Putting Our Best Foot Forward: Search Process Strategies in Higher Ed

This week I had a mentee ask me for advice for her upcoming on-campus interview.

“Sure” I said, “let me see the itinerary.” She responded and said that she had not received it yet. I asked her when the interview was scheduled and she responded that she was at the airport headed to the interview–it was the very next day!

I have heard similar things from candidates in the job search over the past couple of years and I still don’t understand it. Why are departments not providing this information 1-3 weeks in advance?

I know that recruitment season is a busy time and it can be difficult to schedule campus partners to meet with candidates but recruiting and hiring the most talented people we can find should be a top institutional priority, particularly for this positions who have the most direct contact with our students.

I took to Twitter to voice my concerns:

@annmarieklotz: I have heard of many #sasearch candidates not getting an itinerary for their interview till they arrive on campus. That seems crazy to me!

In quick succession I received over 75 tweets and DM’s recounting their own disorganized, confusing and occasionally embarrassing (on behalf of the department) on-campus interview mishaps.

These accounts included everything from being stranded at the airport because no one picked them up to staying in an on-campus apartment with no toilet paper.

I heard stories of hosts speaking poorly about the department to the candidate and situations where a candidate was not informed that there was a presentation component of the interview–until they arrived to the interview!

We must do better if we are to attract quality applicants. A few tips to consider.

1) Teach search management processes: If we only continue to do what we know or have experienced (based on the aforementioned horror stories) we won’t break the cycle. Take time to train your recruitment team on search strategies–don’t assume they know the best way to communicate with candidates. In many cases HR can be helpful but I often look to institutions who have great success with the recruitment process and take time to learn about their strategies and how they can be modified to fit a particular institution type.

2) Over-communicate with candidates every step of the way: Have several points of contact with candidates before the interview to schedule, confirm and ask if they have any questions prior to the interview.

Within three days of a placement exchange every candidate in your process should know where they stand–first tier (brining to campus), second tier (still being considered but not in the first round to come to campus) or they should be informed that they are not moving forwarding your process.

3) Create guidelines for on-campus hosts: Teach your staff the expectations for attire, communication, travel accommodations, meals, etc. Make sure they are prepared to be a resource every step of the way for your candidate. Quite simply, you want candidates to see that your department has its act together and this one day is your opportunity to showcase what you do best!

4) Conduct a pre and post assessment of the candidate experience: Consider creating an anonymous survey to be sent out to all of your candidates at the conclusion of the process to ask about their impressions of the institution and the department before, during and after the recruitment process. Use this feedback as a teaching tool for next year.

We are only as good as the people we hire. Our students deserve the very best!

What other tips would you suggest?

Follow me on Twitter: @annmarieklotz

About annmarieklotz

I write about all things education, personal & professional development and growth. Once is a question, twice is a discussion and three times is a blog post! Born and raised in Detroit Michigan but currently calling the Pacific Northwest home. I work at Oregon State University and belong to a fantastic community of higher ed professionals around the globe! Lover of theater and the arts. Live your best life!
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14 Responses to Putting Our Best Foot Forward: Search Process Strategies in Higher Ed

  1. Karen G says:

    It’s been mind-boggling and frustrating, for me and others, to know/experience the silence of employers who aren’t being in touch after interview or receipt of materials. I’m proud of how my own institution treats candidates throughout the process. Information matters. Suggestion #4 is intense, but could provide some richly valuable feedback. Thanks for speaking up and sharing your thoughts, Ann Marie!

    • Thanks Karen! I conducted this kind of assessment at my previous institution where I was the primary recruiter for the department and I learned so much about what we were doing well and where we could improve! Thanks for reading!

  2. Spot on as always! I am fortunate to have had excellent on-campus interview experiences for the most part. The real kicker for me has been the communication after the process. Just because I wasn’t the successful candidate doesn’t mean it isn’t polite to send communication and feedback. I had one institution I have e-mailed multiple times asking what I could do differently and to this day have never heard back. We all work at universities and it is shocking to me that a student affairs professional wouldn’t want to help a candidate grow and learn.

