Higher Education Recruitment: 10 Mistakes Search Committees Make

Anyone who’s served on an academic search committee has his or her favorite horror story about candidate missteps—there was the aspiring dean who elegantly fudged the credentials on her curriculum vitae or the presidential hopeful who sported a neon-orange tie. Dennis Barden, senior vice president and consultant in our Higher Education practice, recently outlined for the Chronicle of Higher Education some of the classic interview missteps, from overzealousness to excessive seriousness, that academic candidates make.

But search committees and their members commit their own fair share of gaffes and, maybe, shouldn’t be too quick to throw stones at the occasional hapless candidate. In another article in the Chronicle, Barden put together a David Letterman-esque top 10 list of mistakes that search committee members make in higher education recruitment.

Dennis Barden
Dennis Barden

Some of the more significant errors that Barden draws attention to include search committees and members who:

  • Don’t prepare. Many committees don’t do enough homework to conduct a focused, productive interview, he notes. Interviews can become “a single conversation that digresses into irrelevant or tangential topics.”
  • Act as representatives of interest groups. “Partisanship really must give way to the good of the whole,” Barden writes.
  • Take too formal an approach. Interviews and search activities must be structured, he notes, but they should flow naturally and not be so rigid that candidates and committee members don’t get to laugh and enjoy themselves.
  • Forget that interviewing is still recruiting. Just as candidates must convince search committee members of their worth, the committee must appreciate interviewees and cultivate their interest in the position. “Talent is hard to find,” Barden reminds.

If you read the voluminous comment thread following the article, you’ll see that plenty of others share egregious search committee mistakes they’ve seen, suggesting Barden’s 10 may be just scratching the surface. Nonetheless, the article is a good starting point for those getting set to conduct a key leadership search.

Barden also happens to be one of Witt/Kieffer’s more prolific writers and knowledgeable consultants regarding higher education recruitment. He has recently published another Chronicle piece on whether faculty are fit to lead colleges and universities, and a Dean & Provost article on how higher ed presidential candidates can manage the expectations of faculty and trustees.

Find out more about Witt/Kieffer’s higher education recruitment team and practices here.

By Paul Thomas, Witt/Kieffer Senior Writer (@PaulWThomas)

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