We usually have 9 formal positions: President, VP, Mechanical Design, Machining, Electrical, Programming, Outreach, Media, and Business. Interested students send us a completely open-ended application - we tell them to send us anything that makes the case for why they would be suited for the role, and suggest a resume or cover letter as possibilities.
Then we hold interviews with all the captains, where they are interviewed by the 2-3 mentors who work most closely with that subteam. We ask questions about things like what they think the subteam’s current strengths and weaknesses are, what their priorities would be for things the team needs to improve, what their leadership style would be, what other time commitments they will have next year, and anything else that comes to mind.
Once all the interviews are complete, we have a mentor meeting where all the mentors discuss all the candidates, and we come up with the final list of who the captains will be. It’s a little tricky because generally we’re somewhat short on candidates and lots of people apply for more than one role, so we have to balance out what will be the strongest overall leadership team - filling every position and trying to avoid double-appointments is almost as much a factor as who is the “best candidate” for each specific role. “Best candidate” is a mix of past technical experience, past dedication/reliability, showing leadership in the past, enthusiasm, and what their general approach will be to leading the subteam (based on what we’ve seen from them before as well as what they said in the interview). We know no one will be perfect right off the bat, and discuss how much/what kind of mentor support each of our final choices will need in order to be successful. Most years we end up with several captains who we know will struggle a bit, but who we believe will be able to grow into the role with the right coaching. It almost always works out well, and is a great growth experience for those captains.
We also emphasize that we will make sure anyone who applies but doesn’t get a formal captainship will get other opportunities to develop as a leader, and keep an eye out for specific projects or responsibilities they can be given.