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Getting Around Search Committees When Applying For A New Job

Getting Around Search Committees When Applying For A New Job

In this week's Ask Victoria: Getting around search committees when applying for a new job.

Dear Victoria,

What are some strategies one can use to get the real nitty-gritty on how the hiring process works in different fields? For example, in social services, a person can network their way into an interview. However, in higher education, all resumes are reviewed by a Search Committee, which nullifies networking.

How does a person find out how hiring is really done? (And are there tips for circumventing Search Committees?)

Thanks for your advice.




Dear R,

Well, I’d like to quell some of your misconceptions about hiring practices in higher education, but first I’ll give you a few suggestions for learning how the hiring process works in different fields. Just as you would research an organization prior to an interview to learn more about it, you can do so for locating information about how candidates are hired in different fields. Use similar tactics for either one:

  • Conduct online research with a keyword search term such as “hiring practices in X field”. You might also want to try a search from the opposite perspective. Imagine you are making the hiring decision recruiter and want to know the best way to go about doing it.
  • Schedule informational interviews with people in the field. Be sure to ask specific what the distinctions in the hiring process are evident in their field.
  • Go to information sessions at organizations in your field. Ask questions about the recruiters’ hiring processes.
  • Look on specific organizations’ websites, particularly in the “work for us” or “getting hired” sections. You may find information about the types of interviews conducted at the organizations and the hiring processes of each.

Getting back to hiring practices in higher ed specifically-- there are actually opportunities to network within the field. You can meet people at events targeted to your field (just like you would in social services), conferences, or even programs or seminars held at the institution itself. How’s that for an unlikely encounter! Who would assume that you’re a job candidate with an ulterior motive to get in front of a person with influence in hiring at the institution?

While it is likely that a search committee will review your application, you can certainly contact someone who works at the institution with your interest, just as you would in different fields. Sometimes they will be so kind as to pass your application and a good word about you along. After working at a private liberal arts college for 12 years, I can tell you that this happened frequently.

Of course, once you’re in the running, the rest of the work will have to be done by you. While you can get included in the “yes” pile for interviews, you’ll still have to present yourself well to the search committee during that interview. There really is no way to bypass the committee in the interview stage.

Let’s also keep in mind the purpose of the search committee and the power that they do (or rather, don’t) have. In her Chronicle of Higher Education article, What Search Committees Wish You Knew, Allison Vaillancourt notes that search committees are intended to “ensure procedural fairness” but is also quick to admit that committees created to interview for administrative positions, “Are often an odd amalgam of people with varied expertise and often-competing views.”

Knowing who is on the search committee and which departments they represent can be helpful in developing your interviewing strategy. Give yourself an overview of those departments by reading through their website. Use the information you find to get an idea of what aspects of your work history and accomplishments will most appeal to the different members.

Search committee members compile their opinions about the candidates to the person who will actually be making the hiring decision. As Vaillancourt shares, the committee itself does not have much power. Also, if the institution is truly one at which you’d like to work some day, making a good impression on any of the committee members might lead to a future opportunity in one of their own departments. By making a solid connection with them and staying in touch, it can open up new opportunities.

If you and any members are in similar fields, you can share information about upcoming conferences or new research projects, pick each other’s brains on current issues, and the like. By keeping up a dialogue, you can maintain the connection. That’s what networking is all about, isn’t it?

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By Victoria Crispo

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