Higher Ed Search Committees: What Do the Best Have In Common?
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By Zachary A. Smith, Ph.D.

Through my many years in higher education, first as a campus administrator and now as an executive recruiter, I’ve observed and worked with hundreds of campus search committees. Some of these committees were extremely effective and efficient, while others moved at a less-than-optimal pace.

Zachary Smith, PhD

What does a search committee do to distinguish itself as one of the best, as compared to all the rest? I had the opportunity to share observations about this in a recent article for The Chronicle of Higher Education — “The Best Search Committees.” (Read the article in PDF format here.)

In short, a great search committee:

  1. Appoints a strong chair who keeps the committee focused on the task at hand and drives forward progress.
  1. Solicits broad input from sources with varied opinions.
  1. Focuses on the known rather than jumping to conclusions based on speculation.
  1. Listens to the search consultant (I admit a bias here) who they have hired to bring search experience and insights to the team.
  1. Advances candidates on potential rather than experience, recognizing that leadership qualities often beat experience in predicting success.
  1. Balances evaluating the candidate with selling the opportunity — in essence treating a candidate in the manner they want to be treated.
  1. Makes diversity a priority to ensure candidates from many backgrounds are considered.

A good search committee usually leads to the right hire, so I encourage anyone starting one or serving on one to embrace the suggestions above.

Zachary A. Smith, PhD, is senior partner and deputy managing director for Witt/Kieffer’s Education practice. Based in Irvine, California, he conducts nationwide searches for c-suite and other leaders within education, healthcare, and the non-profit sector.

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