My very first experience being on a search committee was as a junior in college. At that time, I had no idea what a search committee did and was told that I would represent the student voice on the committee. The search was for our institution’s first Dean of Students and was a very eye-opening and well thought out process. I remember entering the conference room of our first meeting and seeing three very large stacks of paper, and thinking, “I hope we don’t have to read all of that for this meeting.” I quickly learned that was the exact thing that we were there to do. The large stacks turned out to be over sixty 7-10 page resumes that meet the minimum requirements of the job announcement. I thought it would take all day to read through all of these documents. But within 30 minutes the stack was down to less than 20 based on a pre-determined checklist. If a candidate did not meet the five criteria on the list, they were automatically a “no.” Then we discussed as a group who would be offered a phone interview from the remaining stack. Since then, I have served on several search committees as a professional and have learned that if you are invited for an on-campus interview, then give yourself a pat on the back because that’s an accomplishment within itself.
Search committees are somewhat mysterious because no one ever talks about what really goes on behind closed doors. Candidates, especially graduate students and new professionals, can benefit from knowing how search committees really work to better prepare for the on-campus interview. Here are a few tips that I think are helpful in understanding the inner workings of search committees:
Google the search committee. People are on search committees for a reason. They are stakeholders and are selected to represent an office or a program that works closely with the office or position that you are applying for. You need to know why they are on the committee and what/if their agenda will be. During the phone interview, they may stick to general questions, but if you are invited for an on-campus interview, their questions will probably be more specific to their agenda. If you have an idea of their agenda or viewpoint, it can guide you in the direction you should go with the answers to their questions. How you answer questions will let the committee know if you have done your research. It’s very obvious when you have not done your homework.
Someone on the committee will Google you. Let’s admit it. It’s not supposed to happen and it’s not supposed to have any weight on your interview process, but it does and it should. People want to know how you represent yourself on the internet. Your digital identity is a component of your personal brand and institutions want to know if your brand will fit with their brand. We’ve all witnessed the public embarrassment and firings that social media has displayed for institutions and companies. No one is being hired, in this day and time, to work on any college campus without being Googled first. On-campus interviews are all about fit and your on-line presence will be considered so be intentional about your digital identity.
Search committees do not make the final decision. The buck does not stop with the search committee. Yes, you do need to impress the search committee and anyone else you interview with. But, in my experience, the final decision is typically left up to the hiring administrator, your future supervisor. The role of the search committee is to select and recommend the person(s) they think should be hired based on several groups of interviews, possibly a presentation and maybe how well you answered questions while you attempted to eat lunch. Sometimes search committees are asked to rank the candidates or provide first and second options. So, it’s important to recognize that the search committee may make a recommendation that the hiring administrator may not agree with. Just because the search committee likes you doesn’t mean that you will get the job. In the end, impress your future supervisor just as much you try to impress the search committee.
Ask to serve on a search committee. Although I’ve served on several search committees, I’ve observed that a large number of student affairs professionals have never served on a search committee. Their only experience of the interview process is from the perspective of a candidate. My advice to graduate students and/or professionals is to make it known to your supervisor that you want that experience. Include it in your professional development plan and when an opportunity arises be the first to say that you would like to represent your office on the committee. The best way to learn about the inner workings of search committees is to be a member of a search committee and experience it for yourself.
These are just a few tips to help candidates better understand search committees. What are some tips that you’ve learned about dealing with search committees?
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Podcast With Krista Kohlmann on Community Service