Sarah Steenrod, Director, Undergraduate Career Consultation and Programs, Fisher College of Business, The Ohio State University
“I really want to build a strong foundation for my students much in the same way you all did for me.”
Recently, I was contacted by a former graduate assistant (GA) who is now a career services professional at another university. She asked if I would be willing to talk with her about our training process since she will be developing a training program for her office’s peer advisers. After my head shrank back to its original size, I spent some time thinking about our training process and why I think it’s so effective in setting a strong foundation for our GAs.
Build a Team
A significant amount of our seven-day training is dedicated to getting to know each other, which helps build relationships and trust. Don’t cringe when I tell you we do at least one icebreaker a day. I must be a genius, right? Here’s the kicker, I think the main reason people dread icebreakers is because they feel put “on the spot.” To avoid this, I let everyone know in advance what the icebreakers will be throughout training, with some even requiring a little advanced preparation. For example, on the first day of training, everyone shares “What I did this summer,” so people share pictures from vacations or talk about their internships. They can think about what they want to say and feel more comfortable when getting to know strangers.
There’s something to be said for sharing a good meal together, and our office definitely appreciates a fine potluck. While we have a very minimal food budget for training, such as a continental breakfast on the first day, we plan lunch outings to places like Chipotle and everyone pays for themselves. On the walk to Chipotle, we give the GAs a campus tour.
I am a firm believer that setting clear expectations makes life much easier. Whether we are talking about the scheduling process and work-hour requirements or the importance of keeping the recruiter breakroom tidy, I am confident that our GAs know what is expected of them from the very start.
I try to involve as many of my colleagues as possible in training because the least effective thing I think I can do is talk too much. I’m not trying to bore these people to death and I have no interest in looking around the room and seeing everyone trying to be polite by not letting out a huge “yaaaaaaawn.” So, for example, when we talk about on-campus recruiting, I bring in our recruiting coordinator to talk about how she works with employers. In addition, my fellow undergraduate full-time staff members are heavily involved with and attend most of the training, so they take the lead on various training topics. Also, our second year GAs play a huge role in serving as mentors for our incoming GAs and they gain a lot of credibility by leading various parts of training and participating in discussions.
Flip the Classroom
A few years ago, I learned about the concept of “flipping the classroom.” According to Wikipedia, “Flipped classroom is an instructional strategy and a type of blended learning that reverses the traditional educational arrangement by delivering instructional content, often online, outside of the classroom and moves activities, including those that may have traditionally been considered homework, into the classroom. In a flipped classroom model, students watch online lectures, collaborate in online discussions, or carry out research at home and engage in concepts in the classroom with the guidance of the instructor.”
I now use Carmen, our course management system, to deliver training materials that I would like the GAs to read in advance (e.g., PowerPoint presentation about resume writing) so we can do more hands-on activities during training, (e.g., more resume critiques and discussions about resumes).
Our GAs begin meeting with students on the first day of school. In order for them to feel confident and get enough experience, we do a lot of hands-on activities during training. One example is preparing them to conduct mock interviews for our Qualified Undergraduate Interview Candidate (QUIC) program. We have developed a training model where we first educate the GAs about the QUIC program and process, and then we give them the opportunity to shadow, co-facilitate, and conduct the mock interviews on their own while being observed by a staff member. This process enables them to build their skills in evaluating students in mock interviews and delivering constructive feedback and they gain confidence in their abilities.
Hands-on activities are also beneficial when training GAs on student appointments. Rather than just talking about the types of student appointments they might encounter, we developed about 20 student appointment scenarios that we use in an activity where we go around the room and each draw a scenario from a hat and discuss how we would handle it. This gives us the opportunity to have open discussion and makes the GAs feel more comfortable going into a situation where “you never know what you’re going to get.”
Develop a Support System
Although we finish training before the start of the semester, we conduct on-going training throughout the academic year in our weekly team meetings and bi-weekly one-on-one meetings. This enables us to discuss questions and concerns and further explore additional topic areas that are introduced in training.
In addition to on-going training, the day-to-day support of our GAs is extremely important. We have an “open door” policy where we encourage GAs to stop by and chat with us if they have any questions or concerns. Fortunately, our GAs all work in the same space, which we affectionately call “cubeland,” so they can often times pop over the wall and bounce an idea off of their teammates.
Developing a comprehensive training program can be a daunting task, but I guarantee the time and attention spent in preparation of and during training will pay off exponentially. We couldn’t do what we do without our GAs and we love watching them grow and develop as professionals in our office.