    As always though excellent writing AMK! You rock. πŸ˜€

  3. reneepdowdy says:

    Yes, yes, yes! At a previous institution, my supervisor asked those of us recently hired about what worked well for us and what did not. What do you wish we had done? Was there something another institution did that could be added to our process? AND it was an ongoing dialogue – this didn’t come up the week before candidates arrived. From the materials we provided and when in the process to who the host was for the candidate, each decision was done with great intention. What we’re talking about is ethical recruiting and it means a responsibility to employ tactics that create an experience of dignity and respect. I may not be a fit as a candidate, but at the end of the day, I should at least feel my time and investment was worthwhile and utilized effectively.

    There are great tactics to be learned outside of higher education pro staff recruiting. For example, I love the blog http://www.askamanager.com. Alison Greene’s advice is spot-on and helpful to give perspective outside of higher ed.

    A basic tip – walk through the candidate’s day from their perspective. I have been on interviews where I needed to get from one end of the campus to the other by myself. No campus map was supplied in the interview materials. I’m resourceful, I figured it out, but I can’t help but think these types of experiences would be prevented when we take a moment to think through the day (or days) from the candidate’s perspective. You are indeed hosting – utilizing a mindset of hospitality makes the difference between even a mediocre campus visit and an incredible experience.

    • Renee–you always have terrific insights!! This is critical–“What we’re talking about is ethical recruiting and it means a responsibility to employ tactics that create an experience of dignity and respect”. YES, my friend! Thanks for reading!

  4. I really enjoyed reading this, and as a person who went through a search process a little over 6 months ago I completely agree with everything you said. There are a lot of schools that do it well but it’s so important to make sure everyone on the recruitment team understand the tips you mentioned in you article. Good read!

    • Thanks Bryan! I do believe that most folks WANT to do this well but it it is critical that the execution is delivered in a way that showcases the best of what our schools have to offer. Thanks so much for reading!

  5. Nekesa says:

    Some very good points! I especially like the point about assessment. I always give the candidates not selected feedback but have never asked them for feedback on our process. Would definitely like to see a program or webinar on employer etiquette. Most of what I do is based on how I would like to be treated during a search but I’m sure there are others who don’t think that way.

    • Thanks Nekesa! How we hire and on-board folks tells them a lot about the culture of our institutions. I think we have a responsibility to do it well. Have a fantastic week!!

  6. Pingback: turning the tables: how to be a good interviewer | kate kinsella

  7. John says:

    Surprisingly, or perhaps not, part of the problem is often Human Resources, particularly on communicating with candidates about their status in the process. We have to push back and challenge policies which limit our ability to communicate effectively with candidates.

  8. Very good points, Ann Marie! This is one of those “behind closed doors” topics that we don’t often address publicly. I think we should teach “search management” in the master’s programs – great last semester seminar topic.

    I think #4 offers some useful feedback opportunities, though I would exercise some caution on the post-interview evaluation feedback. What is the motivation for someone not selected for a position to complete a survey? Many candidates are rather disappointed about not getting an interview or selected if they were a finalist and aren’t going to invest further time or despite anonymity assurance, will be hesitant that they could be identified and feel that could have future negative implications.

    I agree with John stated about HR issues. I also wish there was more transparency involving job postings where the institution has an internal candidate either receiving a promotion or is the preferred candidate. I recently saw a school post a job, but mentioned “strong internal candidate” at the end of the posting. I appreciated knowing that.


    • teamcadden says:

      Thanks for bringing this all to light. This is among the most important things we do yet we never talk about it. We have an ethical responsibility to do better in these areas. It becomes embarrassing to a department and to educational prep when we assume student affairs folks know how to recruit and hire people without training, dialogue and assessment. I have been directly involved in doing the training, dialogue and assessment before and in searching for the last year myself and it’s laughable how poor and unprofessional people are in this caring profession (about 60% no response to either applications, correspondence or even following interviews) And to the earlier point about promotions and searches, why can’t we all be transparent anout how people can attain promotions? I was once in a room with a VP who actually told a room full of SA pros that employment issues like these had nothing to do with ethics (not to mention diversity). Problem of culture. This all leads to devalued professionals and not very credible leaders in my opinion. For a profession that desperately tries to be taken seriously so many are hindering this from being possible by extending the bubble.

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