RA Interview System: Unfair, Biased

BY MAGGIE MCCONNAHA

I’m going to begin this story by stating that I did not apply for a Resident Assistant (RA) position and I admire every person who would consider giving up so much of his or her time to take care of others, be there for them when they need help and still have time to take classes and usually be involved in other campus organizations.

But this last week I heard more and more about the RA application and interview process and in the end I was really disappointed. The current way new RAs are interviewed and hired is risky at best and idiotic at worst.

The RA application process happens in two stages: the written application and the group interview. Then, the applicants receive their assignments, letters of deferral or rejections one to two weeks after the group interview.

Paper applications were due before Christmas break. They included a short biography section and a place for references. This biography section was not nearly as complete as it should have been, referencing nothing about personality, attitude or past experiences with counseling or mentoring.

Group interviews took place Saturday, Feb. 8. The applicants had to rate based certain circumstances on priority, such as talking to a resident, calling your boss back, working on a ten-page paper or color coordinating clothes for a speech. Afterward, the applicants met with current RAs and Housing Directors for one-on-one interviews.

This simple way of hiring an RA the same way you would a weeklong camp counselor or even a tutor, often does not work for such a committed and important position. Of course, it often gleans gems, like my own RA. However, this past semester, during which at least three RAs were let go, should show the Housing Department that the current way of hiring RAs is not working effectively.

First of all, everyone is going to put his or her best foot forward on an application and during an interview. Of course they are outgoing, know exactly how to handle conflict (and can provide examples), sit with good posture, smile at the interviewer’s jokes and give off all the attitudes that a future RA should have.

But this short meeting does not show the interviewer what a person is like outside of that interview.

It only takes into account a person’s perception of him or herself. Sure, they have to provide two letters of recommendation, but obviously these will be procured from someone who will shed them in the best possible light.

Instead of asking for personal recommendations, a part of the RA application process should be getting references from the person’s roommate, a few floor mates or their current RA. These people will give a candid reference for how the candidate actually behaves. SNC does not want RAs who make their roommates cry or ones that are non-confrontational. Asking for a few of these references can give the directors a more accurate view of how a possible RA handles social situations and acts around friends, a good testament to what kind of an employee he or she will be.

The system is also exceptionally biased towards those in Residence Hall Association (RHA). Involvement in this one organization seems to determine a person’s placement in an RA position more than any other factor. For example, a candidate may say that color coordinating clothes is most important in the group interview, followed by working on his or her own paper, but if he or she is involved in RHA, then they have a better chance of getting in.

Heck, this person may even miss the application deadline entirely and email a few nights before the interview, still get into the interview and then wind up with a position over someone much more qualified and clearly more responsible. But hooray for RHA.

Now, there were many strong candidates for the RA positions available for next year and there were a limited number of positions available. I do not know about the individuals who ended up with RA positions, but the idea that such important jobs are left solely up to two personal recommendations, one group interview and randomly assigned individual interviews is too risky a chance to take.

My hope is that after such a semester as the fall of 2014, the directors in the Housing Department will reevaluate how they interview and select RAs. These people are too important to take such chances on.

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