Searching for Administrators 2004-5
Four articles from CHE
Section: Money & Managemen
Volume 51, Issue 16, Page A24
Among the most persistent presidential candidates encountered by Bill Funk, a longtime search consultant, one stands out. Determined to crack academe's upperadministrative ranks, a firefighter from Houston submitted his application toMr. Funk "10 to 15 times a year."
Then, about five years ago, the applications stopped.
What happened to the serial job candidate is a mystery, but Mr. Funk says the firefighter's sudden withdrawal of interest coincided with the beginning of a "precipitous" downturn in applications for senior administrative positions throughout higher education.
Five years ago, for example, an institution searching for a president would typically receive 125 to 150 applications, says Mr. Funk, a managing director atKorn/Ferry International. Now, "the average number is between 50 and 70," he says.
Theodore J. Marchese, a senior consultant at Academic Search Consultation Service, says advertisements for administrative positions that once drew 100 to 200responses might now generate 40 replies. Mr. Marchese says he knows of several recent searches that generated surprisingly few applications, including oneby Yale College for a "significant administrative post" that brought in only nine candidates.
"It really is a different world for search committees," says Mr. Marchese, whohas written a new edition of a handbook for search committees that will be published soon. "Something is up out there and nobody is really sure what it is."
It is not just the overall size of applicant pools that has shrunk. Luring quality candidates has become more challenging, too, Mr. Marchese says. The best potential applicants have become choosier, and often wait for a search committee to express interest in them before submitting a formal application, he says.
"I think even the good candidates are exercising more discretion about which jobs they want to be considered for," Mr. Funk says. "The best candidates we still have to cajole."
Among consultants and experienced members of search committees, speculation varies about the causes of the phenomenon. Some observers suggest that the increasing role of fund raising in administrators' job descriptions might scare offcareer academics, while others cite tight housing markets or unpleasant past experiences with search committees as reasons for applicants' hesitancy.
One search-committee trend noticed by James F. Brennan, who was recently namedprovost and vice president for academic affairs at Towson University, is the "real emergence of the search firm." Mr. Brennan participated in previous searches in 1995 and 2000, and says the use of search firms is now "more typical rather than an exception." Mr. Brennan says dealing with search firms as a candidate can be a mixed bag. Though he says experienced search pros are "incredibly constructive," more junior headhunters can unintentionally mislead and alienate applicants by "giving mixed signals."
Doing the Homework
Given the stakes involved in hiring a new president, Melissa Fitzsimons Kean wanted to ensure that Rice University had a satisfactory pool of candidatesto choose from -- both in terms of quantity and quality -- in its search last year for a new president. Ms. Kean, who was the presidential searchcommittee's executive director and is now deputy to the president, did her homework.
To learn how to better recruit and scrutinize applicants, Ms. Kean called members of recent search committees at other institutions. Ms. Kean says she learned that there is a great deal of variation in how committees conduct searches. Some universities, for example, have opted against enlisting the help of a search firm, she says.
"Nobody really knows anything about [a search] except these search firms," Ms. Kean says. Though Ms. Kean says search firms "do a great job," she adds: "We didn't want to simply turn our search over to the search firm."
The search committee at Rice eventually hired A.T. Kearney, a consulting firm,and with its assistance and "a great amount of research" was able to land a large number of applicants.
"We consider ourselves quite fortunate," Ms. Kean says, attributing the search's success, in part, to the fact that Rice is a private university with a hugeendowment. While presidents at many public institutions are struggling with tight state budgets, Ms. Kean says Rice had the luxury of recruiting a presidentwho would inherit healthy coffers. In addition, Ms. Kean notes that private universities can often be less transparent during president searches than cantheir public counterparts, which gives candidates the enticement of privacy when entering an applicant pool.
Rice University's hiring of a high-profile candidate, David W. Leebron, the former dean of the Columbia University School of Law, has prompted "a lot of phone calls" from search committees at other institutions seeking her advice.
Ms. Kean's experience is not unique. Search committees elsewhere are doing moreof their own legwork to ensure a good crop of resumes.
The University of Tulsa did its cajoling for a new president in May 2004, at the end of an 11-month search that had netted more 100 applicants. Unhappy withthe final pool, Fulton Collins, the search committee's co-chairman and chairman of Tulsa's Board of Trustees, took matters into his own hands by calling a coveted candidate, Steadman Upham, who was president of Claremont Graduate University at the time.
Mr. Upham says he was happy at Claremont and had actually ignored an earlier nomination letter for the Tulsa job from a search firm.
"The last thing on my mind was moving," Mr. Upham says. But the call from Mr. Collins "intrigued" him. After a full-court press, which included a trip to Tulsa and a visit to Claremont by several members of the search committee, Mr. Upham was sold. He was named president in June 2004.
Rodney Davis, an associate dean for instruction and operations for the Miller College of Business at Ball State University, is in the midst of running a search for a dean. He says search committees have had to be more aggressive in recent years.
