Using NAFSA’s International Education Professional Competencies for Team Development and Hiring Purposes: Part 2

August 31, 2016

By Sora H. Friedman

Earlier this year, I kicked off this two-part blog series examining how NAFSA’s International Education (IE) Professional Competencies can be used for team development and hiring with a post providing background about the competencies and asking IE supervisors and hiring managers to provide feedback (via online survey) on how they are using the competencies in their own work.

Additionally, during the NAFSA 2016 conference in Denver, I led a presentation in the NAFSA 2016 Career Center considering how the competencies can be used as a tool to assess team skills, strengths, weaknesses, and gaps in order to assist with the professional development of current staff and to plan for future hiring searches. My goal with each was to engage with as many people as possible about how they have used the tool within their own offices. Here’s what I learned.

The online survey was distributed over the first two weeks of May to seven NAFSA networks as well as the Region XI and SECUSS-L listserves. One hundred and twenty people clicked into the survey and of those, 85 (71 percent) responded that they hold a position in which they are responsible for team development and/or hiring. Of the 82 people who continued with the survey, 19 (23 percent) responded that they have used the competencies for team development or hiring, while 63 (77 percent) said that they have not. Drilling down further, eight people noted that they have used the competencies as a tool to assess their current staff’s skills, knowledge, or performance. When asked how the competencies were helpful with this, they noted that the work fell into two areas: staff self-assessment and staff development. Some of their comments were:

  • "I shared the document with my staff, explained how to read and use it, and encouraged them to identify their own areas of strength and opportunities (and to update any language on their résumé to reflect the industry ‘standard’)."
  • "I had staff members explore an area in which they hoped to gain new responsibility during our office transition."
  • "I used the competencies…to create expectations for the staff. I encouraged staff members who felt they did not have particular competencies to seek out ways to gain those competencies through additional training (and I provided the support and funding for that). I was also able to cross check that all competencies were being covered by various staff members within my office even if there were gaps in some employee’s set of competencies."
  • "I encouraged senior staff members to refer to the competencies as they make their suggestions on who should attend which professional development opportunities at professional conferences, webinars, or on campus [human resources] workshops."
  • "During our ‘advising boot camps,’ in which we assessed where we were in terms of advising and where we wanted to be, we utilized the competencies to assess ourselves."

When asked if they are using the competencies as a tool to help with planning for the hiring of new staff, only four people responded affirmatively. However, they all agreed or strongly agreed that the competencies were useful in this regard. Participants were then asked how the competencies can be helpful in planning for a new hire. Overall, the responses fell into two groups:

  • Those who based the job description on the competencies, especially regarding skills and knowledge
  • Those who created interview questions around the competencies.

Lastly, participants were invited to offer their suggestions regarding additional uses of the competencies. Ideas included:

  • "Create an electronic tool so that folks can click through a listing of the competencies to rate their levels of competence (and get a report)."
  • "Explain how cross-cutting competencies can be useful across themes for those who don’t understand or who can’t see beyond their day-to-day operations."
  • "Provide activities that incorporate the competencies, [such as] sample interview questions and facilitated staff meetings.
  • "Provide tools and documents or templates that build on the competencies; for example, human resource documents and assessments."
  • "Create a résumé evaluation tool that incorporates the competencies."
  • "Use the competencies as a tool for staff assessment to create a foundation for staff development."
  • "Use the competencies as a basis for annual reviews."
  • "Integrate key words from the competencies into one’s LinkedIn profile."

In a case of good timing, just a week or so before the conference, NAFSA published its newest tool related to the IE Professional Competencies, Hiring Manager Questions: In Alignment with the NAFSA International Education Competencies. This tool offers several pages of suggested interview questions organized by knowledge community and competency. While the questions are very pointed and sure to be helpful to hiring managers, I encourage all IE professionals to reflect on them as part of their own professional development. The fact that they are organized in two categories, "direct service" and "management," make this application even easier.

All in all, the data mentioned above and my conversations at NAFSA 2016 lead me to believe that the IE Professional Competencies are being underutilized as a tool for hiring and staff development. I encourage all of my IE colleagues to consider their broader usage, not just for one’s own professional development, but also to guide that of your staff and as part of future hiring. I also encourage NAFSA to consider some of the suggestions gathered in this small research project so that more IE professionals can benefit from them in diverse ways. Having a concrete tool like the competencies can only help our staff and colleagues (and ourselves!), as well as the further professionalization of our field.


Sora Friedman is professor and chair of international education at SIT Graduate Institute in Brattleboro, Vermont. For more resources, advice, and information to take your international education career to the next level, visit the NAFSA Career Center today.


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