Fair Hiring Guide

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Topic: Search Committee

1. Hiring Manager

The purpose of using a Search Committee is to increase the likelihood that a better hiring decision is made. A Search Committee is any group of two or more people involved in the evaluation of applicants for a position.

Hiring Manager Responsibilities

  • Determining whether or not s/he will chair the search committee

  • Determining the charge and involvement in the process of the search committee

  • Designating a search committee chair and selecting search committee members

  • Ensuring that the chair of the search committee has participated in the mandatory Fair Hiring training

  • Ensuring that the search is conducted fairly

  • Determining priorities regarding qualifications for the position and communicating those clearly to the Search Committee Chair

  • Assembling documentation of the search

Search Committee Size

  • While it is usually helpful to have at least one other person besides the hiring manager involved in the evaluation of applicants, larger search committees can be costly to the University and may make the search process less effective by extending the time it takes to select a candidate. However, consideration should be given to having a gender and ethnically diverse committee.

  • The key consideration for whether more people need to be involved is whether the hiring decision will be better. Other considerations include:

    • How well the hiring manager knows the job

    • Degree to which the position interrelates with various campus constituencies

    • The cost to the campus of the time and effort required by additional members

    • Impact of lengthening the process by involving more people

    • Degree of campus buy-in needed

Search Committee Role

The role of the search committee is determined by the hiring manager and should be communicated clearly to the search committee. Any search committee is advisory to the hiring manager. A search committee can provide service in a variety of areas such as:

  • Outreach efforts

  • Screening applications

  • Interviewing applicants and:

    • Recommending an unranked list of top candidates

    • Presenting a ranked list of top candidates

    • Analysis of strengths and weaknesses of top candidates

    • And/or recommending a top choice

  • Developing interview questions

  • Ensuring that diverse applicants are given a fair evaluation

  • Assisting with documentation

  • Responding to applicant inquires

  • Reference checks

  • Or any combination of the above


2. Committee Chair

Search Committee Chair Responsibilities

  • Ensuring search committee members understand their roles and the charge

  • Ensuring fair hiring practices are followed

  • Documenting process and providing documentation to the hiring manager at the end of the process

  • Designating a committee member who will handle applicant inquiries

  • Obtaining advice/problem resolution assistance from the appropriate office when necessary

  • Ensuring that search committee members maintain confidentiality

Recruitment Process Planning

  • Make certain that search committee members are available

  • Prior to the initial review date for the recruitment, schedule search committee activities:

    • Meet at least once prior to screening applications, to discuss fair hiring practices and review criteria

    • Meet at least once to decide on interviewees and discuss interview questions

    • Schedule blocks of time for interviews, allowing for reflection time after each Interview

    • Schedule any other meetings, such as a final meeting to evaluate candidates and meetings with the hiring manager, if he/she is not a member of the search committee

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  1. If I have decided that I need a committee of more than two people to make the best hiring decision, what should I consider when selecting committee members?

    • Diversity - think about the gender and ethnic mix of the search committee

    • Buy-in - is it important that certain constituencies be represented so that they will be supportive of the selected candidate and enable him/her to function more successfully in the position?

    • Availability

    • Interrelationship of the position with other campus units - can someone from another unit provide a useful perspective on evaluating certain qualifications.

  2. What if a member of the search committee misses one of the interviews?

    • While it is always best for all search committee members to participate in all interviews there will be emergencies such as illness where this is not always possible. In this case you may want to have someone on the committee take more detailed notes than normal and then brief the missing committee member on the content of the answers to the interview questions. How to account for this in the evaluation process will differ depending on what method is being used to evaluate or rank the candidates and how strong a candidate this applicant was both before and after the interview process.

  3. What should a committee member do if there is a potential conflict of interest with one of the applicants (e.g., discovers a friend in the applicant pool)?

    • The first step is for the committee member to honestly assess whether or not they can be objective in their evaluation of the applicants. If they cannot, they should consider withdrawing from the committee.

    • The committee member should discuss all potential biases with the rest of the search committee.

  4. Are search committee deliberations confidential?

    • Yes. The search committee chair should make sure that everyone understands that although there is no hotter gossip than search committee discussions; leaks in confidentiality typically create horrendous problems, hurt feelings, and sometimes complaints. This is especially true when current employees have applied for the job.

    • A good rule of thumb is that committee members can share information about what stage the committee is in, but nothing about the committee’s evaluation of individual candidates, nothing about who said what, and nothing about whom they think will get the job.

  5. How should a search committee make decisions? Consensus? Majority vote?

    • The committee chair should make sure that the group agrees on a method of decision-making before applications are discussed.

    • To take best advantage of the diversity in perspectives on a search committee, talk through differences of opinion to see what they’re about. In particular, fairness may depend on talking through any differences in opinion between men and women or between people of different cultural backgrounds, or differences in how the committee is evaluating men and women, or candidates of different cultural backgrounds. Take the time to talk it through -- everyone may learn something, and you’ll probably make a better decision.

  6. What should we do if one person is biased?

    • Every human being has her/his own set of biases about what kind of person makes a good employee -- not just gender or racial bias, but also our personal idiosyncrasies.

    • A good way to begin the search committee is to encourage members to voice opinions freely, and to ask everyone to speak up if they see the committee being swayed by an assumption that may not be universally true. Search committee chairs can model this behavior for everyone else.

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Revised November 2006: C.20