Getting The Most From Your Higher Education Search Consultant

Executive Search, or ‘head hunting’, has come to the fore as a widely accepted method of recruiting in the higher education sector over the last 10 years. 

Previously, the competition for talent was nowhere near the levels we are now experiencing. Thus advertising was generally adequate for all but the most senior appointments. Today, however, some of our most challenging search work is at Professorial level in the narrow specialties (such as health, engineering, science and accounting/finance) where the number of suitable candidates for a role within Australia may be extremely limited.

Research-based executive search is most appropriate in areas of low labour supply; in the case of a particularly critical appointment; for new or unusual roles where the hiring organisation may not be sure who the ideal candidate is or even where he/she might come from; and in professional management positions, where candidates may come from outside the higher education sector (and may not necessarily be attracted by a university advertisement).

Making the decision to use a search consultant is just the start of the process.  How does a client university or other education organisations get the best results from the executive search relationship? 

  1. Ensure the consultant is thoroughly briefed by all appropriate stakeholders.
  2. Have realistic time expectations (search is a time consuming process) but also expect regular updates and feedback.
  3. Involve the search firm at all stages of the assignment. For example, a skilled consultant can give invaluable advice as part of an interview panel – a candidate will reveal information to a consultant that he or she may never mention to a potential employer.
  4. Consider involving the search consultant in at least some of the referencing to provide objectivity and to share the workload.  
  5. Make sure the recruiter is updated on any organisational factors or impending changes that may impact the process or role.
  6. Most importantly, work with your consultant on a strategy to overcome the increasing likelihood of a counter offer by a current employer.

Even with a candidate known to the university, we suggest that the university doesn’t approach him or her directly in the first instance – get the search consultant to do this. It ensures a consistent approach, avoids creating false expectations and reduces the risk of something ‘falling through the cracks’.

However, be willing to make a personal call (or perhaps more than one!) to the candidate if the consultant thinks it will help get a candidate ‘over the line’.

Finally, remember the relationship between you and your recruiter is a partnership – the best outcomes occur when working as a team.

Rohan Carr
February 2014

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