An HR bottleneck leaves dining hall jobs unfilled, despite abundance of applications

The nine dining halls spread across the MSU campus serve tens of thousands of students daily.

Before the pandemic, the canteens employed around 1,500 students. This month, however, it’s about 500. This staff shortage has impacted service, leading to most dining rooms using only single-use crockery and cutlery to conserve dishroom staff.

As of August 1, the department has received 984 applications to fill these positions. According to Kat Cooper, spokeswoman for MSU Residential and Hospitality Services, hiring is slowed down by a time-consuming, manual recruiting process and unresponsive applicants.

“It takes three weeks to hire a student team member,” Cooper said. “It takes us six weeks to hire an on-call worker, and it takes full-time team members at the university even longer to hire them.”

Cooper said HR is struggling to compete with faster processes at other employers because MSU HR staff manually review applications, while she believes competitors are using software to electronically screen applicants.

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Managers and employees at nearby East Lansing restaurants, including Leo’s Coney Island, No Thai, Buffalo Wild Wings, Barrio and Hopcat, said their applicants should expect to wait about a week between applying and starting their first shift . All of these restaurants use manual verification processes.

Cooper said that regardless of the delay, the manual process produces higher-quality results.

“This process takes time. Every time people are the ones doing the work, it takes a little longer,” Cooper said. “But we also like to think that it’s a thoughtful process and a fair process.”

Further delays were caused by unresponsive applicants. Cooper believes that the vast majority of these students simply do not see the responses to their applications, leading them to believe that the canteens did not contact them to initiate the hiring process.

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Of the 984 applicants, 351 were contacted for interviews or background checks but did not respond. Cooper believes the problem is that HR is sending emails to applicants from addresses she fears students won’t recognize.

“We find that when we contact students who say they haven’t heard from us, they’re pulling the wrong email address or they’re not looking for an email from a person,” Cooper said. “Instead, they’re looking for an email that’s from ‘your dining room’ or something like that, and we don’t have that.”

MSU has hired 379 new employees since it began reviewing the new applications. As they continue to hire additional student staff, Culinary Services hopes to address issues like single-use plates and cutlery.

Jeffrey Beavers, MSU’s Executive Director of Career Services, believes students can take a few simple steps to improve their chances of landing the dining room position they desire.

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In an email to The State News, Beavers suggested that students “create a focused resume” that aligns their interests and experiences with the job they hope to get, and that includes their volunteer and… extracurricular experiences. He also said students should prepare thoroughly for their interview by identifying their competitive advantage and creating an “elevator pitch” that summarizes their qualifications.

Beavers wrote that students should contact MSU careers advisors who can review their resumes, conduct a practice interview, and help them find open positions.

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