Posted on / Article

Chairing a Search Committee

At first glance, the task of chairing a Search Committee looks easy. How difficult can it be to oversee a search, interview candidates and make a hiring decision?

In reality, the Search Committee process is often laden with potential problems. Any one of a number of events can result in a disappointing outcome:

  • Conflicts in Schedules Can Result in Lengthy Delays and Loss of the Best Candidates. The target date for completing interviews can easily be set back by weeks, and sometimes months, due to conflicts in schedules between the various Committee members and candidates. Not only do these conflicts arise at the time of the first interview, but also at the second interview and again if the top candidate is to meet with the Board. When this happens, one or more of the best candidates may receive other offers and be forced to withdraw rather than wait for the Search Committee to meet and make a decision.
  • Disagreement Among Committee Members About the Top Candidates. Since few candidates are perfect and almost all have some shortcomings relative to the ideal, Committee members can easily disagree as to which of the candidates should be chosen. Lack of a consensus can lead to polarized positions and less-than-clear thinking about whether to select any of the candidates or restart the search.
  • The Board Can Reject the Committee’s Recommendation. Assuming the Search Committee reports to a Board, the Board may wish to interview the top candidate. Some Board members, because they have not interviewed other candidates, may focus on the person’s shortcomings relative to the ideal.
    This can easily lead to a negative feeling and a decision to reject the candidate selected by the Committee. A similar difficulty can arise if the Search Committee reports to an executive.
  • The Top Candidate Can Reject the Board’s Offer. If the Board accepts the candidate, the search is not necessarily over. The candidate can decide to turn down the offer. When this happens, the remaining candidates can seem ‘second best’, resulting in the need to start the search all over again.

These are just a few of many things that can and regularly do go wrong with the work of a Search Committee. Fortunately, during the past 25 years we have developed ways to avoid most of these problems.