Higher Education is feeling the effects of the ‘Great Resignation’ as keenly as any industry and for many campuses the pipeline of work study student to entry level hire to middle management may not be working as seamlessly as in the past. You may also find that applicants for your open positions do not have much or any experience working in financial aid and we work in a technical field that requires a certain amount of experience to eligible for hire, right? Maybe, but as we discuss below, there are other key attributes that will result in an applicant being successful in the Financial Aid Office even if they don’t have many years of experience.
Reliability: There’s little value in an employee who is experienced but doesn’t show up when you really need them — whether that be figuratively or literally. The work doesn’t stop when one person calls out sick, someone else has to do it. Hiring a person who understands the needs of the office and how their decisions impact the team is critical to keeping the whole team happy and delivering great service.
Superior Listening Skills: At the end of the day, financial aid administration is a ‘customer service’ and one of the most important attributes for providing excellent customer service is active listening. Active listening allows staff members to quickly identify the real issues and quickly work to address them.
Superior Problem-Solving Skills: Solving problems is what we do every day— whether it be helping a student find a way to pay tuition or determining how a regulatory change impacts your office operations. An employee with this attribute takes responsibility for identifying problems and then finding appropriate solutions to overcome them or to bring potential solutions to the table for management to consider.
Being able to identify these attributes during the hiring process is not as easy as counting years of experience, so you may need to change up your recruiting process. Consider asking for references up front and conducting those conversations before the interview. Even if the applicant has never held a paid position, there’s always someone — a teacher, a volunteer leader, a clergyperson — who can speak to at least one of these attributes.
Another tactic is to ask more situational questions. You know, the ones that start, “Tell me about a time when…” If you have limited time to interview candidates and want to do some pre-screening, have the candidates submit answers to situational questions with their resumes to complete the application process. Added bonus: you can assess their writing skills too!
Finally, when you’re hiring less experienced staff, they will require more training. There will be certain institution-specific policies and procedures for which you will need to provide training yourself, but there is a plethora of resources (some of them are even free!) that new financial aid administrators can use to ramp up their technical skills. As we’ve mentioned in other blogs, the Federal Student Aid (FSA) Training Center has functionality that allows managers to assign modules to staff members and then be able to review progress. Trying to train all the details yourself will undoubtedly spread you too thin, so let a trusted entity do it for you!