Many offices have the opportunity to hire student workers for a semester, full academic year, or even a calendar year. Student workers help professionals in the office — especially those who don’t work directly with students — understand the “beat” of campus, execute big ideas, and provide that much needed student perspective.
Student workers come in all forms, shapes, and sizes. Some are looking for a foot in the door — they might want a career in higher ed down the road. Others may see it as means to end. We all have to pay the bills somehow! Whatever you and your student workers hope to get out of the deal, there are a few things you can do make the most out of managing a student team.
Here are four tips for managing student workers:
1. Establish expectations
It’s important to establish everyone’s expectations up front. The job description should be clear. Describe the responsibilities of the job and how the student will help achieve office goals. When crafting the description, consider what areas need help and what projects could offer learning experiences and growth opportunities for the student. (They’re here to learn, after all.)
Discuss with the student each aspect of the job and ask about their comfort level with each task. Of course, some things must be done, but others may offer some flexibility. During this discussion, discover the student’s strengths and interests — it could result in a new aspect of the position that you hadn’t considered before.
2. Check In
Student worker positions across campuses, and even within one department are structured differently. Many student workers will work a portion of their hours outside the office. Some might not even come into the office at all. Since all student schedules are different, it is especially important to schedule some sort of check-in. This can be done with weekly meetings, individual meetings, or even submitting online update forms such as 15five.com.
Individual meetings allow students to think beyond their daily tasks. Especially if they view this position as their first step toward a career, you can assist them in determining how to get where they need to be. In these meetings, you can also uncover any tasks that they would like to take on in the future.
Team meetings are equally as important as individual meetings. In a team setting, students can collaborate, get to know each other, and think about the bigger picture. It’s important to consider the needs and functionality of the team when scheduling meetings. Start with weekly check-ins. If it turns out that isn’t enough, scale up. If not, scale back. Just because you held weekly meetings last year with your team doesn’t mean that these new interns necessarily have the same needs.
3. Hold them accountable
No one likes to be the bad cop, but someone has to do it. Sometimes students don’t follow through on their promises or job responsibilities. Many students are stretched thin. Between coursework, social lives, club participation, and attending events on campus, a campus job can fall by the wayside.
Another benefit to weekly meetings is that they help hold students accountable. You can run through what you think is on everyone’s plate and confirm they’re on track to complete it.
If you notice that a student is falling behind on work or not completing assigned tasks, sit down individually with the student. During this conversation, remind them of expectations that were laid out in the job description when they were hired, but also check in to be sure that they can handle the position on top of their other responsibilities. Working with the student to develop a schedule or understand time management is a key skill that they need to bring into the workplace. Your ability to hold them accountable prepares them for the “real world.”
4. Let them fly
Let’s face it: students often understand your institution better than staff do. They’ll have insights and ideas that you wouldn’t imagine. When working with students, leave the “we’ve always done it this way” mentality at the door. Listen to their ideas and work with them to make them a reality. Even if every idea can’t be developed, your students will benefit from having the opportunity to try.
Jackie Vetrano is the social media coordinator at Skidmore College where she oversees the student social media team. She is also co-host and producer of the Higher Ed Social Podcast and editor and contributor to Link: The Journal of Higher Education Web Professionals.