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Question: Recruitment, Selection and Retention

Site expert Tom Ellett was asked to respond to the question of how he goes about recruiting, selecting and retaining quality staff. Tom's answer is as follows:


This is a very challenging question that does not end or begin at any given time during the academic year. Most people believe recruitment of staff is a cyclical event, i.e. it begins with placing an advertisement in the Chronicle of Higher Education or other periodicals in January and ends with hiring staff in May. In an effort to give as comprehensive an answer as possible, I will break the question into three separate categories; recruitment, selection, and retention.


For the staff at Syracuse University recruitment is an on-going process. We believe we are recruiting staff every day. How the current staff perceives their job plays a role in their level of satisfaction. Additionally, providing quality opportunities for individuals will always bring the best applicants to explore the possibility of working within your organization. Attending conferences, producing quality material which reflect the institution and spending quality time with potential candidates gives an opportunity for candidates to get to know the people with whom they would spend a significant portion of their day. As the market for entry level staff continues to remain constant or slightly declines and the pool of available positions increase, we have had to heighten our strategies in telling people what a great place it is to work, and ensuring that it is actually a good place to be employed!

Some basic recruiting "musts":

  1. You must have a job that is worth applying.
  2. Staff currently in similar positions must be enjoying/learning in the position (this means on-going assessment of the position needs to occur).
  3. Diversify your staff recruiting efforts. Contact your Human Resources Office and other units within the institution that might help in marketing, networking, and broadening your applicant pool.
  4. Opportunity for advancement and/or new challenges must exist.
  5. Personal attention must be given to all candidates (this includes the current staff as they may be potential candidates at some point).
  6. A generous compensation package must be available in exchange for the position.
  7. Correct organization information is necessary for candidates to understand the culture and expectations of the position and the institution.
  8. Becoming more open-minded and flexible when reviewing resumes. The need for hiring candidates with transferable skills is becoming more necessary than those with the traditional higher education background.
  9. Looking internally (not only in your own department) but within the institution and division. Internal people can provide stability and already are adjusted to the area.
  10. Keep RD positions (entry level) up to date with responsibility in the latest trend areas (i.e. Learning Communities) to help differentiate institutions and opportunities that exist.
  11. Get a letter of intent early on and make current staff commit to avoid late openings.


When it comes to selecting candidates, there is always just one answer.... Do they fit into your current staff? Some questions to ask yourself before making that offer:

  1. Do they resonate with the departmental/institutional goals?
  2. What are they hoping to contribute to the organization?
  3. What are their perceptions of the department and how do they match with their own needs for a supportive organization?
  4. Do they clearly understand all of the benefits being offered with the position?

I have always attempted to spend as much time with candidates as possible. Traditionally I would open/close the day and spend a dinner off campus. My hope is to share the goals of the office and make a personal connection with them so that if they choose to work at the institution at a later date they will be more likely to call upon me.

In terms of some "musts" for selection of staff:

  1. Let them see as much of the organization (people) and facilities as possible.
  2. Invite a diverse group of candidates to your campus. Also allow diverse candidates the opportunity to meet with people like themselves who might provide a perspective that only can be provided through that interaction.
  3. Let them read as much of the history/future goals of the department as possible.
  4. Let them spend time with the peer group on a social basis.
  5. Have them meet other key personnel within the institution.
  6. Have them meet with students!
  7. Have nice accommodations for them to reside (clean, comfortable and accommodating). Filling a refrigerator full of treats (healthy options too!) is not a bad idea.
  8. DO REFERENCE CHECKS from current supervisors.

Selection of staff is a long process. It is important that you develop an open and honest relationship with candidates. It is a rather small field and you never know if you will eventually work for the candidate you are interviewing. As you set target dates with the candidate, remember to be true to your word and let them know their status when you said you would contact them. Also, be sure to respond efficiently to any inquires a candidate might have about the position. Candidates remember how they were treated and use this as a gauge for how their experience will be when they actually move to campus.


Retention is all about how you treat staff while they are on staff. Having access to key staff directors and other University personnel is critical! If the position is not supported, staff not challenged and opportunity abounds, staff will leave. Remember to keep all promises made to staff prior to their arrival. Treat staff with dignity and respect. Recognize their efforts on an on-going basis. Let them know weekly how well they are doing and how much you appreciate their contributions to the organization. Have closed door individual meetings with people six months and a year after they have joined the team so they can share their perspective. Some good questions to ask might include:

How has your experience matched the perceptions you had after interviewing for the position?
What would you change within the department if you could?
What are your sources of support within the organization?
How would you rate your overall experience to date?
What contribution are you most proud of within the organization?

Self-reflection is a key part of growth and development for professionals. Allowing a safe place for them to reflect makes them feel valued. We at Syracuse University have been fortunate to recruit and retain some very talented young professionals. Creating a shared mission that all can participate in has been beneficial to our staff. It is fun to "show-off' the greatness that we have created. People who visit will recognize the great things that have been built and will be energized by the potential contributions they can make to the organization.

So enjoy the on-going process of building your team for the future!

For specific questions or strategies not shared in this article, please feel free to contact the author, Tom Ellett at te13@nyu.edu.