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Chairing a Search Committee in Higher Education

Chairing a Search Committee in Higher Education
“Search committee” is a term you have most likely heard and probably used. You may have been on one. You may have chaired one or know someone who has.
Institutions, especially public universities, often mandate the formation of a search committee when a position becomes available or is newly created. The purpose of a search committee is to screen candidates and bring a small number of qualified individuals to the forefront for selection. While the final selection is the responsibility of the hiring manager, the search committee helps to eliminate the “unconscious bias” of a hiring manager and ideally ensures a fairer and more thorough search.

If a higher education institution has decided to work with an executive search firm, the firm can help the institution form a search committee and offer guidance to the committee chair. Having partnered with search committees many times, we asked our expert, Jim Lord, Executive Director – Northeast, for suggestions on what the best committee chairs do. Here are his Top 9:

  1. The hiring manager should act as the committee chair (if on the committee). Private institutions are more likely to include the hiring manager on the committee while public institutions may not. In cases where the hiring manager is not on the committee, either a trusted advisor of the hiring manager or a future peer of the new hire who will interface heavily with him/her may be selected to serve as the chair.
  2. If the hiring manager is not on the committee, he/she should be introduced to the candidates by the second meeting and participate in that round of interviews. 
  3. Limit the committee to five to seven people (relatively small). An odd number of people can be helpful for tie-breaker votes.
  4. Include a diverse representation of the institution. This is not limited to the gender, race or ethnicity of individual committee members. Factor in the department a committee member represents and the level of the position he/she holds. Since not all representatives will have the same hiring blind spot, this provides a wider view of the hiring landscape.
  5. Choose your “most demanding” end user to be represented on the committee. This may be Student Life, the athletic department or the research team. Whatever group has been vocal about its needs and wants will appreciate having a seat at the table and this gesture could help foster a positive working relationship with the new hire.
  6. Schedule committee meetings and candidate interviews in advance so that the majority of committee members can attend and have adequate time to prepare for each step of the process. Likewise, candidates should be informed prior to their interviews about who they will be meeting with and provided a brief bio of each person on the hiring team.
  7. Be a good meeting host. Provide a meeting agenda. Start meetings on time, end on time and, in between, fuel the team with refreshments, snacks or a meal if time and the budget permits.
  8. Maintain extreme confidentiality regarding the identity of the committee members and the identity of candidates for the position. Limit discussions to closed meetings and be cautious of sharing information freely. Utilize a secured folder on an institution’s shared drive or a client portal if partnering with a search firm.
  9. Use a hiring rubric to capture all feedback about candidates from the resume review to each interview during the process. Strive to evaluate on objective measures rather than subjective.
If you have any tips for chairing a search committee or other feedback on this article, please email us.
If your organization has formed a search committee but does not yet have a tool to capture feedback, check out next week’s blog for examples of hiring rubrics!