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To recruit and hire tomorrow’s leaders, you need to trust your instincts more than the qualifications on a candidate’s résumé.

Employer strategies

Focus on Intangible Qualities When Hiring for Your Higher Education Institution

  • Andy Lee
  • 7/6/2017

Many higher education institutions tend to think of the future mostly in terms of their programs, buildings, endowments, and curricula. But one of the most important things you must do in planning for tomorrow is hire the next generation of leaders today.  

The colleges and universities I discuss this with frequently ask me what attributes to look for when recruiting and hiring employees who are in it for the long haul. They want to know how to see who will be committed to the institution and its long-term success. My answer is that the old-school criteria for judging candidates should be thrown out the window. When you look for your ideal candidates, you should focus less on your checklists of qualifications and credentials and more on the intangibles of poise and leadership.

Great statistics stacked on a résumé are now par for the course. Perfect GPAs and a slew of extracurricular qualities are no longer few and far between. So, how do you sort through dozens of high-quality applicants to find those who will carry your college or university into the future?

Use in-person interviews to separate ideal candidates from run-of-the-mill applicants

Almost anyone with the required qualifications can be a competent rank-and-file employee, but it takes a unique candidate to demonstrate leadership skills: to take charge, be a role model, stay accountable, and successfully motivate a team. With every hire, your goal should be to identify candidates that you can envision taking the leadership reins in the years to come. Ideal candidates will have real-life examples of accomplishments from their personal and academic experiences that prove their ability to lead. They will also offer novel ideas to help the school flourish and aspire to do more than punch a clock in and out every day.

Avoid being fooled by the eager, ambitious, and perfectly qualified candidates. Recent graduates are generally excited to enter the job market and bring home a paycheck, and qualifications only go so far. Look past that layer and ask questions to find out whether the candidate is focused, well-prepared, curious, and passionate. Many applicants will arrive at an interview with canned questions that they ask to feign interest and appear engaged and competent; you can spot these questions from a mile away. Ideal candidates’ questions, on the other hand, are genuine and thought-provoking. They are specific to your institution and demonstrate research about your school and the current opportunities and challenges you are managing. Look for candidates who can hold informed discussions with you about the position and how he or she can directly contribute to your future success.

Trust your instincts

If you’ve been conditioned to using qualification grids, uniform questionnaires, and point systems to evaluate and compare applicants, you might need to take a leap of faith in sizing up ideal candidates based on qualities you can’t expressly quantify. But if you truly want to hire future leaders, you will have to “go with your gut” on these decisions.

Ask yourself which candidate was the most unforgettable. Whose background and experiences bring a fresh perspective combined with a drive to succeed? That is the candidate that will work hard to add value to your institution.

It is essential to invest the necessary time to ensure that your institution’s future is in good hands by cultivating worthy successors with every hire.

How we can help

CLA’s higher education industry practitioners can help you recruit, hire, and onboard the right people for your college or university. We’ll work with you to find and develop future leaders based on your strategic goals and long-term plans. We also offer outsourced human resources services that can be useful in crafting job descriptions, hiring policies, and recruiting ads. For higher-level recruiting needs, our executive search services can help you find today’s leaders as well.