I attended a Taiga session about candidate recruitment for senior positions. Early on in my career, I gained a healthy respect for the importance of recruiting and selecting staff, from being on both well-run and less systematic search teams. So hearing the rep from Isaacson Miller talk about what they can bring to a search and how they recruit was impressive. One of the first things mentioned is that senior leaders in libraries do not move around as much as senior leaders in other parts of higher ed – they may stay in place for 15 or 20 years. By that time, the organization has “forgotten” what a good search process for such a senior leader needs to include. Isaacson Miller staff generally talk to scores of people and search through lists of leaders from various professional organizations to generate candidate pools. One of my takeaways from this session was that they develop a comprehensive picture of what kind of candidate they are looking for by interviewing appropriate people and groups across campus and putting together a clear picture of what the incoming person will need to do, and what challenges they will face, and use that in planning how to identify and interview candidates. This was an interesting approach — typically, I have been on committees that focus immediately on the job description (often basing a posting on the old job description, or what other institutions are putting into job descriptions) and there was not a lot of formal discussion of the specific local challenges that the incoming person will face as they go about handling the responsibilities of the job.
Another takeaway was understanding how having faculty as part of the search process can influence it. The rep spoke about how faculty are used to looking for certain kinds of things in a CV, and might not think as highly of a candidate who had fewer publications, not understanding that publishing is not an expected or even necessarily valued professional activity at some institutions, especially where librarians are not faculty and/or don’t have a tenure process. The rep explained how a search firm can help the search team avoid misinterpreting data about a candidate — if something seems like a red flag, to ask about it, rather than assume they know what it means. Having worked in a place where search teams were instructed to put forward the list of interviewed candidates with strengths and weaknesses (rather than a recommendation), it was also interesting to hear that many provosts will ask for an unranked list of finalists, so if they really prefer one candidate over others they aren’t put into the position of seeming to go against the search team’s recommendation. It strikes me that it’s an advantage for the candidate as well as for the institution when a search firm is used, since they are looking for fit just as much as the institution, and they can ask the search firm rep the kind of questions it would be hard to put forward diplomatically to members of the hiring organization without having it count against them in the long run.
The last takeaway came from a discussion about how it can be difficult for AUL’s at ARL libraries to move up the last rung, without taking a detour to a non-ARL institution and serving as director there for awhile — the rep’s explanation was that thinking holistically about the library’s problems, being the “face” of the library, is not something that AUL’s typically do on a daily basis, and that it takes a lot of reflection as well as experience handling the kinds of problems that directors handle to come across credibly in an interview. Another good session, with lots of takeaways.