10 Best Practices for Search Committee Chairs

By Karen Otto and Deborah (Dee) Wing, M.D., M.B.A.

A capable, professional, steady chair is a key aspect of a successful executive search. A search chair instills a sense of mission and duty in the committee and ensures that all voices are heard and respected. A strong chairperson has the political savvy and interpersonal skills to earn the respect of colleagues as well as candidates interested in the position. Below are fundamental practices that the best search chairs follow.

  1. Set aside ample time and resources. Being a search chair is no small task and it will likely be a consuming challenge for several months. After mapping out the timeline for your search, make sure you have blocked out the time needed and alerted your primary colleagues of your commitment to the committee and search. Ensure you have strong administrative support for scheduling and logistics.
  2. Appreciate the power of the position. As chair your voice carries the most weight. Your responsibility is to make sure you don’t dominate the proceedings unduly. Realize that some members of the committee may be hesitant to counter or question your authority. Put your personal biases aside for the benefit of the greater good.
  3. Garner organizational input. The organizational assessment is the first and most critical step in the search process. Whether through focus groups, surveys or direct interviews, establish a plan for getting input from key stakeholders across the organization that can inform the position profile and guide the committee’s decisions throughout the search.
  4. Effectively lead in-person/virtual meetings and interviews. From approving the agenda to driving conversation, the chair sets the stage for productive conversations. Some key considerations:
    • Remind all members to respect confidentiality. Impress upon everyone the critical need for private proceedings. Let them know that you as search chair will be the sole spokesperson for the committee.
    • Let all voices be heard. Each committee will have members who are more dominant than others. It is the chair’s job to ensure that softer or more junior voices are given a chance to speak. Consider soliciting written responses to key questions prior to opening the floor to spoken discussion.
    • Allow members to express and consider divergent views. Committee members must be able to express their views without fear of repercussions. As chair, adhere to agreed-upon rules of decorum to make sure that discussions are healthy debates rather than charged arguments.
    • For interviews, set the tone. Ensure candidates feel welcome and appreciated. Engage all committee members and ensure that questions being asked are distributed across the group.
  5. Champion diversity and inclusion. Review the institution’s expectations for and commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in hiring practices. Whether through open discussion or formal training, raise the issue of implicit bias and ask committee members to consider how they can minimize the extent to which bias plays into the search proceedings.
  6. Represent the institution. As chair, you become the face of the institution and serve as its ambassador for the candidates. How you act and speak becomes a defining impression and greatly influences others’ desire to get the job. Spend time with the candidates during the on-campus visit and be available to field questions. Participate in the onboarding process of the successful placement and serve as a continual resource.
  7. Partner with your search consultants. It is critical to have frequent and transparent communication with the search consultants to address questions or issues that arise during the process. After an initial meeting to agree on process and timing, take the lead – with the committee and key stakeholders – in getting an approved leadership profile to share with candidates in the market. Once the search is underway, hold bi-weekly sessions with your search consultants to go over progress and changes. Identify and communicate any potential pitfalls that could impact the search (e.g., timing, organizational changes, or resource challenges).
  8. Partner with your HR team. There are myriad policies and procedures that must be followed around the selection and hiring of new leaders. Leverage the support of a point person in human resources to ensure you are following correct protocol. Application through an institutional web-portal is an example of protocol that varies from one institution to the next.
  9. Keep the hiring authority in the loop. A committee’s charge is usually to provide a recommendation of one or more finalists to an ultimate decision-maker such as a president, provost or dean. It is the chair’s responsibility to keep the hiring authority informed as to how the search is progressing and identify any questions or issues that have arisen during the search process.
  10. Communicate with your constituents. Provide regular updates on how the search is progressing with the overall committee, faculty, leadership and other key stakeholders commensurate with the wishes of the hiring authority and appropriate for maintaining confidentiality of the search process. Encourage nominations from the committee and others to proactively share the opportunity with their networks across the country.
Helpful Resources

Chairing Your First Search Committee: Avoiding Rookie Mistakes, Christopher D. Lee

The Best Search Committees, Zachary A. Smith, Ph.D.

How a Search Committee Can Be an Arbiter of Diversity, Lucy A. Leske and Christine Pendleton

Search Committee Chair Checklist, University of Illinois

Tips and Guidelines for Search Committee Chairs, University of Alabama at Birmingham

Hiring the Best Talent, AAMC