"We really probably have to do more than just put an ad in The Chronicleand wait for the applications to just pour in," Mr. Davis says of the recruitment efforts required to land top candidates.
Mr. Davis attributes the widespread drop-off in applications to the fact that "the notch has been turned up a bit in what you're looking for in a dean"citingfund-raising experience in particular.
Fewer but Better Qualified
The higher bar can cut both ways, however. Detailed job listings and information about institutions are easier to find in the wired era, and candidates are more aware of what it takes to land an administrative job. Though Mr. Funkof Korn/Ferry says applicant pools are thinner overall in recent years, he says they often contain a larger percentage of highly qualified candidates.
Still, the new environment of dwindling applicant pools can be a rough adjustment for search committees accustomed to simply running a job posting and then sifting through reams of applications.
"It's almost impossible to do an upper-level administrative search without doing recruiting," says Mr. Marchese. "In many institutions," he adds, "that hasn't been part of the equation."
Volume 51, Issue 23, Page C2
"Applicant pools for top administrative posts are shrinking," according to a recent article (see above, Dec 10, 2004). It reported that intensive recruiting efforts are often needed to attract strong prospects to consider a particular position and toaccept it once offered.
As a search consultant, I think those claims are probably true. But I hope someone will do the systematic research to support them, and find out whether candidate pools are smaller lately because weak candidates aren't applying or because strong ones aren't.
If the pools are simply missing some of the weak applicants who used to submit résumés for positions they were wildly unqualified for, thenthe smaller total number of candidates is no cause for concern. But if the pools are missing some of the stronger candidates, or if some strong candidates are declining to accept administrative offers -- forcing institutions to appoint weaker candidates instead -- then we do have a serious problem to confront.
If your institution is finding it harder to identify and attract good candidates, what can you do to make sure your search is successful? Let me outline some steps:
The search has to be "active" rather than "passive." That means you have to go out and look for candidates, and you have to determine each person'spotential strength and fit.
Committees often imagine that the great appeal of their institution and theposition they are filling will easily attract strong candidates. In fact, there are strong potential candidates out there who may never have heard of your college, or may think they have no interest in a campus like yours. A good search consultant will track down such candidates, and a search committee workingwithout a consultant should do the same, trying to persuade prospects to takea closer look.p>While you are actively recruiting candidates, you should simultaneously be evaluating them to be sure they are really the individuals you want.
Take care of your candidates. You need to build a relationship with each of the candidates, even the weak ones, although your relationship with thestrong ones should obviously be deeper.
Every few months, a letter or a column appears in The Chronicle froma job candidate expressing outrage at the shabby treatment he or she has received at the hands of a committee or a consultant. Candidates describe the roller-coaster ride of a committee's eager interest, followed by a long period of silence, then urgent requests for additional information or an interview, followed again by a long silence -- and perhaps no final concluding communication at all.
Candidates need to understand the rhythm of a search and what is likely to occur during each phase of it, but committees also need to understand a candidate's anxiety and confusion -- either or both of which can easily lead them to withdrawal from the process.
Just the other day, a very strong candidate told me that she went home after her interview thinking of all the reasons we were likely to reject her. In fact, her interview had been terrific.
If you want a good outcome for your search, stay in touch with your candidates. You may decide to send the weak candidates a form letter and contact the strong ones by telephone, but they all should be kept reasonably well informed,both during the process and at its conclusion.
The image of your institution can be seriously harmed if the committee is perceived as treating candidates poorly. After a committee search fails and consultants are asked to step in, we often talk to prospects who refuse to become candidates again. Some decline because they feel that they were mistreated in the first search, and others decline because they heard that applicants were mistreated.
Cultivate strong prospects. What if you identify the ideal candidatebut he or she has no interest in making a move? Don't give up just yet. Find someone whom the candidate knows or respects and have that person call the prospect. Or get the search consultant or a member of the committee to visit the prospect at home or in a neutral location to make the case about why the job would be a perfect fit.
Pay attention to candidates' concerns. If the search process you areusing makes a candidate uneasy (for example, maybe the committee wants to makereference calls too early in the process), find ways to accommodate the candidate's particular needs. If candidates or their spouses have questions about the institution or the position, have someone call them who is in a position toanswer their questions.
Provide opportunities outside the formal search process for additional contacts with committee members or other institutional leaders (such as board members, the president or other senior officers, faculty leaders). Such contacts are opportunities to refine the mutual judgment of candidate and campus about fit, as well as a chance to build a bond that will make the favored candidate more likely to accept an offer.
Finally, be sure that you know the candidates' expectations regarding the compensation package, starting date, spousal needs, place of residence, and other issues so that problems can be addressed before the search concludes.
Keep your search moving along briskly. Set a schedule at the start ofthe search and try to stick to it. Recognize that once you start to call references and hold campus interviews, candidates are at great risk of damage in their current position. Show them the respect of moving promptly to a decision.
