Saying A Mouthful: On Job Search Processes

Sorry if I spray any crumbs. I’ve got a lot to say.

I’m taking a break from the (nearly) daily grind of documenting the SNAP challenge to do what I’d like to call “Saying a Mouthful”, in which I use this venue as a space to respond to articles I read in a space that isn’t confined to a character limit. These are my thoughts on these issues, for better or for worse. I hope that you get something from my ramblings- I welcome comments of agreement, or (and especially) of challenge.

Today’s “Saying A Mouthful” is in response to Lou Adler’s January 7th article, “Are Traditional Job Descriptions Anti-Talent and Anti-Diversity?”. To sum up Adler’s take on this question, he states that those in the position to hire use job descriptions as too rigid a means to filter out potentially qualified applicants, ones that don’t fit within the confines of the requirements and education parameters that these documents set forth.

I agree that the system itself is too rigid, but to blame this rigidity on the description that applicants are given of the job is either incomplete, or incorrect. To make my point, I’d like to use some of Adler’s own words:

“Emphasizing and screening on the person’s ability to do this work would change the entire mix of candidates seen and the person ultimately hired. The point: if it’s determined through the assessment process that a candidate is fully capable and motivated to do this work, there’s no question the person has the perfect balance of skills and experiences required.”

“So if you‘re a hiring manager, business leader or recruiter who wants to expand the quality and diversity of the people you consider for every job opening describe them in terms of successful performance.”

What do these sentences have in common? They refer to the people involved, not the document that they used to attract applicants. My point is: no, traditional job descriptions aren’t anti-talent and anti-diversity. But job search processes are. Descriptions are a guideline that allow potential employees to determine whether they believe they will be able to do what is asked of them. But descriptions don’t make the call as to whether the company can work with these employees; people do. Descriptions don’t go through applicants, poring over their experiences and references to try and make the call as to who will “fit”; people do. Descriptions don’t narrow the pool of applicants to ones that we like, or are comfortable with, or remind us the most of ourselves; people do.

In a beautifully honest post about humor and cynicism in our work, Stacy Oliver expressed this thought far better than I ever could:

“We simply don’t extend the same kindness and openness to others in our field we do to our students. We love our students’ opinions and stories; we want our colleagues to share our mindset. We love our students’ individual contributions; we want our colleagues to approach our work in the same way we do.”

I’ve felt this way about aspects of our field for a while now. From recruiting to the field, to how we hire into new roles, like generally begets like in the work that we do. We often recruit those that remind us of ourselves, we frequently hire those with experiences like ours. Students who challenge us are considerably less likely to get a “you should go into student affairs” nudge from us, and potential employees who have different experiences tend to be at a disadvantage when competing with those who have more traditional backgrounds. In a field that so often speaks of authenticity and encourages diversity of thoughts, we are faltering here, and need to own that.  Without owning that, the credibility of our encouragement of difference is threatened.

So what do we do? How can we better live the philosophies that we espouse, in this respect? Where does a transformation of these processes begin?

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