Academia Relying More On Search Firms to Fill Top Spots

Campus executive searchIt wasn’t that long ago that hiring a new college president or chief executive was largely done by the board of trustees or its equivalent. Faculty and student committees were involved, as were alumni, but it was the board that conducted the search.

Now, while all the same campus constituencies are still involved, its increasingly common for schools to use search firms to develop a candidate short list.

“The stakes are so high that institutions think this gives them the best chance of getting a good fit,” says Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education. Quoted in the Philadephia Inquirer, Hartle added that today, search firms are commonly used to fill most key positions.

On its website, the Council lists 29 search firms specializing in academic placements. Nearly all of them are located on the east coast with the largest being Heidrick & Struggles.

One not listed there is an affiliate of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. AGB Search is headed by a former dean at Drake University, Jamie Ferrare who’s been involved in more than 80 senior level academic searches. He estimates that two out of every three presidential searches involve a search firm.

So common now is it for academic institutions to turn to executive search firms that Ferrare, and his colleague Joseph S. Johnston, Jr, wrote A Complete Guide to Presidential Search which not only guides trustee boards and search committees through the process, but offers transition and career advice for those in senior leadership positions — and those who aspire to be.

Another, and much less widely known recruiting trend in academia is using search firms to source and hire athletic directors and coaches. Though Hartle told the Inquirer that, “About the only thing we don’t use search firms for is football coaches,” even that may be changing.

Parker Executive Search in Atlanta is reputed to be one of the most powerful athletic recruiting firms in the country. With a database of 1,000 basketball coaches and 2,000 football coaches,  Parker’s “perceived influence has reached nearly mythical proportions,” says ESPN.

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Even after the Julie Hermann debacle at Rutgers, Parker Search is still a must for agents and coaching hopefuls. It shares the rarefied, but growing athletic search market with the likes of  DHR International, Witt/Kieffer, Collegiate Sports Associates, Carr Sports Associates Inc., Fogler Consulting and Korn/Ferry International.

Laurie Wilder
Laurie Wilder

The days when athletic directors worked their networks own lists source and hire their next basketball or volleyball or baseball coach though far from over, are on the decline, says ESPN.

“Athletic directors have changed,” said Laurie Wilder, Parker executive vice president and managing director. “They’re lawyers or CPAs or MBAs. The way they run their department is very different. The concept of having that list in your pocket and being able to go one, two, three, four down that list just doesn’t exist anymore.”

Illustration courtesy of jscreationzs /

John Zappe is the editor of and a contributing editor of John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.


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