When I moved into my administrative role, one of the first things I needed to do was hire a teaching assistant for the summer. It hadn’t occurred to me that I would play a significant role in the process as other than briefly meeting interviewees I had never previously been involved. This was different however. There had not previously been a teaching assistant in this role as the grant was new and the job description didn’t exist.
That was my first task; to write the job description. This sounds deceptively easy. What does the job entail? That had been reasonably defined when we wrote the grant, but what skills and training did we require? The funding was specifically for the CIRM Creativity award, so we wanted someone who understood science, but who could also bring a creative element. Was it necessary for that person to have a PhD? Did they need previous job experience? If so, for how long? It took some time as I researched similar job adverts and had discussions about what we actually wanted. Finally, after a few weeks the job description was ready to post. Then I had to wait for the applicants to submit.
I didn’t have to wait long. We received applications as soon as the description went up. But were the people suitable for the job? I was surprised that there was only one letter describing why the applicant was interested and also suitable for the position. Everyone else just submitted either their resume or CV – all of which were not tailored to the potential job. This made the second task: the selection process relatively easy. The people who had not spent any time on the application were discounted reasonably quickly. Those that had the necessary skills were put in a very small pile to conduct phone interviews.
I made a list of very basic questions and then began my third task: calling individuals. I was very surprised at the responses I received. The first person I called actually answered the phone asking why I was calling in a reasonably unfriendly manner. That was not a good way to begin a potential work relationship. Once I explained why I was calling, it went a little better but the first impression I received stuck, and I did not invite them to interview. This individual also called and emailed a few times indicating that she was returning my call/email with regards to an interview date. I am unsure what really happened there as after the initial contact I decided not to pursue it any further and didn’t offer the opportunity of an in person interview. These interactions, however, do mean I would be unlikely to contact them in the future should they reapply again.
My second phone interview went a little better. The candidate had a lot of the necessary experience, and we were getting along very well. I was tempted to invite them for the next stage until they mentioned that while I was looking for someone for 12 weeks, they could only work a maximum of 8, so would that be an issue? Yes, it would. It was extremely frustrating as the job description clearly stated a requirement for 12 weeks work, yet they applied knowing they would be unable to complete the job requirements. Another applicant went into the unsuitable pile.
My third phone call went straight to answer machine every time I called! I also left email messages and didn’t get a reply. That is, until over a few weeks later. I couldn’t believe that if you are actively searching for a new job, and you received a message, you wouldn’t respond immediately.
By this point, I was wondering if I would ever find a TA. This was very surprising as in this economy I was expecting to be inundated with able and willing candidates. I arranged an in person interview with the individual who would ultimately become my assistant. She had taken the time to write a cover letter and personalize her resume, highlighting the skills and experience she offered. It was a panel interview with the other directors of the summer academy. I was extremely grateful for this, as I wasn’t exactly sure how the interview process would go. I had to persuade the other directors that she was a good candidate as she was a business major who was very creative and artsy; therefore not an obvious fit for a summer science academy. On the actual interview day I think I was probably as nervous as she was. I had selected this person. What would happen if they didn’t like her? Would it reflect poorly on me? What would happen if I couldn’t think of any good questions?
I didn’t need to worry. She impressed everyone enough that there was no question that she would be offered the job. The Directors did give her a homework assignment before she began which was to read a popular science book. This was to ensure she understood the scientific method and would be able to assist the students.
The reason I liked this particular candidate is that she had skills none of the others did. She understood that we were looking for a creative person to do a range of workshops and activities to challenge the CIRM students. She certainly did that. Once I showed her the grant, she put a lot of our “blue sky” planning into action. We had entertained the thought of making a video in the vein of the Lady GaGa Bad Project parody, but needed someone artistic enough to pull it off. She also gave workshops on how medical therapeutics are marketed and advertised. It enabled the students to see a completely different side of science.
At the end of our 12 weeks, I was sad to see her leave, but very grateful that I had taken the risk to bring her in to interview and ultimately offer her the job. I have no idea what would have happened with the other candidates, but the combination of their application and phone interview meant that I didn’t want to meet them in person. I certainly felt the responsibility of choosing who got the job and who I worked with for the summer. It was a novel experience which will hopefully make the next time easier.
I am certainly learning and growing in my new role. It is definitely different being the interviewer and not the interviewee. I was extremely surprised at some of the reactions I received over the phone calls. I hope that everyone would answer calls in a suitably polite, business like fashion if you have applied for any job. It is so essential to make a good impression with your potential employer with every point of contact and also that you can fulfill all the requirements of the position so that you don’t waste anyone’s time. Hopefully, bearing these things in mind you may be a step closer to the job you want.