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Human Resources

The Perfect Fit

Whether it's by growing their own leaders or getting outsiders to come in, institutions are finding ways to attract the best candidates for open positions.
University Business, Dec 2005

Staff recruitment in high-er ed has become more competitive today, as schools compete to hire the best and brightest. Here's how institutions are making themselves attractive to both current and potential employees.

Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., for one, has formalized the process of helping staff members advance in their careers. The school's Staff Employment Value Strategy program provides career opportunities for employees interested in advancement; it also includes a new compensation program. Jobs are clustered into "families" based on their similarities, and pay is based on job type. Each cluster has a purpose, and employees are told how they can develop skills and grow into a higher-level position.

"We value the knowledge, capability, and enthusiasm of our current staff, and want to give them tools to advance their career," says Jacqueline Mathews, Lehigh's associate vice president for Human Resources.

Looking outside of the school is still necessary, though. Of the 116 open positions Lehigh had in the past year, just 23 were filled by internal candidates. "Someone from another institution might bring in a new solution, a new point of view to a position," notes Mathews.

< p>Whether or not an IHE promotes from within usually depends on the style of administrative leadership; it should be one that encourages the search for the best talent.

"Leaders who look for depth within their organizations and value succession planning create the ability to promote from within. This leadership style benefits the institution and the individual," says Elizabeth A. Neumann of the Boston-based consultancy Brill Neumann Associates. Without immediate opportunities for growth within the organization, some people will seek opportunities elsewhere.

IHEs are comfortable with the concept of national searches, adds Neumann, who has been involved in higher ed recruitment for eight years. For internal candidates going for the same position, it can be stressful--but "if they succeed they have done so with the knowledge that they were 'compared' to the best in their field," she says.

Organizational psychologist Billie Blair, president and CEO of Leading & Learning in Los Angeles, points out that most universities have a legal requirement to look "outside" for staff members, due to Equal Opportunity Employer requirements. He says many institutions do take this approach, particularly for more senior-level jobs.

Faculty searches have always been national ones, says Neumann, so "it feels right for administrators to be held to the same standard. Some of this is also a result of poor succession planning."

As the job market becomes more competitive, staff recruitment becomes more intense, says Terry Brown, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls. "We're always looking for the best person for a position. If that person comes from within the university, fine; if he or she is from outside, then that's fine. We try not to show a bias either way," she explains.

The best person for the job will have to meet more detailed job requirements today, and face a more technology-based job. Job requirements, Blair has found, are now more specific about institution and/or department needs, and they attempt to avoid any misinterpretation.

Some schools are fortunate enough to draw job applicants because of their reputation. Others are looking beyond their boundaries to other industries and career tracks for qualified employees.

In any case, transitions to the world of higher ed often do take time. "Folks who do not truly understand the culture of mission-driven organizations have a very difficult time making the transition to higher education," says Neumann. "In many cases, there are not procedures to help with this transition."

Laura Gater ( is an Indiana-based freelance writer who writes frequently on human resource issues for a variety of business and medical magazines.