How to Have a Successful Search


Lawful and Unlawful Inquiries


Institutional/departmental needs.

Analyzing and defining institutional/departmental needs and determining the personnel that can best meet those needs are the first and most basic steps in the search process. Active search. A good search should be active, not passive. It requires creative energy and thought in every phase. Rather than relying on advertising, posting, and screening applications, search committees should tap a wide variety of informal networks to actively seek names of qualified candidates. Some of the best prospects will need to be sought out and carefully courted.


Committee organization.

The composition and quality of the search committee are crucial elements of a successful search. Care and attention should be given to the selection of members. Search committees are often too large and unwieldy. An effective process can be devised that will involve constituencies without creating an unmanageable structure.


Time frame.

Searches typically take too long. Every effort should be made to complete the search process in an efficient and timely manner.



Communication between institutions, candidates, and others involved in the search process (that is, persons making nominations or providing recommendations) is often delayed, inadequate, or otherwise frustrating. Such practices create a negative impression of the institution as a whole. It is never a good idea to withhold information from candidates, whether deliberately or inadvertently by making it difficult for them to obtain. It is easier to make a judgment about an informed candidate than an uniformed one.



Of particular importance to the search process is guarding against publicly rejecting names of candidates who have not even agreed to be candidates. It also should be remembered that while seeking good communication between involved parties, search committees should avoid excessive publicity and lack of confidentiality. As a result of "leaks", some potentially good people may be reluctant to become candidates or may withdraw from the process.


Assessment of finalists.

Search committees need to be especially aware of the power of informal networks and to build contacts with persons knowledgeable about potential candidates.

Colleagues and friends who are in a position to know potential candidates should be asked for suggestions through personal conversations or letters followed by a telephone call. At this stage, it is not necessary to know the potential candidate’s interest in the position. Search committee members should specifically request names of qualified women and minority candidates. Questions to ask the source could include: "Have you met anyone in the last few years who especially impressed you in the field?" "Is there anyone you have worked with on any commission or special project who comes to mind for this particular campus?" "Have any of your colleagues spoken highly of one who sounds like a person for us to consider?"

Question automatic assumptions. The search and selection process requires numerous decisions about other people, such as deciding who to ask to suggest candidates, which applicants should receive serious consideration, how finalists compare to established criteria, who ultimately will be selected, or which terms are negotiable.

Although most people try to make these decisions as objectively as possible, the fact is that assessing individuals, their credentials, and their accomplishments involves constant interpretation. Much of this interpretation is unconsciously influenced by our own unique set of experiences.

Search committee members need to be aware of how their own backgrounds may bias them in favor of or against candidates because of their involvement or lack of involvement in certain types or classes of institutions, where they got their degrees, number of years in the work force, their gender, race, or ethnicity. Recognizing and discussing these biases very early in the search is most helpful. Stereotypes can significantly affect the way in which people evaluate credentials, ask questions, and interpret responses during interviews.


Protect the integrity of the process.

Both openness and confidentiality are needed at different times during the search and great care needs to be given to which is needed when. The best approach is to have the process be as open as possible and to keep the substance confidential. All parties need to have a clear understanding of the roles they will play, the process by which decisions will be made, the calendar or timetable that will be used, and frequent announcements of what may be expected when. Any deviations from previously announced plans should also be shared. On the other hand, it should also be made clear what information will be kept confidential (e.g., names of candidates, information about candidates, emerging preferences) and that all knowledgeable parties should respect this absolutely, as long as legal requirements (e.g., "sunshine" laws) do not otherwise dictate.

Sometimes search committees discover that despite good intentions, the search takes on characteristics or problems that are unforeseen and unwanted. For example, the candidate pool may not be sufficiently large, or diverse, leaks may occur that cause a desirable candidate to withdraw prematurely, or emerging finalists do not appear to be outstanding. If such situations should develop, the search committee can redirect, redesign, or simply stop the search rather than let it continue. Indeed, it would be wise to step back periodically in the course of the search to examine how it is going and whether corrective measures are needed.


Emphasize thorough and timely communication.

The chair and staff of the search committee serve as the communication link for the very large number of people who become involved in the search – nominees, candidates, persons making nominations and recommendations, and various constituencies of the institution. Most invest not only their time, but a considerable amount of emotional energy in their particular roles, whether as a candidate or on behalf of a candidate. Warmth and courtesy reflected in timeliness and tone of communications can not only minimize frustration, but also create a positive impression of the institution. Timely notification of candidates at each stage is particularly important.


(Adapted from The Search Committee Handbook, Theodore Marchese, April 1989)