By Matthew Capdevielle
Matthew Capdevielle is the Director of the University Writing Center at the University of Notre Dame. He worked in the Writing Center at UW-Madison while pursuing his doctorate in English Composition and Rhetoric.
Standing in front of the tutor photo board in the Writing Center, I marvel at the collage of faces, the collection of extraordinary—truly special—people we have working in the Writing Center at Notre Dame. Each and every one of these tutors has surprised me in the most wonderful ways with their insights, their humor, their true brilliance. And with each of these magnificent individuals, our relationship started with our very first conversation in an interview, a conversation that left me wanting to hear more.
Springtime is recruiting season in the Writing Center at the University of Notre Dame. This is the time when we begin to face the fact that several of these beloved veteran tutors will be graduating soon and heading on to other adventures. It’s a sad time, to be sure. There’s no getting around it—about a third
of our staff will say goodbye to us within a few weeks. And of course, they are wholly and entirely irreplaceable. And yet, as a director, I have to consider our resources, our scheduling demands for the next academic year. So even as I stand looking at the photos of their faces, the thought creeps in, We’re going to have to hire at least 12 new tutors. Probably eight sophomores, two juniors, and one or two seniors.
Fortunately, I’m not alone in this endeavor. I have these very same tutors to collaborate with in the recruiting, interviewing, and hiring process, for in our Writing Center at Notre Dame this process is our largest-scale collaborative project. And in many ways, this is the most exciting work that we undertake together. The recruiting process presents us all with a unique occasion to reflect deeply upon our mission, on who we are, and who we want to be. Involving the current tutors in this process is not only an effective way of sifting through the hefty stack of applications or simply an efficient system of divvying up the workload of recruiting. In my view, tutor involvement in the process is an essential component of our identity formation as a center. There is no better way of centering the Writing Center than to decide together who will join us next year. At our writing center, current tutors are deeply involved at every step in the process.
Our Recruiting Process
Our recruiting process begins with an emailed call for nominations, sent to faculty early in the spring semester. Here is our first opportunity to shape the pool of applicants. We put the call out with some fairly specific criteria. We are, of course, looking for strong writers, but beyond that, we’re looking for those among the strongest writers at the University who are excellent listeners, who are careful thinkers, who show potential to become good teachers. We receive upwards of 90 nominations in response to that call, some bearing full-scale letters of recommendation, others simply offering a line or two describing the nominee’s fitness for the position. They come from across the University at every undergraduate and graduate level (we hire both in our writing center). We also accept nominations from current tutors, many of whom discover prospective tutors during their sessions with writers. No one is better positioned to identify a promising candidate for the position than one of our own tutors.
Next, we invite all of our nominees to attend one of our Prospective Tutor Information Sessions in the Writing Center. These are 30-minute info sessions conducted primarily by current tutors, during which I congratulate the nominees on their nomination, and the tutors share with them the ins-and-outs of the work of the Writing Center. We tell them what we love about this job, but we don’t sugar-coat how difficult it is (what we love about it and how hard it is to do well being two sides of the same coin). We invite them to join us in this incredibly challenging and fulfilling project. Then, we sit back and wait for the applications to roll in, and roll in they do, the first often arriving sometime within an hour of the first info session.
Application review is also a shared project. We upload all application materials—cover letters, writing samples, and resumes—to a shared drive, and then tutors are assigned batches of applications to read, rank, and review in a shared spreadsheet. Each application is reviewed by multiple tutors, and each reviewer offers comments about the strengths of the applicants. By the end of the application review process, we’ve amassed a trove of detailed notes about each applicant and selected a group of candidates to interview.
We usually end up interviewing slightly more than twice as many candidates as we have positions available. We conduct all interviews during regular hours at the back of the Writing Center, where we have a cozy spot with four squashy armchairs and a coffee table. I and two current tutors meet each candidate. We chat with them, hear about their writing processes, pose scenarios, and answer their questions. After each interview, the tutor team ducks into my office next to the Writing Center to compare notes in a ten-minute conversation about the candidate. This three-way discussion reveals a good deal about what it is that we are seeking in a tutor as we genuinely work to discover and appreciate what is special—unique and irreplaceable—about each candidate.
The Final Round-Up
The most important piece of the process is the final round-up, when we meet together as a staff (sometimes over pizza in the Writing Center, sometimes over pancakes at my house) to sift through all of the application materials and the interview notes and to make final arguments for shortening the short-list to a staff invitation list. This is where the real magic happens, because here is where we give full voice to our commitments and articulate our values as a group, collaborating to bring into focus a communal vision of what the Writing Center is and should be. There are disagreements. There are competing priorities. What about her writing sample? Did you hear her answer to the second tutoring scenario? How might he contribute to the diversity of the staff? What do we mean by “diversity” anyway? The conversations are honest and sometimes difficult. We become attached to the candidates on our respective short-lists and we uncover assumptions about what we value in the candidates—and ultimately about what we value in ourselves and in one another.
In the end, this process does more than simply yield 12 new photos for the tutor photo board. This shared project gives us a chance to inquire within ourselves about what motivates us at the deepest level to do this work. Making the recruiting process a fully collaborative endeavor is not just about fostering good citizenship in the Writing Center or streamlining a complex administrative task. It is a transformative experience, helping us to see anew just how special this work is.