Contributed by: Claire Childress, Senior Assistant Director at Virginia Tech Career Services
In early June, I spent two days in a training program for faculty and professional advising staff who work with our Virginia Tech First Year Experience (FYE) programs for students, a university-wide initiative. During one session, an FYE faculty member shared in a presentation that “there are four main factors that affect how well a person will deal with transitions:”
Her conversation was focused on helping our new students navigate the college transition. But as I sat there, I thought about applying these same factors to onboarding new employees, since two new career advisors, Heidi Thuesen and Ashley Jaramillo, were joining our staff later in June. To prepare for our new advisors’ arrival, we took a number of actions that relate to the four areas above.
A few weeks ago in the SoACE blog, we shared ideas for being disarming with students, but this phase of appreciative advising can also be applied to supervision. As you prepare for new employees, what can you do before they arrive to show you’re excited to have them join your team? Prior to Heidi’s arrival, we touched base by phone. When she was in town to find a place to live, our small team met her for lunch. We also gave her some orange and maroon attire to add to her wardrobe. A few years ago as we were bringing on a new advisor and she graduated after accepting her offer, I sent her flowers on graduation day. Three years later, she still talks about that and what an impression it made on her.
What can you do to make the environment more welcoming and your staff more approachable? Below is a photo where some of our staff decorated our new advisors’ doors with a saying about what it means to be a Hokie and with a Hokie Hi! sign where many of our staff shared personal messages. Upon our new advisors’ arrival, a welcome basket was waiting for them on their desks where our staff members had contributed various treats. Invite your staff to go out to lunch with the new employee on their first day—we had a festive meal at a local Mexican restaurant. We also took steps in advance to make sure that the advisor’s name was on the office name plate (texted a photo of that to our new advisor when it was posted!), name tag was ready for them, and Career Services shirts were ordered, and our IT staff had the information they needed to set up computer access for our advisors on their first day.
How can we help new staff in their development? Several years ago, as a new academic year began, I started the year with an entirely new team of young professionals. To help each advisor develop personally, I took a couple of steps. For one, I had our team keep an advising journal, where we wrote about interesting or challenging cases we had with students. Then, as we met for our one-on-one meetings or as a team, we shared those cases and discussed varied methods for addressing each case. Secondly, I implemented an Advisors Book Club, so we could all learn more about our craft. Four years later, we still hold this club where other advisors have joined the group and we’ve read 12 books!
An advocate for involvement at both the university, state and regional level (go, SoACE!), I spend time with new employees early on talking about the different ways they can get involved in a Division of Student Affairs committee or other on-campus initiative, a SoACE or VACE committee, or some other organization related to our field. Becoming active is such a great way to grow a network of contacts, advance leadership skills and give back to our profession.
For our new advisors this summer, we built on a prior training schedule from three years ago with a focus on two areas:
Learning about their role as advisor: In their first six weeks, our advisors experience a battery of training sessions from A-Z: from appreciative advising to career development to federal job search to interviewing to personality type to resume critiques to values and much more. We used training modules that we offer to our peer career advisors as a foundation for our new advisors. What’s included? A scavenger hunt where they have to use a number of career resources to which we refer students and a stack of resumes to review are a couple of the activities. And, don’t leave out basics in the office, like how to use the copier or phone system.
Learning about the community and culture: From their first day with us, our new advisors got a taste of the Hokie Nation, where we visited Burruss Hall, our administrative office building, swinging by the Vice President of Student Affairs office to meet whomever was in, moving on to our April 16 Memorial and our War Memorial and chapel with the eight Pylons, each marked with a value dear to the Hokie Nation. A week later a less serious tour followed with visits to our athletic complex (see photo below) where we walked on the football field and touched the Hokie Stone that all players touch before running on the field.
As we learned of special training programs, such as an assessment camp or book club for members of the Division of Student Affairs, we signed up our new advisors for these programs prior to their arrival so they could take advantage of these summer programs.
When we bring in new advisors, we usually arrange for weekly meetings with their supervisors for at least their first six months of work, if not the entire year. For the first week, several check-ins are a good idea. A helpful support to arrange for new employees is to set up mentors for them. Even though employees like to seek out their own mentors, as someone is just getting started in a new setting, having a designated individual is helpful. For the past four new employees I have supervised, I’ve arranged both a new professional and an experienced professional in our office to serve as mentors to the new employee. This gives the new employee someone to go to with questions, for advice, or for help with other issues. I’ve watched these roles bloom into lasting friendships. Another bonus: it’s a professional development experience for the new or experienced professional as well as the new employee.
Putting the time, thought and effort into the 4 S’s of situation, self, strategies and support for your employee onboarding makes your new hire get off to a great start. Every time we have a new advisor join our staff, we work to tweak our onboarding, and those mentioned here are just a sampling of our onboarding process. We can all be better. Let’s share. What suggestions do you have?
Claire Childress, Virginia Tech Career Services Senior Assistant Director for Job Search and Graduate School Preparation, advises students and leads a team of advisors and a portfolio of services and programs. Prior to over 19 years at Virginia Tech, she worked in distance education and as an adjunct faculty member at New River Community College, as a healthcare marketer and as a banker. A former President of the Virginia Association of Colleges and Employers, Claire currently serves as SoACE Director of Professional Development. She writes regularly for her career advising blog,CareerChassé. Connect with Claire: email@example.com LinkedIn