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Preparing for an RA interview

Q - Hi, I am hoping to secure an RA position for my Sophomore year of college.  I was told that I need to have two interviews and I have to fill out an application.  I would like to know what types of questions I may be asked and how can I best approach these questions to make sure that I present myself in a way that will make me seem like RA material.  I have a lot of ideas on how to make the halls better but I just need help in presenting it.  Thank you very much. (Editor's note... I have also included answers to similar questions about interviewing)
A. RA Interview Preparation

There are a number of things that you can do to prepare for your interview.

First you should talk to your RA and maybe a couple others and ask them about their jobs and what they actually do.  Ask what they like best and least about being a housing employee.  Ask what they found out about the job that they wish they knew before they applied.  See if he/she has a list of expectations or of responsibilities.  Most schools provide this to their staffs and many include it with their application material.

Second, you want to be yourself at the interview.  There is not an "RA Type".  If you try to be something that you are not, your interviewers may get a sense that you are hiding something. Be honest about why you want the job and think about what you would do differently and what you may do the same as RA's you have had. I have hired so many different personality types
that I can't even count them. Quiet students can be good RA's and enthusiastic and up-beat and goofy and serious.   In general, student staffs should represent the students in the hall. A staff member must be responsible and accountable, honest, respectful and open to diverse peoples.

Think about the challenges that all housing staff have like--RA's live in a fish bowl, people notice what they do... 
Think about how you will study effectively
Think about what time commitments you will have next year
Think about what the halls would be like with out student staff...scary!

4. Be prepared to ask the people interviewing you a question or two. Even if you just ask what was the best event/program you organized or what was the toughest thing for them their first semester as an RA. Be specific with questions if you have them.

5. Remember that the interview is not the time to say your current RA is not living up to your expections.  Being negative about the residence life program or of current staff at an interview will not help you get hired. This will hold true in any interview.

6. The RA job is the best job I ever had.  I learned more about me then I ever thought I could. Working for housing as a student will help you discover where your strengths and weakness are, but will also afford you the opportunity to work on those weakness in a supportive environment.  It is time consuming, but worth it!

7. Don't give up!  I wasn't hired as an RA my first time. After that I reapplied and was housing staff at the University of Florida for 2 years. Now I am in my 4th year as a Residence Life Professional and I have supervised over 20 RA's, CA's, CM's and RM's.

Hope this helped! Holly Habicht, RLC Georgia Tech

A. Every campus handles interviews different, so it would be difficult to say what they might ask.  I would encourage you to think about it differently. Instead, what is you want people to know about you.  That is something you have control over and if you know confidently what you want people to know, the questions they ask you will be responded in a manner that you get them to know you!

Talk about what you have seen on campus you might change, compliment on the things which you have enjoyed, (people don't want to know all your criticism without seeing you like something they do) and what is your passion.  I have never seen an RA candidate with passion, not aggression, passion, not get the position.  You need to talk about how you care about people and your work ethic and your ability to role model.  If you can, I'm confident you will get the job.  Good people who are passionate and care about others are great RAs.  I can't teach people to care about others, but I can teach them how to program, deal with difficult people and handle crisis situations.

Every campus is different so much of what I am speaking about is form my own experience.  We at Syracuse University are looking for student leaders who can engage others in conversation.  We have de-emphasized the role of authoritarian, so if your campus is in that similar vein, you will do just great!

Don't hesitate to e-mail me should you have any questions.

My humble opinion - Tom Ellett - Director of Residence Life - Syracuse University teellett@syr.edu

A. I love to see students who take such an active role in being a leader on campus. Those are the type of people who make a difference. I think that generally RAs are hired for their personal characteristics more so than their ideas for change. Ideas for change are good. They are needed. But they are not what makes a good RA. Good RAs are ones that connect with their residents and help their residents grow. In fact, your ideas for change may accomplish this. What I tell everyone who is asking for advice for RA interviews is to be yourself. Be honest. I always wanted honest RAs working for me when I was a hall director. I didn't want an RA who "put on a face" for an interview. These type of people are not genuine and make awful RAs. They are not trusted nor respected by their residents. I think that you have to also understand yourself. In order to
help others, you need to be aware of your strengths weaknesses and "baggage."

Here are a list of characteristics that most people look for when hiring RAs:

  • maturity
  • confidence (but not arrogance or conceit)
  • self-awareness
  • enthusiasm
  • ability to communicate
  • ability to lead groups and individuals
  • ability to embrace people different from you
  • ability to work well in a group
  • ability to think critically
  • ability to connect with others (this doesn't necessarily mean that you are a charismatic, outgoing person - quiet people make good RAs too)

I think in an interview you will need to demonstrate how you are these things. If there are things you are lacking in state that. When I first applied for an RA position I said that I had no weaknesses. Now when a candidate tells me that I think that they are lying or he/she is not very aware of him/herself. Nobody is perfect. The closest thing to perfect is someone who is continually trying to improve him/herself. Here are general questions you can expect to get in this interview and in other interviews as well:

  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • How have you/or would you handle a crisis?
  • What three adjectives would your best friend use to describe you?
  • What three adjectives would your worst enemy use to describe you?
  • What people annoy you? How do you deal with them?
  • Discuss a situation in which you were a leader? What was difficul about that situation?
  • Discuss a situation in which you had to make an unpopular decision?
  • What college/university policy would you change and why?
  • What are the characteristics you think make a successful RA?

