Higher Education Executive Search: The Risk of Revealing One’s Candidacy Too Soon

The final stages of a job search for an executive are nothing short of nerve-wracking, on most every occasion. There is enough for the candidate to think about in terms of whether or not the new opportunity is the right one as a next career step. But there are perplexing issues for consideration regarding one’s current employer, too. Namely, when is the right time to reveal that you may be moving on?

In many industries the answer is simple—mum’s the word until you’ve accepted another offer. Higher education, however, is different. (A nickel for every time this has been said!) At some point nearing the final stages of the search, serious candidates will be made public. Before that happens, each person in the running must find an optimal time to reveal his or her candidacy to superiors.

Dennis Barden

Dennis Barden

“Every candidate in every search reaches that crossroad, and the answer is seldom simple or straightforward,” writes senior partner Dennis Barden earlier this week in the Chronicle of Higher Education, in an op-ed titled “The Lonely Decision.” “I can think of any number of grounds on which to make that decision: ethics, strategy, loyalty, dedication, personal affection, self-interest, confidence, insecurity, and even, once in a while, common sense.”

Barden goes on to explore how these varied influences tug on a candidate’s thought process as a job hunt progresses towards a conclusion. He shares an example of one finalist for a search on which he had consulted, who had confided in her boss about her candidacy elsewhere and then was dismissed from her position. Adding insult to injury, she was not chosen by the other institution.

The above is a worst-case scenario but, as Barden points out, the risks are high whether one is proactive or patient about the “when to tell” question. Any number of friends, confidants and family members can offer advice, but in the end it is the candidate’s decision alone.

The best course of action is to monitor the situation on a daily basis, to know the “conditions on the ground,” Barden suggests, and to always proceed cautiously. As much as an executive in an academic search wishes to be open and ethical about pursuing another position, there is little to be gained, and much to be lost, by revealing one’s candidacy too soon.

Other Terrific Articles by Dennis Barden in the Chronicle of Higher Education

By Paul Thomas, Witt/Kieffer Senior Writer

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