3 Thoughts on Recruiters

What should you do if you are contacted about a potential job?

September 18, 2019

At a certain point in your career, you will likely to be contacted by a recruiter about a job opportunity, at an institution not your own.

Should you return that e-mail or that phone call? 

3 thoughts:

#1 - You Don’t Need to Be Looking for a New Job to Speak to A Recruiter:

I think that it may be a common misconception that only someone who is thinking about looking for a new job should return the e-mail or call of a recruiter. A better way to look at higher ed recruiters is to think of these folks as professional colleagues. In speaking to a recruiter, your first goal does not need to be starting the process to apply to a different job. Instead, the purpose of a conversation with a recruiter should be to enable that person to understand your strengths and experience, as well as your long-term professional goals.

You may not be thinking now about moving to a new role. But that does not mean that in the future you may not be open to a move. Careers are long. Family and work circumstances change. From what I have observed, the reason that people move from one institution to another is not in search of a bigger title or more money. Instead, there is a desire to make as much of a contribution as possible. Sometimes, it is necessary to change institutions to make a contribution that matches one’s abilities and interests.

A recruiter may be reaching out to you about a specific job. You may or may not be interested in the role, or the timing may not make any sense. I’d recommend taking the time to learn about the position, and using the conversation about that job as an opportunity to build a relationship with the recruiter that initiated the contact.

#2 - Recruiters (in my experience) Are Hugely Knowledgable and Mission-Driven:

It is a good idea to research the background of any recruiter that you are planning to speak with. Higher education recruiters, particularly those who specialize in building a pool of candidates for leadership and executive positions, will often have amazing academic and professional backgrounds. There is a good chance that they have themselves work in leadership roles in higher education.

The reasons that highly successful professionals gravitate towards executive search firms and academic recruiting roles are many. My sense is that recruiters see the work of talent development and placement as an opportunity to make a lasting contribution to the colleges and universities that are their clients.

There is no more difficult, and essential, task than finding the right person for an open higher ed leadership role. A bad leadership hire can cause enormous damage to a college or university. Conversely, finding the right person for a leadership role can do absolute wonders for the performance (and morale) of a university.

The role of the recruiter is never to hire the candidate. What search firms do is help schools build a pool of qualified and diverse job candidates, and to help guide and manage the interview and selection process. The best recruiters develop a deep understanding of the culture and operations of the university, and they use that knowledge to find candidates that are likely to be successful in the role.

All of this is to say that the professionals involved in higher education talent recruitment and placement know a great deal about the higher education ecosystem. They combine this knowledge with an interest in career development. This makes recruiters some of the best people to know as you are thinking about your own academic career path.

#3 - It Is Okay to Try to Understand the Professional Opportunity Landscape, Even If You Have No Desire to Leave Your Institution:

My final piece of advice is about loyalty and privacy.

It is not disloyal to your institution to speak to, and hopefully build a relationship with, a recruiter. You can also do this privately, as recruiters are very discrete and mindful of the environments in which academics work.

You may never want to leave your current job or your current institution. However, at some point, you will likely be looking to recruit. It may be that you will not be able to use an executive search firm for reasons of expense. In my experience, the people who specialize in high-level academic searches are always willing to offer advice and ideas about running searches with internal resources.

Building relationships with recruiters can be an important piece of the puzzle in building an understanding of the opportunity landscape in your profession. You may not want even to consider leaving your job, or may not be able to do so for family reasons. Understanding the demand for your skills and expertise in the broader academic labor market can help your negotiations at your institution. It is easy to either under-value or over-value our skills and experience. Information from recruitment professionals working for search firms that specialize in higher education can provide additional sources of data in helping you navigate your academic career.

What advice do you have for working with academic recruiters?


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