How to Hire the Right Financial Aid Director

October 31, 2014 heatherdunn

It’s time to hire a financial aid director. You know finding one is no small task! The financial aid office is the fulcrum of admissions for most students, and you need a solid leader.

Step 1: Line up candidates. So far so good…

Step 2: Interview candidates. Hmmm…

This is where it gets more difficult. You sit at your desk pondering how to start the interview and remembering your previous directors.

They always seemed to be doing something different when you’d pop by the financial aid office. Calming a student, walking through a complex aid situation with a counselor, fielding phone calls from parents of students, leading a compliance training, reporting data and metrics to you, meeting with other department heads and more. You’re a little winded, thinking about all your directors have handled.

Of course, you want to hire a financial aid director superstar, but how do you determine that in the interview?

Obviously, the applicant must be a fit for the school culture. Beyond that, how do you know what to ask your interviewees to determine if they can handle the rigmarole of compliance, the roller coaster of student emotions and the race against the verification clock that takes place every award season? Take a deep breath.

CampusLogic to the rescue! To find out, we turned to the source: current financial aid directors. We asked FA directors to weigh in on what they think is the best interview question to ask to determine whether an applicant is a fit for the position. Before we get to the questions themselves, here are a few pieces of advice for the overall interview.

Financial Aid Director Interview Tips

Watch how the candidate answers questions. Does he seem to have canned responses? Does she seem to search you for clues as to how to answer? An ideal candidate should display problem-solving skills and the ability to break down an issue and analyze the pros and cons of both sides. Most problems in financial aid are not cut and dry and require critical thinking skills to determine the best possible outcome for all involved parties.

Observe the candidate’s demeanor. Is she confident? Does he enjoy puzzling out a tough question or does he seem frazzled by the unexpected? When the papers hit the fan, you need a director who can be collected and creative, not reactive.

Ask the tough questions. One director recommended asking questions that force a choice that reflects a real-life dilemma. Most director decisions will not be black and white, many will have good and bad on each side. There is a good suggestion below from that same director.

Avoid rescuing. Though your interview style should not take place under a bright light in room with a two-way window a la Law and Order, do not be afraid to ask the tough questions. Let the candidate take time to think, without jumping in to rescue him. Don’t forget the weighty nature of the position and the importance of finding the candidate who can shoulder it.

See if the candidate did any homework (school joke – get it?). Ask questions to see what he knows about your school. If she hasn’t taken the time to read the website and learn some basic facts about your institution, she likely won’t prepare for other things.

Let the candidate paint you a picture. Does the director speak in terms of moment-by-moment issues? Though there are immediate fires to be put out nearly every day in a financial aid office, you need a director who can hold a long-term vision. Financial aid plays a role in enrollment rates – and ultimately the success of your institution. Your ideal candidate will recognize that and will proactively propel a financial aid department to support institution-wide goals and initiatives.

The Big Question(s)

Finally, what you’ve been waiting for. FA directors’ ideas of the most important question to ask. Though most directors were quick to say that there are many questions to ask, qualifications to consider and observations to make, they each passionately submitted their choice for The Big Question that will reveal the most about your candidate. See below:

“Have you had audit findings where you were a director, and what were they?” A related suggestion was made, “How many findings in the last audit? How did you correct it for the future?”

“What is your experience with data metrics?”

“What is your award packaging philosophy?”

 “How about how do you plan to lead the financial aid office in a time of changing financial aid regulations and keeping us compliant with computerization for the 21st century?” We especially like this one, considering we believe financial aid technology is the solution to most problems directors face, such as compliance issues, limited time and staff resources and mounting student debt.

“What specific qualifications do you have that would allow you to be successful managing people, federal, state, and institutional aid programs?”

“Which is more important: Good customer service or timely delivery of aid?” Asking a question with no clear wrong or right answer will allow you to assess the candidate’s critical thinking skills.

“Are you nuts?” This one came from a comedic director who also admitted, “I don’t know of any other job quite like Director of Financial Aid. And I cannot imagine doing anything else.”

 Your Turn

What past questions have you asked that have been effective? And ineffective? What do you think is the most important quality for a financial aid director to bring to the role?

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