Selecting successors

Confessions of a moderator

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When I started Overheard at UC Berkeley more than two years ago, I was alone: a mere team of one. I knew that moderating the page alone would be an insurmountable task, and the thought of running it without additional support made me extremely anxious. So, on the first day of the group’s existence, I chose my first two moderators. 

First, I settled on Josh Weinstein, who had been a notable figure in the old Overheard group, well known enough to be parodied in an old CalTV sketch about Overheard. The second was a friend, Isaac Nolan, who was the first person to actually ask to be a moderator.

This group of three worked out well enough for the first semester, but as Overheard continued to grow, it became clear that a bigger and more diverse team was needed – especially after the Confessions from UC Berkeley page got started. The increasing responsibilities that I garnered from being moderator of Overheard and Confessions were becoming overbearing, so in the time before the fall 2018 semester began, I began the process of finding a full team.

I had already received dozens of messages from people hoping to become moderators, which made the process of finding good people all the more daunting. I wanted to select people who could carry the legacy and vision I had so carefully cultivated, but I knew it would be hard to tell how someone would do at a job they’d never done before. Most people have never done anything even remotely close to being an Overheard moderator. I had to make a careful plan that involved a two-part process: a Google form followed by an in-person interview of all the top prospects.

Unfortunately, I ran into problems pretty quickly. First of all, I received an overwhelming 77 applicants, many of whom gave well-thought-out responses. Faced with the task of choosing from a pool of so many people, I found myself empathizing with college admissions officers. Evaluating people without meeting them in person can feel hopeless, but ironically, I had to do just that to get to the part where I could meet some people in person. After hours of careful consideration, I managed to narrow the candidates down to just a few.

The task became even more complicated, as some of my friends ended up applying to be moderators, which put me in an awkward situation. Although I generally trust my friends, I didn’t want to give them an unfair advantage. On the other hand, I also didn’t really want to damage my friendship with anyone because I knew from my own personal experience how crushing it can feel to lose out on a position based on a friend’s decision. As such, I decided to pass off the job of selecting the final candidates for interviews to my two moderators so that I could avoid making a call on anyone I personally knew.

The second part of the process was the interview phase, which was a new and unique experience for me. As the face of a campus organization, I found myself having to act professionally when scheduling meetings at Cafe Milano and writing tough interview questions designed to really test the judgment of each candidate. I met eight people in total. In each interview, I tried to be as formal as possible, since I wanted the candidates to take it seriously as well. I took detailed notes on each answer they gave.

My current moderators continued to help me during the selection process, using my notes as their guide to evaluate the interviews. We came to a consensus. Four candidates in total, one from each year at UC Berkeley, would be accepted to promote diversity and allow for differing perspectives. But now began the hardest part of the job for me: I had to write rejection letters.

Nobody talks about how rejecting candidates is also a brutal process for those making the decisions. I felt the pain of each of the unchosen applicants when I sent my letters out. One of the things I’ve learned as the Overheard and Confessions admin is how lonely it can be at UC Berkeley and how ultraselective organizations can only make that worse. I realized then that I had inexorably become part of that problem. The hardest letter to send was to an acquaintance of mine. Though it seemed fine at the time, a rift grew in our relationship afterward, and it never truly recovered.

Although the selection process was arduous, my newly selected team turned out to be a great one, and each person has proven themself truly worthy of their position. Since then, some moderators have graduated, and I’ve repeated the selection process, recruiting another four more passionate, intelligent moderators. And when I graduate myself, I’ll pass the torch to one moderator who will become head admin. It is my hope that the new admin will someday repeat the process again, long after I’m gone, and select the next generation of Overheard mods. It’ll be tough, but no matter who becomes admin, I already know I trust them because of the system I’ve set in place.

Spencer Hill writes the Friday column on being a moderator of Overheard at UC Berkeley and Confessions from UC Berkeley. Contact him at [email protected]