By Patricia A. Hoffmeir, Leader of the Academic Medicine Leadership Practice at Tyler & Company, a healthcare executive recruitment firm.

Academic search committee membership – Is serving an honor, commitment or dreaded time-consuming endeavor?

Throughout my years of working with academic search committees, I’ve observed a variety of responses and behaviors that made me wonder how well prepared members were and whether they were comfortable with the role. Some seemed to be present only physically and were not very engaged. Others “ran away” with the meeting, often with no one stopping them. 

I cannot stress enough the importance of the search committee chair’s demeanor. Fortunately, many excel at keeping the group on task. But who trains committee members on how to be productive? The institution may have published guidelines. But how often are they reviewed by search committee members at the start of an assignment? There seems to be this belief that those asked to serve will be innately qualified; additionally, they will be be active, committed and knowledgeable team members. But how realistic is this considering busy work schedules and the time commitment involved in being active, committed search committee members? 

The search committee chair has the difficult task of not only overseeing the search process, but of managing the various personalities that make up his/her committee.  Members’ competing interests are just the start; more challenging yet is getting input from members who are reluctant to challenge the strong personalities gathered around the table. I’ve watched members cave in on committee decisions just because it’s easier. I often wonder how those members felt about those forced decisions. 

Another big question … who trains search committee members to interview, whether it be in group settings or one-on-one encounters?

The future of an institution’s success depends on recruiting good talent. Resources dedicated to search committee education will offer a healthy return on investment if members are counseled and ground work is laid for a well-functioning search committee. 

Some universities have published guides on faculty searches. The Association ofAmerican Medical Colleges (AAMC) published a report March 2011 by William T. Mallon, Ed.D., David S. Hefner, M.P.A., and April Corrice titled, “C-Suite Recruiting Practices in Academic Medical Centers: How Teaching Hospitals Find Talent,” as well as the handbook, Finding Top Talent.

What works for you and your organization? What other resources do you recommend?