Hiring Strategies: Building a Robust Presidential Candidate Pool

When a college or university embarks on the critical task of hiring a new president, a strategically developed candidate pool can better position its search committee to find the most effective leader. A committee should consider a range of candidate recruitment methods, with the aim of identifying the individual that can best serve the unique needs of the organization. Following are four guidelines for building an inclusive, robust presidential candidate pool.

Let the Position Profile Be Your Guide

In the pre-search phase of a presidential search, the committee will have developed a detailed position profile describing the current state of the institution and setting out its goals and priorities for the next several years. These goals and priorities in many ways dictate the skills and experiences a president will need to lead the institution. Committee members should rely on the position profile as their north star – one that will generate an exceptional pool and guide the selection of the optimal candidate.

Determine Scope and Outreach Methods

Unless specific restrictions apply, most universities and colleges will undertake a comprehensive national search, which includes advertising, a call for nominations, and direct recruitment. Broad outreach helps to access candidates who otherwise may not be aware of the position as well as those who are not currently on the market for a new role. Another benefit of broad outreach is that more people among the institution’s constituencies can become part of the process, ideally developing a greater investment in the process and being more supportive of its outcome.

Quality Preempts Quantity

It’s far easier to whittle down a pool than to enlarge one, but a presidential search is not a game of numbers. The quality of the pool – its responsiveness to the position profile – is much more critical than the quantity of candidates. Institutions can potentially find their ideal leader from a pool of 15 to 20 solid contenders. 

Diversity is Key

Most institutions consider diversity a moral imperative, in addition to possibly being a legal requirement. However, there is also a business case to be made for ensuring a diverse candidate pool. Studies show that diverse teams lead organizations to higher financial returns, more careful processing of information, and more innovation. They connect institutions more broadly and productively to society. As higher education continues to evolve, diversity of background, thought, and perspective is becoming an ever-more valuable characteristic in its leadership.

Building a strong pool of candidates can be an arduous process, but it can be critical to the future of an institution. With the right approach, it ensures a clear vision of the type of leader an organization needs, encourages collaboration among its stakeholders, and provides a range of options that can support the careful - and successful - selection of new leadership.