Staff Q&A: Lesley Psaris and Heather Carson


Senior staff recruiters, Human Resources

Length of Service:
3 1/2 and 4 years, respectively

Both are new moms.

When it comes to hiring talented staff to work at Penn, Senior Staff Recruiters Heather Carson and Lesley Psaris are among the resident experts.

They deftly handle questions from people at Penn who are confused about how to write a job description for an open position, what they can and can’t ask in an interview and sometimes, how they should simply start the process.

Recently, Carson and Psaris did one more thing to help make the hiring process a lot less daunting: With help from their colleagues, they have updated the Hiring Officer Handbook and posted it online (available with PennKey authentication at, where current employees looking to hire (called, aptly, hiring officers) can get the answers to myriad questions.

Q. Was there a handbook before this one?

A. Heather: We actually did have a handbook before. It gave some basic information on the hiring process. It also gave some information on how to get resumes, on the hiring process all the way from posting a position to hiring someone. We had gotten a new online employment system in April 2003, and about that time it was Lesley’s idea to revamp the hiring handbook. We really needed a handbook that addresses some of the changes that have happened, and to be more of a guide for the hiring officers buiding them throughout the entire process of posting a job, writing a job description, screening applicant pools, even interviewing and assisting them with interview questions and how to set salary.

Q. What are some of the most common questions you get from hiring officers?

A. Lesley: Some of the common questions we receive pertain to paperwork—what the hiring officer needs to submit to us to make a hire happen. We have a whole section [in the handbook] on that. Two questions we receive are often around interview questions—what a hiring officer can ask if they’are trying to get at a component that they’are looking for. This [handbook] provides information about legal and illegal questions that reflect the white pages on EEO guidelines. HC: We get a lot of calls ‘Gee, I don ’t even know how to address the issue of salary if it comes up in the interview. How do I set a salary, what do I tell the candidates?’ The hiring handbook actually provides the officers with a worksheet and some guides on how to set salary. It teaches them how to look at their staff to see how much the people on their staff are making and how to make a good equitable salary decision.

Q. Was there anything that you were surprised to discover about the hiring process?

A. HC: A couple of things that I really found interesting—the preparations for interviewing, the different types of interview that a hiring officer can do and really getting a better understanding of what goes into that. Also, with compensation, we do a lot of salary studying where we are, but [it is interesting] to be able to see how it is broken down and how hiring officers use that tool to really understand what they need to pay people. LP: We include the Candidate Evaluation Form and the Candidate Matrix, which are two forms that are used to think about applicants that you are interviewing in a more quantifying [manner]. Prior to this handbook, I hadn't thought about looking at applicants that you interview in that fashion.

Q. Why do this?

A. LP: Really, we needed to make a more user-friendly version. What we had before was very piecemeal, I think. So it is nice to be able to tell your hiring officers, “Focus on section II.” HC: Exactly. That was another thing we realized that since everything else that we had available was online—all of our forms, information that they needed—we thought we needed something interactive. If they know exactly what they need, they can just click on that and it gets them where they need to go.

Q. How many people apply for a standard office job?

A. LP: For an admin coordinator job, we see about 75 applicants in two weeks. That is pretty average. Often, these will stay open longer so that the pool just continues to grow. Usually, we see the most action on a job from candidates within the first month and then the numbers start to trickle off. HC: Just to give you an idea of the volume of hiring we’re doing—which makes something like this even more appropriate—we filled about 2,200 positions last year. So we have a lot of hiring officers who need this guidance. LP: At one time, we have about 450 [open jobs]. We post about 50 jobs a week.

Q. How do you think this will help people at Penn?

A. HC: We don’t want anybody to feel like they are lost and don’t know what to do. We have a lot of different hiring officers out there and since our University is so decentralized, a lot of hiring officers are running around without any centralized help. If they can go to the website and see this source, they get some guidance.It also gives them recruitment and staffing contacts so if they do have questions, they do know who to call. We really wanted to hit on everything [and createe] something they could refer back to time and time again if they did need it.

Q. A lot of this seems like basic people skills, and helping people get at information in the best possible way.

A. HC: I think [these are] skills that don’t just help them with hiring at Penn, but also are skills they take with them no matter where they go in their careers. We have a lot of people who may be hiring once every 4 or 5 years. It 's not the main part of their job. They have so many other concerns they need to address on a daily basis. This gives them a quick shot—“This is what I really need to do to get this done.” This document is definitely a work-in-progress, because as things change and as we get updates, we will continue to update this.

Originally published on April 14, 2005