Defining the Role of the Search Committee and Managing an Effective Search Process

Category: Search Process

An institution’s search process for placing administrative officers is a vital, yet time and resource-heavy endeavor; it requires the agency of a competent and invested search committee – the cornerstone to any successful search process and candidate placement. An effective search committee is one that will conduct a thorough and ultimately successful search for the ideal candidate, with both efficiency and professionalism.

Remember that those asked to serve on a search committee may view the search process as burdensome and the amount of staff time involved can be costly. It is therefore important for the committee to have a set of protocols in place that encourage best practices and maximize efficiency, while at the same time consider the needs of the candidate.

Spelman Johnson offers the following considerations for assembling, focusing, and educating a successful search committee.

Search Committee Size and Composition
When organizing your search committee, keep the committee to a manageable size. The committee size should be small enough to allow all members to participate effectively, while not overwhelming them with the necessary time commitment. To ensure each member’s investment in the committee, choose members who have a stake in the success of the candidate. Include representatives of all relevant institutional constituencies, those who broadly represent the diversity of the institution, and make sure to select a committee chair who is comfortable managing the process. Finally, don’t neglect to assign adequate administrative support to assist the search committee, so that members are not distracted from the ultimate task of finding the most successful candidates.

Search Committee Role and Responsibilities
Once your search committee is assembled, be clear about their charge and responsibilities throughout the search process. Broadly, the search committee’s role is to recruit, screen, and recommend the best candidates for a needed position. In order to do this effectively, each committee member must have an in-depth understanding of the position that must be filled, as well as a set of timelines, legal and professional guidelines, and best practices to work from.

While the formal charge of the search committee is typically provided by the hiring authority, division leader, or board and will vary slightly depending on institutional norms, most committees should understand and agree upon the following items:
– The responsibilities and expectations of the position and how they fit into the larger needs of the institution
– The characteristics, experiences, and skills that will make a person successful in the position
– The leadership criteria for chief administrative positions
– The plan for recruiting and nominating candidates
– Confidentiality of applications
– The process for communicating with applicants
– The fair and objective handling of internal candidates
– The projected timetable for the search process
– The committee’s role in recruiting, screening, and recommending candidates
– The laws and institutional policies regarding appropriate interviewing and referencing of candidates.

Search Committee Code of Conduct
A recent article in The Chronicle laid the case for a search committee code of conduct, garnering a large response from the academic community, and reminding us of the responsibility that a search committee has in representing their institution and treating candidates with fairness and respect. Including a search committee code of conduct should be part of every institution’s search process. The article titled, “Is It Time for a Search-Committee Code of Standards?” offers some useful guidelines and questions for search committees to consider while conducting a search, such as considering the logistical needs of interview candidates as well as handling candidate reference checks sensitively. For the full list of guidelines, you can access the 2-part article here and here.

Using a Professional Search Firm
Good, professional search firms bring with them a set of practices that make the search process a positive and effective one, and can also bring a higher level of objectivity to the search process. They can be especially helpful in educating the committee about the search and screening process, and providing a broader pool of candidates for consideration. Selecting a professional search firm to work with is often one of the first decisions a hiring authority, in consultation with the search committee chair, must make. When choosing a search firm or consultant, choose one that specializes in serving educational institutions, understands the characteristics and needs of your particular institution, and can offer a network which broadens the search capacity of your institution.

Spelman Johnson offers a training seminar for search committees or institutional representatives who are preparing to conduct an institutional search. Our session is designed to provide a search committee, or professionals searching on behalf of an institution, with a comprehensive plan for conducting a significant, effective, nationwide search for candidates. We can also target this training session to the current issues and future direction of the particular field or profession that is the focus of the search.

James Norfleet

Search Associate - Spelman Johnson

Jim Norfleet earned his B.B.A. degree in business and marketing from Pace University and completed all coursework for an EdD in educational leadership at the University of California, Los Angeles. He joined Spelman Johnson after three decades in higher education, most recently as vice president for student affairs at The College of New Jersey. Previously, Jim served in several capacities at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, including associate vice president for student services and executive director of educational equity services. Earlier in his career, he worked in academic affairs at Nyack College where he directed the Higher Education Opportunity Program and served as associate dean of the college and director of the Office of Academic Development. Jim has served as an independent consultant to mission-driven organizations and leaders across the career spectrum. Active in professional and civic organizations, he speaks on higher education and social justice issues and has received numerous awards for his leadership, advocacy, and community service.