Keep in mind this is only a sample of possible questions. But if you are aware of yourself and understand the job, you should be able to answer any question well. If you are asked a question about which you have no experience, think about how you would deal with it. Also remember that if you do not get the job next year, there is always the year after. I applied to be an RA for my sophomore year and I didn't get a job. I thought I would make a fantastic RA. I didn't get mad and give up (well I got mad for a little bit). I went for feedback on the interview process (I would strongly encourage this) and I was told that I didn't have enought "experience." I thougth that was a little vague and I didn't think it was totally applicable to being an RA. But instead of dismissing the feedback I took what I could from it. I got invovled with the Admissions office in a variety of capacities and also got involved with summer orientation. I then applied for the job for my senior year. I got a job with overwhelming support. I also thought that I was a better RA for the experience that I had gained during my sophomore and junior years.  If you have any other questions feel free to contact me directly.

Good Luck! - Gavin Henning, Research Associate - Division of Student Affairs - University of New Hampshire

A. The most important thing to do is be yourself! There is no prototype for the RA position so it takes all types people. I would suggest doing mock interviews with someone that is familiar with the RA position. I would also suggest bouncing your off that person. Good luck. 

p.s. Make sure your application is completed in a professional manner.

Tim Stockton - Associate Director for Apartment Housing - Indiana University

A. Well I am not going to list questions that you may be asked because I have no idea what our University might want to know from you.  However I would give you some advice.

Some candidates come into RA interviews TOO PREPARED.  They know everything (or so they think) and it makes them look bad.  Obviously you would like to be an RA so I would not overprepare.  However there are some things you should think about.

1.  What types of things do you see current RAs doing at your institution?  What types of things does the department seem to emphasize?  (i.e. programming, diversity, student success, etc.)

2.  With these things in mind, turn it around and think of what types of questions they may formulate to find out how you fit into their departmental values.  (i.e. if diversity is a big thing that you notice in the department...a question they might ask is what experiences have you had with people who are different from you?)

3.  The other part is to begin thinking about what your floor would look like...what types of programs would you want to have, how do you build community, how do you enforce policy.  With a lot of self reflection you will begin to understand what types of things they may want to know from you.

4.  Finally, remain calm and relaxed and don't oversell yourself.  They will find the people that really fit into the position.  You seem to be on the right track.  Good luck

If you have any other questions, please drop me a line.

Ray Gasser - Assistant Director of Residential Life for Student Development - Indiana State University

A. My best advice is to be yourself!  Emphasize the skills that you have and recognize what you can gain from the experience. 

As a person who interviews RAs, the candidates that usually stick out in my mind are the ones who have done their homework and know what they're getting into and also recognize the impact that it will have on their lifestyle (time management, involvement, balancing academics, etc). 

Knowing the benefits that will out-weigh compensation (because we all know RAs don't get paid enough for all that they do! :) ) is something that I also like to see.

I don't look for the "perfect person" for positions.  I think it's important that the person has things they can learn.  However, I have to feel comfortable that the person has some self-direction and initiative.  I have to feel confident that the candidate can fucntion independently and that I won't have to "be on them" all of the time.

I also know that everyone has different things they can offer...and that's how I pick my staff.  I really try to match up people who will round out my staff and have a variety of perspectives.  I look at the RA position as a big learning experience, rather than just a job.

I hope this helps in some way.  Best as you go through the process!!  Just remember that even if you aren't offered a position this year, stick with it!  Stay involved and learn from the process.  It's a great opportunity to know what you're getting yourself into.  And next year you could talk about how much you've changed and grown.

Best of luck...and it sounds like you're doing some great research into the job by starting at ResidentAssistant.Com (Isn't Dan's creation a good one??)

Steve Crudup - Resident Director, O'Connor Hall - Dickinson Community - Binghamton University

A. Involvement as a resident is the thing that sticks out to me the most. When residents have made an effort to be involved in campus activities and especially activities in the residence halls, that makes me look twice at a candidate. The resident who always seems to be at programming board activities, their floor and hall programs, etc., is the resident who sticks out in the crowd. Friendliness is also another big area. While I can't see every interaction someone has with others, if the interactions I see outside of the interview are positive and friendly, that makes me more likely to want someone on my staff. While everyone has bad days, we like to have people on staff who can be friendly and sociable even when they don't quite feel like it since residents might need their RA even when the RA doesn't feel like being needed.


A.  The only thing I would add to these great comments is be aware of the position. When a potential candidate asked me this question, it led to me writing "The ABCs for RAs." Take a few minutes to read it over, as it may give you some good perspective.

Dan Oltersdorf - ResidentAssistant.com

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