When to Consider a More Nimble Search

By Lisa Meyer

Colleges and universities are known for their love of traditions, whether school songs, commencement robes, or Friday night bonfires. There are times, however, when it makes sense to change some of those traditions and do things a new way. This thinking can also apply to some executive searches, especially those for mid-level leaders.

With or without search firm involvement, processes for hiring leaders at colleges and universities generally follow a traditional set of norms: candidates are invited to apply during a set window of time; search committees review applications and interview select candidates; from those interviewed, several are invited to be finalists; finalists interview with the broad community and finally with the hiring manager. This traditional process works well for many positions. It provides an opportunity for the campus to engage early in the process of recruiting and vetting candidates for leadership roles. It is especially important when communities are searching for top leaders, like presidents, provosts and deans.

A Streamlined Process

But there are times, especially when searching for candidates to fill a mid-level leadership role (director through AVP), that reimagining and revising this process to make it more nimble can actually lead to better results. Examples might include when a position requires technical skills that are unlikely to be understood by search committee members who represent the campus broadly, or when the relationship between the hiring manager and the person in the role will be especially crucial. In these instances, leaving the vetting of candidates to the committee may lead to finalists who simply don’t meet the hiring manager’s specific needs.

At WittKieffer, we have seen a growing number of clients choose to modify the traditional process and engage in a more nimble search. In these instances, the process begins with the hiring manager meeting with candidates who have been identified as strong. These meetings often take place on a rolling basis as candidates apply, rather than waiting until a deadline for applications. Only after two or three candidates are deemed by the hiring manager as a good fit, do they meet with other campus constituencies. This affords the community an opportunity to weigh in on candidates that the hiring manager feels confident will be capable of the work.

Benefits of this more nimble process include:

  • The hiring manager is able to ensure that finalists have the requisite skills to do the job before they engage with the campus community. This also avoids having constituents spend valuable time interviewing unqualified candidates.
  • The search process can move more quickly, identifying strong candidates for interviews with the hiring manager as they apply.
  • Candidate pools for positions that require specific knowledge and skillsets are more likely to produce successful hires when candidates have been vetted early in the process.

Setting aside traditional assumptions at the start of the search and considering new options can be a first step to assuring a more expedient timeline, and ultimately, success in finding the best candidate.

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