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The Human Resources Organization Vital Role in Securing Needed Higher Education Talent - Harris Search Associates

Jobs Are Scare in Higher Ed But You Still Have to Recruit: The Human Resources Organization Vital Role in Securing Needed Talent

These are hard times in much of academia. Despite enrollment growth in some parts of the country, the number of full-time, tenure-track opportunities is small and adjunct, part-time instructors and teaching assistants are responsible for much undergraduate teaching.

The anticipated retirement of the large cohort of Baby Boomers has not materialized as faculty and administrators continue to work well past traditional retirement age. As a result, the positions opening up due to retirement are fewer than expected.

The higher education job market most definitely belongs to colleges and universities, hence the stories of hundreds of applications for virtually any available position. And this may explain in part why some candidates, including finalists, report that hiring institutions seemingly do so little to recruit new employees. They report receiving little communication from search firms hired to assist with recruitment, a lack of information about basic terms of employment such as fringe benefits, and desultory efforts to assist spouses/partners and families to learn about what might well be their new homes.

It’s difficult to assess just how extensive these practices are. But it is telling that an e-mail that sets out the likely timetable and probable communications of a search can be rewarded by thanks that go well beyond a perfunctory acknowledgement from candidates. For that matter, a phone call that is very direct in telling a finalist that s/he is still under consideration but that another candidate is in negotiations for the position – while not welcomed – is nevertheless appreciated and sends another message to all of the candidates who will not be hired that the university is a very honest, very humane place at which to work.

We suspect some of the lack of hospitality, candor and communications comes about when those responsible for academic and executive searches fail to engage with their Human Resources colleagues early on and throughout the process. At many, perhaps even most institutions faculty and administrator hires fall outside the purview of HR, save for providing guidance on satisfying compliance requirements such as equal opportunity and diversity. And these are indeed of critical importance.

But HR offices also deal with the nuts and bolts of employment – “When do I get paid?” or “What are the terms of maternity leave?” - as well as larger issues and can make sure that much of that information is available to candidates at the right time in the recruitment process. 

Just as important, HR staff can address questions beyond those of the candidate’s employment but which bear directly on personal and family matters.

Moreover, our experience has been that HR staff persons are keenly aware of processes and schedules and are quick to suggest the timeliness of communications with candidates.

Hiring and keeping good talent is more art than science and as much about good manners as it is adequate compensation. The times may permit a rather laissez-faire approach to recruiting, but it Is the good institution-employer that understands that virtually everyone who applies or responds to an opening will likely not be hired, but will walk away with an opinion about the college or university that persists and can spread for years to come.

Jeff Harris & Rick Skinner - June 2015

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Harris Search Associates is a leading global executive search firm. Our higher education and academic medicine practices are focused on identifying and attracting leaders Presidents, Provosts, Deans, Department Chairs, Researchers, and Senior Administrators to support the growth of clients in the areas of research, science, engineering, academic medicine and commercial enterprises.
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