You’ve secured your editorial position, pondered how to be the best manager possible and worked with your board to set goals for the year. Now you need to make sure you have the staff to help you accomplish those goals.
If yours is like the student media staff I advise, you have a strong list of staffers returning from the previous academic year, but there aren’t enough of them to fill all of the needed positions. It’s necessary nearly every semester to hire new staffers.
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Each person you hire is an opportunity for you to improve your publications. Here are my tips for hiring valuable staffers:
I assume you have a staff application that you provide to anyone interested in working on your staff. If you don’t, you should create a standard application before the hiring process begins.
You need to have an application for every staffer. This is a business basic.
Once you have your application, don’t just spread it around campus. While it’s acceptable to take open applications, you also should target specific people as applicants. Targeting applicants for their specific skills will help you get exactly who you need on the staff. To target applicants:
- Understand the positions you need filled,
- Brainstorm with existing staff about who you know that would work well in those positions,
- Ask professors in certain disciplines who they recommend and/or if they will distribute applications in their courses, and
- Approach the recommended individuals and encourage them to come work for you.
While you will have some luck with applicants from university job boards, organization fairs, etc., your best staffers likely will be targeted applicants identified by current staffers and faculty.
Distribute job descriptions
The first thing a potential hire is going to want to know is what the job entails. The better understanding you have of your needs for the position, the more able you’ll be to communicate those to the potential staffer. Having a job description to distribute to those considering the post helps them make a judgement about whether they’re a good fit for the job and vice versa.
You don’t have the time or the ability to teach staffers basic journalism skills. When considering hires, think about what you need them to do and how skills they already possess prepare (or not) for the job.
For example, a student may think photography sounds fun, but she is not someone you need to hire if she’s never touched a camera.
You need staffers with basic writing, reporting, editing, photography, and multimedia skills. You can help them hone their skills, but you can’t take the time to educate them on how to use verbs in sentences.
You can learn a lot about a person during an interview. I suggest you and one other editor interview everyone you think might be a fit for your staff. Focus during the interview on the person’s skills and how well you think she will work with your team.
Focus on attitude
A lot of the staff you hire will be green. That’s ok. If the basic skills are there, you can help them hone those skills. The one think you can’t fix is attitude. The potential staffer has to want to do the job and be willing to learn. She also needs to have the professionalism necessary to represent your staff positively to the university community and those outside of it. If you question the staffer’s ability to be professional, save yourself the trouble of hiring, then firing her.
Chances are you won’t immediately find the perfect person for every open position in your newsroom. That’s ok. Be willing to pick up the slack until you find the right person. Don’t hire just to fill a post. I promise you’ll regret it. It’s better to wait for the right person.
I’ve seen this happen way too many times. An ed board hires a staffer who they think is going to solve all of their problems, only to be disappointed when the person is all talk and no action. I’m not discouraging you from hiring people who you think are a great fit and have excellent skills. You absolutely should hire them. What I’m telling you is to hire each person as part of a team, not a stand-alone solution. If someone seems too good to be true, she probably is.
Cap your staff
This is one of the best tips I can give you. It’s basic supply and demand. The fewer positions you have, the more desired they are.
Be realistic about how many people you need in each post and on your staff in general.
If you’re always hiring, that suggests a problem to potential candidates. It’s better to have applications on file for future openings and help your staff understand that being chosen for their job is a privilege.
Fire when necessary
It may seem mean or even deflating to write about firing in the same post where I write about hiring. but not all hires will work out. It doesn’t mean you did a poor job in the hiring process, it’s just one of those things that happens. Don’t let a poor fit drag down the rest of your staff. Let the staffer know it isn’t working and move forward from there.
This post on employee discipline will help you with firing when necessary.
Avoid the ‘unfireable’
Ok, I may have made up a word there, but you get the point. Never hire someone you can’t fire if necessary. This usually means you can save yourself a lot of conflict by not hiring family or close friends. At the university level, it may me not hiring an administrator’s family either. You can avoid these issues by simply telling the individual that hiring him/her would be a conflict of interest or is against your publication’s policy (if you have such a policy). This keeps it impersonal.
I hope these tips help you hire valuable staffers who will serve your publications well during their time on staff. Remember, each person you hire is an opportunity to improve your publications. Take time to hire wisely.