this question more than 200 times to student-level jobs through CEO level positions as it’s a telling sign about the candidate!) 

The answer to this question immediately tells me what their mindset is coming into the process. Are they serious about the role or just going through the motions? If you have created a great job description, the key skills will be listed so creating behavioral interview questions should be a piece of cake.

Evaluating Performance:

The reality is students are inexperienced and probably won’t be great at interviews yet and that’s okay. You are providing them a “serious” interview process will be fantastic for their development. Too many times students get to their senior year never having been a part of a more formal pre-employment process. You are helping them learn!

When evaluating performance, consider focusing on what they can control such as: alertness, motivation, attitude, ability to have basic conversations effectively, and suitability rather than the content and detail of their answers. If you get a student who is extremely ambitious and motivated, you have a lot to work with and can groom and train them to fit your needs.

An interview establishes that this is a “real position” so take it seriously.

Onboarding Necessities

If you have attacked the previous sections effectively, onboarding should simply reinforce the culture you have begun to establish. Obviously, on-the-job type training will need to occur right away, but I encourage a more robust 30 minute to one hour individual meeting to reinforce your expectations and to set goals. If you have a much larger staff where this is not feasible, try small group meetings (eight to 10 people).

Consider Reviewing & Creating:

  • Specific performance goals (by semester/year)
  • Mutual expectations (involve the student in this conversation)
  • Review basic expectations (attendance, dress code, workplace etiquette policies)
  • Discuss time reporting, payroll basics
  • Conduct any additional job specific training (FERPA)
  • Discuss performance review dates and what it takes to exceed expectations

 Through this initial meeting, you continue establishing your relationship with the student and ensure you both are on the same page. By taking this seriously, the student will be work ready and motivated to take responsibility for the role they accepted.

Final Tips

By attracting better candidates and communicating your departmental culture through highly effective processes at each level, your department and the students’ roles within it will be more organized and effective long-term. The front-end work WILL be worth it as you see students staying with your unit longer and becoming more successful.

For Best Reputation:

  • Be forthcoming about the role; the good, the bad, the challenging
  • Create a job description that is detailed, yet easy to understand—make this a growth position for the student
  • Be responsive to students; if you show them urgency you set the example and tone
  • Have an interview process that is professional and showcases how organized your department operates
  • Be aligned as a unit and have everyone from student leaders to HR representatives on the same page
  • Finally, follow through and be consistent with your own behaviors that you want to see out of your students

Now, go out and make this role the best it can be for your department and the professional development of your students!

Look for the next article in the series: Crucial Aspects of a Great Training Program.  

Josh Frahm is the associate director of student employment programs for the Pomerantz Career Center at The University of Iowa. Josh is the creator of UI STEP (Student to Employed Professional), Iowa’s three-step programmatic approach to professional development and career readiness.