A recent On Hiring post discussed Central Michigan University’s decision to run its own search for a dean without the assistance of a search firm. The post mentions that the university is saving tens of thousands of dollars by managing the search itself, which, on the face of it, seems highly responsible in these difficult fiscal times.
I’ve worked with search firms before, most often as a candidate, but also as the chair of a presidential search committee and as a member of an executive search committee. Although a consultant’s services are indeed expensive, I have to say, I’ve mostly been impressed by the assistance they give to people sitting on both sides of the hiring table.
As a candidate, I have found it possible to be considerably more open with search consultants about my interests and concerns than with people at the institution itself. Hard questions about campus issues, compensation matters, and possible pitfalls are a lot easier to ask of someone who, while interested in a good outcome for the search, is not personally invested in the hiring institution.
From the hiring side, a good search firm’s contacts, external perspective, and managerial systems can be a tremendous help. At the initial stages of the process, a consultant can develop a pool of candidates and evaluate them with fewer complex institutional factors in the way. Later, they can serve as liaisons and advisers to both parties in the interview, offer, and negotiation processes. Search firms offer another set of eyes on every part of the process, and they do a great deal to ensure professionalism during the entire search.
Those services, performed well, with integrity and expertise, are expensive. And times are certainly tough financially right now. But the institutional costs associated with a badly done executive search can be exceptionally high, and a good search, conducted by a firm that knows what it’s doing, might well be a hedge against such a bad result.
What is your experience with search firms? And is your institution cutting back on hiring consultants, during this downturn?