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 and/or interviewing candidates.

Hiring Manager (HM) Responsibilities

  • Determines whether or not s/he will chair the search committee, and if not, designates a committee chair and selects search committee members
  • Determines the overall recruitment plan
  • Determines the charge and the role of the search committee
  • Ensures the committee chair has completed the mandatory Fair Hiring training
  • Ensures the search is conducted according to local fair hiring practices
  • Determines priorities regarding qualifications for the position and communicates those clearly to the committee chair
  • Assembles required recruitment records after concluding the search and submits records to Talent Acquisition

Search Committee Size

  • While it is usually helpful to have at least one other person besides the HM 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 HM knows the job
    • Degree to which the position interrelates with various campus constituencies
    • Large committee can result in difficulty in reaching consensus
    • More people can lead to a lengthier recruitment process
    • Degree of campus buy-in of the final hiring decision needed

Search Committee Role

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

  • Outreach efforts
  • Screen applications
  • Develop interview questions
  • Ensure that all applicants are given a consistently fair evaluation
  • Assist in identifying bias at any stage of the process
  • Interview applicants and:
    • Recommend an unranked list of top candidates
    • Present a ranked list of top candidates
    • Analyze strengths and weaknesses of top candidates
    • And/or recommend a top choice
  • Assist with generating and gathering recruitment records
  • Respond to applicant inquiries
  • Conduct reference checks
  • Or any combination of the above


2. Committee Chair

Search Committee Chair Responsibilities

  • Ensure search committee members understand their roles and the charge
  • Ensure fair hiring practices are followed
  • Ensure that search committee members maintain confidentiality
  • Designate a committee member who will handle applicant inquiries
  • Document the process and provide documentation to the HM or directly to Talent Acquisition at the end of the recruitment
  • Obtain advice/problem resolution assistance from the appropriate office when necessary

Search Committee Planning

  • Ensure search committee members are available when you need them
  • Prior to the initial review date, 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: these may include a final meeting to evaluate interviewees, decide who advances to reference checks, identify top candidate(s), meet with the HM to discuss interview outcomes and choice of top candidate, as needed

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  1. If I have decided that I need a committee of more than three 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 - consider if it is important that certain constituencies be represented so that they will be supportive of your process and the selected candidate
    • Availability of committee members
    • Interrelationship of the position with other campus units - someone from another unit can provide 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 answers to the interview questions. Be sure to notate when this occurs in the recruitment process notes you submit to Talent Acquisition.

  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 applicant. If they cannot, they should consider withdrawing from the committee.
    • Some committee members have an important role in making the best hiring choice. If so, they may discuss all potential biases with the search committee and ask whether it is appropriate for them to continue to participate or to withdraw. If having them withdraw would negatively impact the committee’s ability to successfully choose the best candidate, this committee member may participate in all applicant assessment activities and interviews for candidates other than the applicant they have a conflict with.
  4. Are search committee deliberations confidential?

    • Yes! The HM and/or search committee chair must make sure that all committee members understand that breaches of confidentiality create severe problems, hurt feelings, and can lead to formal complaints. This is especially true when an internal employee(s) has applied for the job.
    • A good rule of thumb is that committee members should never discuss the committee work. At most, they can share information about what stage the recruitment process is in, but nothing about the committee’s evaluation of individual candidates, nothing about who said what, and nothing about which candidates are strong or who they think will get the job.
  5. How should a search committee make decisions? Consensus? Majority vote?
    • The HM and/or 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 robust discussion leads to better decisions along the way.
  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 discussions is to encourage members to voice opinions freely, and ask all to speak up if they see the committee being swayed by an assumption that may not be universally true. HMs and search committee chairs can model this behavior for everyone else.

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