Grow Enrollment by Hiring, Training and Retaining Quality Staff
Carol A. Descak
The Descak Group
Successful recruitment is the result of doing the right thing, with the right prospective student at the right time. To an extent, an enrollment operational plan can accomplish this objective. Communication flow, processes and procedures, recruitment events, travel, etc. can be programmed to happen, targeting specific students at specific times. In spite of a well-oiled operational machine, small colleges? and universities that are tuition-driven and struggle for market share rely on the personal contact and effectiveness of admissions recruiters to meet and exceed enrollment goals. I have repeatedly witnessed lower enrollment yields in territories with staffing issues, in spite of an even application of all other recruitment initiatives.
The following strategies have proven to be successful in hiring, training and retaining quality staff resulting in long-term enrollment growth:
Hire the Right Staff:
Spending time upfront in the staff selection process to ensure that the right people are hired will pay off in thelong run. Begin with a clear, detailed position description, including all duties and responsibilities.
Hire individuals with previous successful work experience in a position where the individual was responsible for measurable results. During the interview process, ask for specific examples that prove the candidate?s success in this area.
Successful recruiters are independent, self-starters willing to travel and work variable hours. Be very clear upfront about the expectations for the position in terms of the number of days per week and overall number of weeks that involve travel, as well as the variable hours and oftentimes long work days that are inherent to the position.
Individuals who are sales-oriented, perseverant and intrinsically motivated to succeed make excellent recruiters. The ability to successfully multi-task in a fast paced environment and having the personal coping mechanisms for dealing with stress are essential characteristics. Specific questions during the interview process should be asked to determine the extent to which the candidate possesses these characteristics.
Candidates who are being seriously considered for hire should meet the current staff, particularly the senior staff. Shadowing a senior staff member for a day is a good way for the candidate to gain a clear understanding of the position and it gives the institution an opportunity to assess the candidate?s fit for both the position and the institution.
I would advocate that recruiters be classified as exempt staff, and that starting salaries take into consideration the need to hire experienced, competent staff. All too often, recruiters are at the bottom of the pay scale at many institutions.
When checking references, ask specific and detailed questions that pinpoint examples of the candidate?s successes in the former position relative to the position description.
Train, Train, Train:
Invest time to properly and completely train staff. Avoid the ?learn as you go? approach tostaff training, which occurs frequently at small institutions. This leaves new hires overwhelmed, frustrated and ineffective. Develop a training manual for reference that includes all areas of job duties and responsibilities.
Weekly staff meetings are essential to communicate with staff, review weekly progress toward meeting goals, redirect efforts?if needed, discuss what is happening operationally to support individual recruiter efforts, review key messages, and report weekly victories as well as obstacles. This is a great forum for staff to share their strategies for overcoming obstacles to recruitment. Meeting minutes should be available to all for future reference.
Recruiters should have individual weekly reports that track number of inquiries, applications, acceptances and deposits. An account of weekly activities should be reported to the Director, i.e. phone calls, campus appointments, high school visits, etc. so that efforts can be assessed and re-directed if necessary. The Director should conduct individual meetings with staff, with the frequency being determined by the timing of the recruiting cycle.
Training retreats should be held quarterly. Survey staff to determine the training needs. These are great opportunities for planning, evaluating effectiveness of recruitment strategies, brain-storming and creative problem-solving. Train staff to use the technology available to them, particularly the administrative computer system so they may enter information as well as access reports to guide their daily recruiting activities.
Authorize, budget for and encourage staff involvement in professional organizations and consortiums as well as attending select major conferences and workshops.
It is essential that recruiters at small institutions be cross-trained to understand the financial aid process. In this critical aspect of enrollment, recruiters must be able to assist the prospective student and parents in the entire financial aid process. Few small institutions have the staffing in the financial aid office that permits them to do this ongoing, time-intensive, one-to-one counseling with all students. Once the financial aid package is sent, the personal admissions recruiter should follow up to explain the package, review the bottom line cost, assess the family?s reaction to the offer, and be prepared to overcome the usual financial aid/cost objections. Small institutions should also attempt to cross-train in areas where typically only one individual has expertise, i.e. enrollment systems, transfer and international recruitment.
A Seasoned Staff Equals Long-Term Enrollment Success:
Staff turnover will undoubtedly affect the enrollment numbers. If an institution puts forth the effort, time and financial resources to hire and train staff, you want to invest even more to retain these individuals. A staff retention plan should consider the following:
Salaries: Be willing to pay productive people. Develop a detailed list of performance standards, which can be used as an enhancement to the annual performance review and general pay increase structure.
Career Pathway: Staff should understand that a career pathway does, indeed, exist.
Communication: Staff needs to be made aware of the organization?s goals and direction as well as those of the office and how their work supports and contributes to both. A written tactical plan eliminates confusion about who does what.
Staff Recognition: A hand-written note, email, recognition in front of peers, recognition certificates and employee of the month designation are just a few ideas that haveproven to be beneficial.
Opportunities for Professional and Personal Development: Determine areas of interest or need and utilize the institution?s resources whenever possible. Include these opportunities in the quarterly retreats.
Individual Motivators: Survey individual staff to determine what personally motivates them. Things like flexibility in hours, teamwork, recognition, fair and equitable treatment, positive feedback, avenues to express creativity and areas of strength, etc. can be incorporated into the supervisor?s management plan, with little or no budget needed.
Empowerment: It is the onus of the supervisor to empower people to do the job. Ask the staff to identify the things that are obstacles in not only doing the job but in doing a stellar job. Go to all lengths possible to remove these barriers. Assign job responsibilities that best utilize an individual?s talents and skills. Delegate
authority, problem-solving and decision-making when appropriate.
Work Atmosphere: Determine what is meaningful to the staff, i.e. a place to have lunch with the team, private office space, casual Fridays, office cleanliness, etc. Identify opportunities for fun and relaxation that can be shared as a group, i.e. a monthly salad bar luncheon, a book or exercise club, birthday celebrations for staff, etc. These are usually inexpensive ways to improve staff morale and relieve stress.
High Level of Expectation for Job Performance: This should be communicated and described up front during the hiring process. Quality workers expect the supervisor to hold them to a high level of job performance. Most reasonably capable people ?rise to the occasion? when the bar is raised (particularly if some of the other things mentioned in this listing are in place).
Create Ownership: Ask for staff input whenever appropriate. People will buy into what they have created, and people want to know that they are valued for their opinions and knowledge.
Pair junior staff with senior staff: This is a win-win situation. The junior staff member has a mentor, and the senior member feels valued for their knowledge, gains additional experience and wants to help their new colleague succeed.
Consider ways that student workers and/or admissions interns can support staff: A student worker, assigned to assist each staff member can help with some of the time-consuming, repetitive tasks that are inherent to the job but where higher level expertise is not needed. An admissions intern can assist with project work so that staff members feel supported and have more time to recruit.
Supervisor?s Attitude About Life, Work and Themselves: The supervisor sets the tone for the office.
The supervisor has to genuinely care about his/her staff as people and be sensitive to individual needs. A positive atmosphere with occasional opportunities for fun and relaxation are greatly appreciated. Staff will follow and commit long-term to a leader who supports his/her staff, has strong ethics and character and who loves his/her work.
The importance of the support staff within the operation also needs to be recognized. They are in some ways the most important individuals on the team and should be included in the initiatives mentioned above.
In summary, once an admissions office has a good operational plan in place, a good hire who is well trained and experienced will take recruitment to new heights. Institutions that can successfully conquer the human resource challenges should experience enrollment growth on a continual basis. Invest in your institution by investing in your people.