New and Improved, Part I

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I first participated in a professional search in the mid ‘90s, having had the opportunity to serve on a selection committee for a mid-level position while still an undergrad. Since that introduction, I have been a member, chaired and/or been responsible for every level of professional recruitment, save a Presidential search.  However, if asked, I do not believe I could offer up one as the perfect search. Ultimately, I doubt the perfect search exists; but I have seen the good…the bad…and the ugly.

Being a fan of the extended metaphor, let’s akin the job search to designing and selling a new car (a version of this metaphor has been a cornerstone to my preparing professionals for their own search…a blog for a different time).

For this metaphor, you (the search chair—a.k.a., designer), are responsible for designing and selling a new car, the Placer, for an established manufacturer who is in the need of a real winner. Sales have been steady, but a redesigned model can motivate the company and get them moving in a new and exciting direction. 

As you sit down to design the new Placer, you decide to review all the elements of a car. You think of raw materials, to deluxe finishes, and all that falls in between. As you set it all out in front of you, you recognize there are some things that are solid and mainstays, and other items that can be chucked out. Most importantly, you decide that there are some elements that need a complete overhaul.

As a search chair, you know that there are expectations to a search process, but have become bored, even complacent, with the experience you create for both your stakeholders and candidates: time consuming and uninspired. Most importantly, you know that your organization is in need of some new energy and new ideas; at the very least, some truly talented staff to help realize new initiatives that will positively impact students and their experience. 

For this new model you decide to focus on what you feel will not only improve the performance of the vehicle, but what enhances the experience for the driver:  the engine, and the growing demand for state of the art telecommunications in the vehicle.

 The engine, the heart of the car, needs to be solid and familiar, but exciting with some new twists to attract both new consumers and stalwart fans.

There are few things that surprise a candidate in a job search (at least not in a good way…tales of bad surprises litter the field of failed searches). But the engines of job searches are the components that are the most relevant:  the questions and evaluative pieces of inquiry into the candidate’s qualifications and fit. As the expectations of positions grow and alter to special demands, there remain perennial needs. However, to evolve a search process, to ferret out the best candidates and those ready to take on new challenges, a different approach might be necessary.  As you design this new search, consider different approaches of inquiry. Ask questions that require reflective thought and cogent responses that are unrehearsed. Not to trick candidates, but questions that belay the automaton type interview experience that leaves your committee wondering what separates one candidate from another. 

  • Questions that provide information as a preface to see how candidates synthesize information they just heard into responses
  • Take the time to create second/third questions that build upon anticipated responses
  • Instead of 10 questions dedicated to pieces of the job description, ask candidates just a few questions that highlight how they will approach the position and new initiatives.

Unique questions and approaches can highlight how important a position is, and even more, the value your organization is placing on bright and exciting new team members.

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