Fair Hiring Guide

Search Committee - General Information and Best Practices

Note: See Recruitment Planning for information about determining the committee role.

The purpose of using a search committee in recruiting 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 evaluating of applications, interviewing candidates, and/or helping to make the final candidate selection.

A well-informed search committee helps to complete the work associated with applicant screening and interviewing, collaborate to uncover unconscious biases during the selection process, and ensure an inclusive process, overall. This contributes significantly to a successful hiring decision that is more likely to meet the department’s long-term employee performance and engagement needs as well as the campus workforce diversity goals.

A subset of the search committee may be assigned to handle the bulk of the administrative support tasks, such as applicant and candidate correspondence, scheduling interviews, completing recruitment records, etc.

Determine Search Committee Size

In most cases, it is recommended that three to five committee members are involved in evaluating applications and interviewing candidates. Keep in mind that large search committees (six people, or more) may make the search process less effective by extending the time it takes to select a candidate. Consideration should be given to having a gender and ethnically diverse committee, which may necessitate adding a person or two. The key is to balance the urgency of the search with careful long term planning for a strong diverse and inclusive outcome.

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; is there a subject matter expert who can supplement the HMs knowledge and contribute to a more informed hiring decision?
  • Degree to which the person works with various campus constituencies; would these constituents’ perspectives be useful in identifying the ideal candidate?
  • Large committees can sometimes experience difficulty in reaching a timely consensus; it is possible to lose the strongest candidates if the search is lengthy.
  • Degree of campus buy-in of the final hiring decision may be assisted by including individuals from outside the department.

Search Committee Preparation

Ensure search committee members are available to participate for several weeks. 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 how criteria will be used at various stages of the selection process.
  • Meet at least once after screening to decide on interviewees and to review and discuss interview questions.
  • Schedule blocks of time for interviews, allowing time between interviews to reflect and discuss the results after each interview, and avoid interviewees encountering each other.
  • 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.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  1. What should I consider when selecting committee members?

    1. Diversity and Inclusiveness: Both are important to a successful search. Consider who to include to achieve a balance that avoids racial, gender, and cultural gaps on the search committee.
    2. 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.
    3. Availability: Be sure committee members understand how long you expect to need them
    4. Interrelationships: Consider if there are other campus units who do business with or are familiar with the position you are filling. Someone from another unit can provide a useful perspective on evaluating certain qualifications.
  2. What if a member of the search committee misses one of the interviews?

    1. 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)?

    1. The first step is for the committee member to honestly assess whether or not they feel they can be objective in their evaluation of the applicant. If they cannot, they should consider withdrawing from the committee.
    2. However, some committee members have an important role in making the best hiring choice. If so, they should discuss all potential biases with the HM or committee chair 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 personally know. It is vital that the other committee members understand the reason the affected committee member either stayed or withdrew.
  4. Are search committee deliberations confidential?

    1. 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.
    2. 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?

    1. The HM and/or committee chair should choose a method of decision-making and ensure the committee understands how to proceed with differences of opinion before applications are discussed.
    2. To take the greatest advantage of diverse perspectives on a search committee, talk through differences of opinion to see what they’re about. In particular, fairness and inclusivity 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 racial or cultural backgrounds. Take the time to create a safe space for all to talk it through -- every committee member should have a voice and be open to learning something, and robust discussion leads to fair and inclusive hiring decisions.
  6. What should we do if one person is biased?

    1. 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.
    2. 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.