Academic Advising Resources


An Advising Administrator's Duty: Hiring
Authored by: Linda C. Chalmers


I profess that the most important job duty of an advising administrator is to hire the right people because no other function done improperly or poorly will so quickly damage the advising operation and the mission of providing quality advising services to students. Over the twenty plus years that I have been an administrator/manager, both in higher education and private industry, I have observed that the art of hiring the right people is constantly cussed and discussed. One must continually hone hiring skills, especially in light of the ever-changing workforce landscape.
There remains a constant within the forces of human-resource changes that I always use when hiring. My mantra is 'hire the attitude and train the skill'. I learned this valuable lesson early on when I discovered that a bad attitude will poison an office staff very quickly. Bad attitudes rarely change to good. A person's world view comes early as decision-making patterns are developed early in life.Just take the person who sees the world through the 'half-empty' filter and try to change them to see it 'half-full;' you soon will discover that no human power can perform that magic!
I have always willingly given people 'the benefit of the doubt' but early on learned the valuable lesson of listening. I will never forget the administrative assistant I hired for a front desk-receptionist position. During the job interview, I emphasized that this position required that the individual be on-time and dependable. While I heard, I did not listen to the candidate as she responded with a saga that included living across town, childcare issues, and her need to learn a new route to work. Unfortunately I did see not understand this cue to her future performance. Instead I looked at the candidates' qualifications on paper; she was the 'best qualified' of the pool so I hired her. Alas, during her first month she was up to 30 minutes late every day (if only I had listened!). Soon we parted amiably and I learned a valuable lesson.

In my twenty-plus supervisory years, I have had many positive hiring experiences. Much of this success stems from a few solid principles and techniques:

  • Be sure you know what the job entails. Have you served 'time' in the position you are hiring? Have you shadowed each staff position to experience what these individuals do and how each must perform to be successful on a daily basis? 
  • Break down the job into essential functions-what must be done or the job fails. Identify the performance outcome for each function and define the needed skills or skill set. Example, an advisor position's essential job functions may be the following:
  • Communicates well and builds rapport with advisees;
  • Pays attention to details fro accuracy;
  • Focuses on the positive using a strengths-based or developmental advising approach, etc;
  • Uses technology well to gain, analyze, and communicate information (uses PC with keyboard, Microsoft Office Suite, email, the institution's records system, etc);
  • Is adaptable and flexible with institutional changes, policies; and
  • Understands and relates well with multigenerational advisees.

Map this on paper and consider the types of questions you and your search committee will need to ask interviewees in order to yield the best information for making a hiring decision. (Note: It is often wise to develop these questions with the search committee since HR laws dictate that the same questions be asked of all interviewees.)
Recently I was surprised to learn that, '.when surveyed, over 90% of people (employers) indicate they hate to interview.' If that is true, then how can we expect to hire good people? It's all in the preparation. In a recent issue of Employee Recruitment & Retention, a report states the 10 worst hiring practices. Practice #7 is 'no plans for interviewing'. Interview preparation is, indeed, important.
In the interview, asking the right questions is critical to gaining needed information about a candidate. Let's say that as an administrator, you have isolated four essential job functions for the advising position: Verbal Communication; Analytical Problem Solving; Tolerance; and Motivation. After determining the performance measure for each, an administrator must consider what questions will elicit the desired information from interviewees. 

Verbal Communication-must clearly present important information to positively influence or persuade advisees to take action or accept consequences.

  • Advisees may not be aware of or concerned about school policies, procedures, processes, or decisions. Academic advisors often are bearers of bad news, i.e., missing prerequisites; delay graduation, denial of a petition, etc.
  • For this skill consider asking candidates the following: 


  1. Being an advisor requires a lot of time talking with advisees. Describe a time or a job that you have had that required a lot of talking and how you felt at the end of the day?
  2. Advisors at times must deliver 'bad news' about graduation or petitions, etc. Describe a time you had to deliver bad news and how it was received by the person.
  3. Tell me about a time that you had to influence or persuade another person.
  4. Describe the steps  you took to build a trust relationship with a friend, co-worker or advisee.

Analytical Problem-Solving-must be able to use a systematic/structured approach for identifying the elements of the problem and to render possible solutions.

  • Advisees come from all walks of life, educational experiences, and possess a wide range of responsibilities and stressors. The advisor, as an objective observer and good listener, should be able to discern the problem and assist the advisee with  possible solutions.
  • For this skill consider asking candidates the following:


  1. Describe a situation where you were confronted with a complex problem, the process you used to analyze it, and the solution or solutions you found.
  2. What was your greatest success in using logic to solve a work-related problem?
  3. Illustrate a time when you helped a co-worker or friend solve a problem; describe the steps you used to define the problem and the resulting solutions.

Tolerance (patience)-able to suppress actions or speech when important information is unknown, manage unresolved situations and the time it takes for resolution, positively handles frequent changes, delays or unexpected events.

  • While advisors may not be privy to what administrators are thinking or doing, changes may be thrust upon advisors and students and advisors must be able to deal with these changes in a positive manner.
  • For this skill consider asking candidates the following:


  1. Tell us about a time when you had to wait for critical information before you could act or communicate with the student/customer. How long did you have to wait for the information? How did you feel during the wait period?
  2. In an advising job there will be periods of time that the student traffic is minimal and times that are very hectic, e.g., registration periods. Tell me about the work flow patterns of your current position and how you feel about them.
  3. Sometimes the advising job is complicated by having to sift through conflicting of ambiguous information. What has been your experience in working under these conditions and what impact does it make upon you?

Motivation-must be able to create a positive influence on self, coworkers, and work environment in general.

  • Advising takes a great amount of energy, especially when the advisor load is great. Someone who generates negative energy in the workplace will create a toxic work environment and drive off advisees. Advisors must stay upbeat even when others are not.
  • For this skill consider asking candidates the following:


  1. Describe a time when your enthusiasm helped move a team forward in completion of a goal.
  2. Give me an example of a time when your positive attitude helped a co-worker or customer or advisee better understand the situation.
  3. If you were given one tool to create motivation in others, what would that tool be and why. 

One of the best 'closing' questions (a question that I've used for years) is 'If I met your current (or former) boss on the street, what would s/he say about you using only five adjectives?' Condensing this into just five adjectives demonstrates the candidate's ability to think quickly and delineates how the interviewees see themselves through their boss' eyes. I've used this closing question for the past few years and have weighed the answers heavily for every hiring decision I've made. To date, each new-hire has been true to his/her words.

In the twenty-two years as a supervisor, the past ten years in academic advising, I've not fired anyone. I transferred one employee to another department, gently suggested 'other options' to about five, all of whom soon chose to depart. On the average, employees have stayed with me for five years before moving on to promotions, career changes, and/or transferring out of the area. More importantly, the goals and accomplishments achieved by my teams over these years have been astounding.

Are administrators who use a prescribed formula ever guaranteed that they will hire the right person? No. Butadministrators who plan to succeed -- from the beginning of the process to the end result..and then beyond - improve their odds of success. How do we keep the good employees we've hired? That is a story for another article in the future!

Authored by:
Linda C. Chalmers

Retention & Graduation Analyst
University of Texas at San Antonio


  • Peak Search, (2005) Interviewing for Employers, Winning the Best in the 21st Century,
  • Sennett, Frank. (2004) 'Special Report: The 10 worst hiring practices - and how to avoid them', Employee Recruitment & Retention, Lawrence Ragan Communications, Inc., Chicago, IL, Sample Issue, pp 6-7

Cite this using APA style as:

Chalmer, L.C. (2005). An Advising Administrator's Duty. Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources website:

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