A Master Class in Academic Search Engagements: 3-Part Series Part Two: Maximizing the Candidate Experience

max candidate experiance
Alan Johns
October 22, 2019 08:19 AM (GMT-04:00)
Thought Leadership

You’ve followed all the advice and tips to prepare for a candidate search engagement outlined in our first blog in this series, now it’s time to turn your attention to maximizing the candidate experience and interview process. It’s worth reiterating here just how difficult it is to secure top clinical talent in today’s competitive market, which is why search committees and hiring managers must make the most of engaging a potential candidate once you have found one.

First and foremost, be sure to avoid potential pitfalls and other obstacles that could derail your candidate engagement and interviewing process before it evens begins. Start by ensuring everyone involved in the interview and selection process, including all members of the search committee, are on the same page and avoid some very common pitfalls, including:

  • Not attending all or the majority of meetings, late for interviews or absent from lunch/dinner meetings
  • Seeing themselves as “eliminators” and not recruiters
  • Recasting the leadership teams’ vision for the new hire
  • Failing to convey the same messages, speak in one voice
  • Disfavoring a candidate because of their current institution
  • Focusing too much on one part of their CV and not valuing their entire body of work and potential
  • Requiring current funding and discounting recent grants and future funding potential
  • Dressing too casually for video interviews; make a good first impression

By removing these potential roadblocks, you’ll be one step closer to enjoying a smooth and successful candidate engagement and interview process.

Get to Know Your Candidates Well.

We make important decisions every day based on data and analytics. But even as we become savvier at making data-informed choices, our perceptions and first impressions shape our decisions. That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to the little things when you’re interviewing candidates or hosting them for an onsite visit.

Remember that the candidate you’ll be interviewing has likely interviewed with several of your competitors, so everything you do (and say) is critical. The best way to make a good first impression on your candidate is to show authentic and genuine interest in getting to know them, their family needs, their motivations, expectations for the job and community, and their future goals.

Start uncovering these aspects by asking several key questions either before, during or after the interview:

  • Why this job? Why now in their career?
  • What is their primary motivation in exploring this job?
    • Move into a leadership position?
    • Salary?
    • Start-up package ended?
    • Increased research collaboration?
    • Better resources?
    • Spouse/significant other career move or retirement?
    • Empty nester?
    • Institutional reputation?
    • Conflicts at previous institution?
    • Failure to obtain tenure?
    • Leverage for a counteroffer at current institution?
    • Be closer to family?

As you can see, there are a wide range of possible motivations driving the candidates’ new job search. As you uncover the primary one, the search committee or other stakeholders can better adapt the “selling points” of your position to fit the needs or situations of the candidate. Or, reveal a potential red flag.

Make it personal.

A candidate is likely not the only person involved in the decision to accept or pass on a position. He or she may have personal or family-related interests in mind as they are weighing potential positions. So, it’s important to learn as much as you can about the candidate and their lifestyle needs. For instance, do they have a spouse or significant other who will have career needs or requirements as well? Or, do they have extended family obligations, such as aging parents and/or other primary caregiver needs?

One of the most critical factors to address if whether they have school-aged children or not. If so, provide them with public and private school options to consider. If the candidate has younger kids, give them any potential daycare options to weigh.

Finally, if the candidate will be relocating, provide them housing and relocation assistance. Connect them with a reputable relocation realtor to help facilitate the process.

Follow a Well-Formulated Interview Process.

Candidates pursuing these positions and high-level leadership positions are becoming increasingly impatient with long, cumbersome recruitment and interviewing processes. Often, there are no systematic, objective processes in place that allows the search committee to make a timely selection.

The last thing you want to happen is to invest the time and effort in recruiting a great candidate, only to lose them due to hiccups or lengthy interview processes. In order to ensure an efficient yet thorough interview process, follow this best-in-class model.

First Interview (preferably video conference).

The first interview should be focused on all the things we shared in the previous section – getting to know the candidate, the motivations for pursuing the position and their leadership characteristics. Other best practices include:

  • Avoid vision and goal setting questions.
  • Remember the candidate doesn’t know your institution well enough to frame big picture and directional strategies at this point in the process.
  • Have all members of the search committee in one room for interviews.
  • Test your technology and have staff conduct a trial video session with the candidate several days prior to the interview.
  • Remember that it is more difficult for the candidate to see and hear you during a video conference.
  • Look at the camera when speaking and look engaged/interested even if you are no longer interested in the candidate as you are still representing the Dean, school and your institution.
  • Have a reasonable number of talking points. Don’t try to fit 20 questions into a 30-45-minute interview.
  • Save time for the candidate to ask a few questions.

On-Campus First Interview

Bringing a candidate on-campus for an interview demonstrates that you are seriously considering them for the position. You must have a plan and give careful thought to how you want the visit to unfold. Create a list of everyone you’d like the candidate to meet and prepare them in advance of the interviews as to any specific aspects or topics you’d like them to cover.

Using this information, finalize a detailed agenda and secure a central location/conference room where most key stakeholders can meet and interview the candidate. Include plenty of breaks for the candidate and avoid over-exposing the candidate to multiple faculty members and others.

Following the interviews, collect all feedback as soon as possible – ideally when three days of the interview – from all interviewers and other stakeholders.

On-campus Second Interviews

Think of second on-campus interviews as a time when the candidate can interview you, your faculty and the institution. This is an opportunity for additional meetings with faculty, candidate presentation(s) and time to meet with potential collaborators (i.e. research, technology, center directors).

By their very nature, second on-campus interviews are even more crucial in the candidate search process. Therefore, be sure to follow several industry best practices, including:

  • Prepare all faculty by reminding them to recruit, not to “weed out.”
  • Do not run the candidate all over campus, keep their meetings/presentation to a central location.
  • Encourage all faculty, regardless of department, to attend a candidates’ presentation.
  • Consider inviting students and external parties to the candidates’ presentation as well.
  • Collect faculty feedback within three days of the meetings/interviews.

Final impressions are as important as first impressions.

The feelings and information you leave with candidates as they head home are incredibly important when a decision is being made among other institutions vying for their employment. So, as you begin to negotiate and draft terms of an appointment, be sure to be highly communicative and timely on any follow-up you may have with the candidate. Have any relevant materials ready for the candidate to take home with them and make their departure home a smooth and simple one.

Stay tuned for the final blog in this series, where we’ll sum up vital lessons when preparing for and conducting a candidate search engagement, including a list of red flags to look for and avoid yourself!

If you are interested in learning more about preparing for search engagements or require a consultation to secure top medical, nursing, cancer research or other academic leadership talent, contact Alan Johns, Executive Vice President and Managing Principal.

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