Partnering with an Executive Search Firm to Recruit Higher Education Leaders

blogPartnering with an Executive Search Firm to Recruit Higher Education Leaders

Partnering with an Executive Search Firm to Recruit Higher Education Leaders

by Ken Carrick, Partner

An executive search firm, like Buffkin / Baker, specializes in sourcing, recruiting, and evaluating talented individuals for leadership positions. As a retained search firm, we work exclusively with our clients to understand their culture and the needs of the institution. We then use a customized approach to identify and recruit the right candidate. As such, we are in the business of finding and delivering transformational leaders. 

Driven by several factors beyond the scope of this article, suffice it to say that the competition for superior, senior leadership talent is fierce. With the general shortage of executive talent, exacerbated by the pandemic, higher education institutions appear highly motivated to retain effective current leaders making counteroffers more prevalent than ever, and in some instances, extreme in their composition and amount. As with students, it is likely less expensive to retain the talented leaders currently on board as opposed to recruiting new leaders.

With this competition for talent, professional, relationship, and advisory-oriented search firms that represent the institution can be valuable partners to boards and search committees. An executive search firm brings an experienced team of professionals to deliver the talent an institution needs. Search professionals are experts in their field and can apply years of experience and knowledge to identify and recruit the best candidates. 

Reasons to partner with an executive search firm.

Targeted Sourcing. Organizations and institutions who choose not to engage a professional search firm for senior leadership searches will most often conduct passive searches. Generally, there is an exclusive reliance on job postings to generate the candidate pool, meaning the pool will be limited to individuals who read the posting and respond. An executive search firm has a broad network of contacts, meaning unparalleled access to the best talent. Targeted sourcing provides proactive outreach to expand the candidate pool, increasing the opportunity for more diverse talent.  Search consultants are always mindful of diversity when compiling a pool of candidates, knowing the breadth of talent, opinion, background, judgment, and experience benefits organizations and delivers a competitive advantage.

Cultivation. Professional search consultants have a solid grasp of what is needed to fill senior leadership roles.  Working on behalf of the client, the search consultant cultivates passive candidates through proactive sourcing, much like enrollment management cultivates prospective students. This cultivation, through good communication regarding the attractiveness of the opportunity, expands the candidate pool and increases the odds of attracting the best candidates.  

Vetting.  Executive search consultants use a vetting methodology to expedite the recruiting process. Starting with prequalification, professional search consultants have initial meaningful discussions to learn more about a candidate’s background, their consideration of the opportunity, relocation ability, and compensation expectations. Prequalification conversations not only save time, but also allow the search consultant to move forward with the most qualified leaders.  

Discretion. Most searches require a level of candidate confidentiality and discretion. Effective search consultants help passive candidates and search committees understand when candidacies may become public, and help candidates feel comfortable that confidentiality is respected. 

Experience. Many committee members often have little or no experience in evaluating or hiring senior administrators, and it is a tall order to ask them to do so. A good executive search firm has a proven evaluation process in place to help expedite the search. Professional search consultants use a vetting process, including a personal interview with all candidates presented to a client, that delivers valuable insights beyond the resume. As a trusted advisor, the search consultant also guides the client through the interview process as the search committee begins their evaluation of candidates.

Engagement. Executive search firms maintain proper, ongoing engagement with multiple candidates during the process. As a representative of the institution, the search consultant continues to obtain insight for the client, as well as make sure that every candidate feels that they are valued and treated professionally.

Negotiations. Effective search consultants, working on behalf of the institution, are skilled at assisting clients in negotiating compensation and presenting and accepting final offers. Not only can the consultant help manage candidate compensation expectations, but they can also inform the client of the candidate’s thoughts concerning compensation so that the client does not make an offer in a vacuum.

Whether looking to add or replace a senior leader, enlisting the assistance of an executive search firm enables institutions to make more strategic and informed hiring decisions in less time. At Buffkin / Baker, our Higher Education team is passionate about helping clients find superior leadership talent.  Our dedicated professionals have partnered with universities and colleges in conducting over 900 comprehensive searches. Utilizing a proven, customized process, coupled with over 100 years of search experience, our partner-led team consistently delivers a diverse slate of innovative leaders to our clients.