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Perspectives on Effective Searches

Search Advice: From the Candidate's Point of View

Deborah C. German, M.D.
Dean
University of Central Florida College of Medicine

Recognize a Good Search

A candidate who is observant will recognize the difference between a good and a bad search. Sometimes a bad search is evidence of a lack of experience of the institutional leadership. Sometimes it is an indication of hidden problems such as political agendas or financial difficulties. Regardless of the reason, if a candidate recognizes a bad search, he or she can gain insights about the strengths and weaknesses of the opportunity presented.

Committee Preparation

A position that looks great on paper may be an opportunity for disaster and often this can be discerned in the search process. For example, for a search at the highest level in an academic health center, one committee member asked, “How have you as a woman been so successful in leadership?” The search agent interrupted the discussion to tell the committee that that question was not in compliance with the law, and posed the following question to the committee: “Did you ask any of the male candidates how they had been so successful in leadership as men?”

This search revealed the lack of understanding and experience with issues of gender and diversity at the highest level. It gave the candidate added information about the institution. Stories of such experiences are often shared with colleagues and the result is damage to an institutions reputation. Advanced preparation of a committee can aid to prevent such events.

Interviews are a Two-Way Street

Every interview is a two-way street. As the committee evaluates the candidate, the candidate evaluates the committee. For example, in a fast paced airport interview in which a search committee of twenty had ninety minutes with each candidate, no introductions were made. The committee fired a series of prepared questions at the candidates. Without introductions the candidates did not know who was in the room and who was asking the questions. The general feeling becomes one of disregard and disrespect for the individual.

The interview process is about making friends. Every candidate who makes it to the interview stage has been carefully screened and will leave with an impression of the institution. It is likely that even those candidates who are not chosen will have future interactions with the institution.

Committee Practices and Behaviors

The interview is about making friends and teaching. The institution teaches the candidate who they are and the candidate teaches the institution who he or she is. If done well, both will come away with new insights regardless of outcome.

Here are some suggestions for committee practices and behaviors:

  • Be clear with candidates and committee members about objectives, process timetables and do’s and don’ts.
  • Have a diverse committee.
  • State the interview process at the beginning.
  • Always introduce everyone in the room. This is common courtesy and shows respect for all.
  • Allow the candidate time for questions (10-15 minutes). The nature of the questions asked will speak volumes about the candidate and this will show respect for the candidate.
  • Prior to the interview, ask the candidate if they have special needs or interests that need attention in order to make a decision. Do they need a tour of the city? Do they need to meet with a realtor? If so, plan to address these interests at some stage of the interview process and inform the candidate of such.
  • If there are sensitive political issues within the committee, discuss them openly before the candidate is interviewed. Political rancor can damage the process.

The committee that knows what it is looking for and has carefully prepared all of its members to individually assess each candidate for that very thing that is sought, will work well together. Each member will see the candidate through a unique lens and will contribute to the overall assessment. A diverse committee will get a clearer picture.

Search Advice: From the Committees Point of View

Wiley W. Souba, M.D., Sc.D., M.B.A.
Dean, College of Medicine
Ohio State University

Create a Good Search

I am always clear with the search committee that we are looking for candidates who are strong on both the numbers and the values. The former are generally quite evident in the CV – publications, grants, awards, lectureships. The latter are not as evident and are much harder to assess. It is important to ask questions (of both the candidate and the references) to learn about the candidates values, for example - their self-awareness, ability to learn from mistakes, and adherence to a set of core values that fit with the institution. John Wooden, the great UCLA basketball coach, once remarked that if he had a choice between a great player or a player that would make the team great, he would take the latter every time.

The individual who will ultimately make the offer (and who charges the search committee) must be clear with the committee about how important it is to seek out diverse candidates. The ability of an academic medical center to adapt to disequilibrium in the external environment depends on its capacity to increase variety and diversity in its internal environment. When an organization increases its internal variety by recruiting people with different views of the world (often women and people of color), this prepares the organization to be deal effectively with change.

Develop an Effective Search Committee

Search committees that appreciate from the start that the process needs to be treated with confidentiality and integrity generally get off on the right foot. They should not disclose to their peers the names of potential candidates (this eventually will become public knowledge) and should not make any phone calls to this candidate’s home institution until it is time to check references.

The chair of the search committee plays an important role. She/he is frequently chosen because of their credibility in their institution and because of their deepened knowledge of the field. It is key to lead the process, but important to not bias the process. I find it useful for the committee to interview each candidate as a group and to ask each of them a similar round of questions. This gives the committee the opportunity to evaluate and compare candidates as a group.

The way the search comes across to the candidates is crucially important because first (and second) impressions mean a lot.

If the people doing the one-on-one interviewing show up on time and ask intelligent, probing questions, they will learn a good deal about the candidate.

Successful Recruitment and Retention of a Diverse Faculty

People are the most important asset of any organization. Thus, it is critical to recruit the right people to be a part of the organization. When the members of a search committee recognize the huge responsibility and privilege they have in shaping the future of the organization, it can empower them to search wide and far for the best candidates. They should be acknowledged publicly for the work they are doing.

Candidates will pick up very early how much pride and affection the people they meet have for the medical center. If the consistent, authentic message is: “This is a great place to work and we’re only starting to reach our potential,” it can act as a magnet. People thrive to be on a winning team.

Search committees themselves should be made up of very diverse individuals. Such diversity sometimes manifests itself as debate or disagreement about who the best candidates are. Such conflict is healthy (even thought many of us have an aversion to it) because teamwork and organizational learning are born from this type of conflict. Organizations that learn to harness conflict and use vigorous debate constructively come up with better solutions and more innovative ideas.

Faculty Vitae

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To inquire about updates to information published in Faculty Vitae, please e-mail Valarie Clark at vclark@aamc.org.

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