Delaying the final selection increases the risk that another search will grab your favorite candidate, or that the momentum will be lost and candidates will decide that, on balance, they'd just as soon stay where they are.
Anticipate the last-minute surprise. The surprise that most people look for comes in the way of a counteroffer from your finalist's current institution. But there are other potential surprises, too.
The one that drives me wild is the one that should have been anticipated -- for example, the candidate who says at the end of months of discussion that he can't move because his son is going to be a senior in high school. Or the candidate who says that her husband doesn't want to live in southern Indiana: Did he not notice earlier in the process that the job was in Indiana?
Such last-minutes excuses are usually evasions that mask the real reason fordeclining a position, but they are galling nonetheless. Try to smoke out allof those concerns and deal with them early in the process.
The escalating expectations of search committees may be contributing to their difficulties in attracting a good pool of candidates. If you are working ona senior administrative search, take a careful look at your committee and seeif some of your approaches should be re-examined:
We still need to know whether candidate pools are actually shrinking, and why. But until we know, there is a lot that institutions can do to make sure that their search will be successful.
Jean Dowdall is a vice president of Witt/Kieffer, a search firm
serving higher-education, health-care, and other nonprofit
organizations. She specializes in searches for presidents, vice
presidents, and deans in colleges, universities, and foundations.
Bad Behavior in a Search
CHE Careers, 15 April 2005 page C3
This is a what-not-to-do column for committees in administrative-job searches.
In my last column, I reviewed all of the good things that committees can do to ensure a successful search This time, I'd like to take the opposite tackand talk about the bad things committees do that can derail a search.
Sometimes search committees are unaware of "best practices" and make innocent mistakes in the recruiting of candidates, and sometimes they break their own rules. Let's look at some of the problems:
Breaching confidentiality. Most search committees, except those in extreme "sunshine" states like Florida, promise candidates confidentiality at least in the early stages of the hiring process.
When a committee member breaches a candidate's confidentiality, serious harm can be done. The candidate's position in his or her current institution can be severely damaged with constituents, with a supervisor, or with a major donor, and the candidate may withdraw from the search.
Committee chairs must be vigilant. Some committees ask all members to sign a pledge of confidentiality. Others take time at the start of every meeting toask members, one by one, to report all conversations they have had about the search with noncommittee members since the last meeting. That moment in the spotlight heightens a committee member's sense of responsibility and commitment to silence.
Failing to communicate. Keeping all candidates informed of the progress of the search is very difficult. As hard as consultants try to do this, I know that we disappoint candidates from time to time. But the effort is essential.
At a minimum, committees should acknowledge all applicants and let them know as soon as they are clearly no longer under consideration. I also like to inform them about the outcome of the search.
Failing to disclose significant information about the job. Once hired, job candidates always discover a few surprises about their new campus, but they should be little surprises, not big ones.
In some cases, the omission of crucial information during the search is accidental -- no one knew about the problem. For example, I've spoken to newly hired presidents who uncovered structural deficits of which their governingboards were unaware. I know of instances where a database that included fundamental inaccuracies led to misleading enrollment projections.
But if the search committee and the trustees do know about the bad news ahead of time, it is unacceptable to withhold such information from candidates, even if the truth may cause some to pull out. You shouldn't withhold information from presidential candidates about problems on the governing board -- for example, trustees who don't get along. Applicants for provost positions should be told if the board has expectations of substantial academic restructuring. Candidates for development positions should be told about a move to make the alumni association independent of the university.
If candidates have built a relationship with the search committee, it should be possible to deal with such difficult issues without losing the candidates. Some may withdraw, but think how much worse it would be if they took the joband then discovered a reality with which they were unprepared to deal.
Conflicting expectations about what the job involves. A well-led search process can bridge the divide among constituencies. But some differences are too substantial to be smoothed over, even with the best process.
If the provost wants the university to move up in the academic hierarchy and the faculty members are quite comfortable where they are, a new dean can be caught in the middle, especially if he or she is unaware of the competing aspirations. If the president has asked for significant entrepreneurial efforts and the curriculum committee appears sworn to oppose all innovations or delay them inordinately, a new provost will be faced with contradictory and probably unachievable expectations.
Resolve such disputes before the search begins, or agree to air them with candidates during the search process, seeking candidates who are ready to walk into the particular controversy you are facing.
Jumping to conclusions. Committee members who base their candidate appraisals on partial information are picking favorites too soon. After readingthe application materials, such members decide which candidates they prefer and which they oppose, and it's difficult for them to change their minds in theface of additional information from references or interviews. In some cases their enthusiasm gets so far ahead of the data that they want to skip over the reference checks -- very high-risk behavior.
In my next column, I'll talk about the bad things that candidates do that can reduce their chances of getting an offer.
Jean Dowdall is a vice president of Witt/Kieffer, a search firm serving higher-education, health-care, and other nonprofit organizations. She specializes in searches for presidents, vice presidents, and deans in colleges, universities, and foundations.