By MARTY LEVINE
A more efficient hiring program that is finding better candidates — and simultaneously securing new hires for several openings at once — is having success in its first months in the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences and College of General Studies. It uses hiring committees to do the early job-candidate screening and help with interviews, easing individual departments’ hiring duties.
“We were hit pretty hard with staff retirements” during the University’s most recent early-retirement incentive program in 2020, said Maureen Lazar, Dietrich’s director of workforce effectiveness. “Then we moved into the pandemic and there was the hiring freeze. We were running 25 percent down on our already bare staff. So much to do with so little people.”
The school found itself, she said, hiring “warm bodies” in a “competitive market.”
After consultation with Michele Montag, executive director of administration, in October 2021, the school created several hiring committees to handle the early work of recruiting and vetting Administrator I and II candidates — entry-level business coordinators, assistants to chairs, graduate administrators and office administrators, as well as higher-level administrative coordinators for departments, executive assistants and program coordinators. In May, the hiring committees expanded to handle student services jobs.
The committees cover both the Dietrich School and the College of General Studies, and are aimed at saving departmental hiring personnel much of the initial work of using Pitt’s Talent Center software to post jobs and examine all applicant materials.
The plan, Lazar said, is “to increase the diversity of our staff, to have better and more consistent processes across the board, to increase the speed of hiring and to hire all of the best candidates and not lose anyone.” Sometimes, a second or third choice might work just as well in another position.
At the end of the initial phone screenings done by the hiring committee, candidates are asked whether they would be open to other jobs at Pitt. Those who say yes are sent additional job descriptions and can then apply for any or all of those jobs with a single process.
Hiring committees include Pitt staffers already in the positions for which candidates are being screened — those who have completed the Dietrich School’s HR-oriented diversity training. “One of our goals is to increase opportunities to build inclusivity within the school,” Lazar said, “and to also attract the maximum number of candidates.”
From December through April 2022, under the new hiring plan, Dietrich and General Studies have hired 22 new administrative staff. “That’s a pretty big number in a short period of time,” Lazar said.
Besides participating in the main interview with a committee member, the departmental hiring manager performs reference checks and makes the final hiring decision.
Despite some initial trepidation, Aryanna Hunter found the new hiring process to be very helpful.
Hunter, director of the Office of Veterans Services (which is in the College of General Studies) found her department one administrative person short amid the pandemic. After the hiring freeze was lifted, but before the new committee system was in place, she contacted HR to make a hire and found the process “complex — you’re not sure of the right person to reach out to,” or how to hunt down the existing job description. She found reading 50 resumes and cover letters to be “intimidating. The process for me was a lot of additional work.”
And the outcome? “The initial hire didn’t work out for us anyway. Now we had to do it all over again.”
For the second go-round, the committee hiring program had been created. She merely had to post the job and the committee reviewed resumes, asked for missing cover letters and did initial screens. “Now I only had to review a handful of candidates,” Hunter said.
She said she had some worries — would the program screen out veterans who had not had time, due to service demands, to earn a master’s degree, as the job had demanded? She asked for the chance to take a look at all the candidates herself, just to make sure. No problem, the committee said. She found that the committee had not passed on any qualified job seekers.
She also appreciated that the committee, during interviews, concentrated on a standard set of questions, “so everyone was reviewed on this same information.”
Overall, the process “had gone a lot more smoothly” this time, she said. She was even able to simultaneously hire for a second job that had come open more recently.
“We are two and a half months into both employees being on the team,” Hunter said, “and it feels like they’ve always been here.”
“Our next goal is to try to open up additional recruitment sources within the Pittsburgh region,” Lazar said. Salary is still a big issue for job seekers today, plus “candidates are looking for flexibility in the work environment,” including hybrid models of work and flexible hours. The committee’s phone screen now begins with a mention of the salary, in order not to waste everyone’s time.
“There are openings everywhere and we need to be as transparent as we can” about each job, Lazar said. In the seven months since the program began, “the candidate pool has gotten slimmer. It’s a candidate’s market right now.”
Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-758-4859.
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