MB Connection

When Search Committees Behave Badly: 6 Common Pitfalls That Can Lead to a Failed Search

In our 30+ years of nonprofit executive search, we have unfortunately seen unresponsiveness or inappropriate behavior of search committee members. Despite good intentions, these common occurrences can lead to a failed search. If you are serving on a search committee, here are some pitfalls to avoid that could result in a regrettable outcome:

  • Micromanaging. When you are passionate about an organization and committed to its success, we understand it can be hard not to know about or be able to control every step of the search, but it is important to trust your search firm. They have been retained to facilitate the search process and to recruit quality candidates for you to consider. While it is important to keep everyone informed, the bulk of their time is best spent recruiting candidates. Listen to their advice, ask questions and expect updates along the way, but trust that they are experienced professionals and let them do what you are paying them for.   
  • Being too busy. One of the most challenging aspects of running a smooth search is getting all search committee members’ schedules to align for meetings and interviews. Only agree to serve on a search committee if you can commit the time required. If you are asked to reply to a poll with your availabilities, do so promptly so the search firm can schedule meetings in advance. Too often, one person’s unresponsiveness can delay decision-making, prevent the search process from moving forward, or result in a top candidate securing another position. Be flexible if possible, adjust your calendar if necessary, or decline involvement.
  • Missing meetings. If you agree to serve on a search committee, it is important that you do everything in your power to attend all meetings and participate fully in discussions. This is especially true for interviews. It is disruptive to the process for search committee members to attend some but not all interviews. It is imperative to participate in each interview so that you can impartially compare all of the candidates before making your recommendations. 
  • Not doing homework. Take the time to prepare in advance of meetings and interviews. If the search firm sends you resumes and/or reports on candidates, read through all materials before the next meeting. If you are asked to evaluate candidate materials, do so according to the guidelines set forth by the search firm. Ahead of your interviews, agree upon what questions you will ask the candidates and decide who will ask which question. Assign a timekeeper to make sure you get through every question. You should make the most of the time you have with the candidates. Failing to prepare will make you look disorganized and could deter some candidates from being interested in the job.
  • Gossiping. Maintaining confidentiality throughout the search process is extremely important. Do not discuss candidates or potential candidates with anyone outside of the search committee. You will be asked how the search is going by colleagues and other stakeholders, maybe even by your close friends or spouse. Be positive but vague and never, ever release the name of a candidate or their organization. If a candidate is “outed” during the search process, they could withdraw their name from consideration. It will be embarrassing and potentially damaging to their career.
  • Being too tough. Don’t forget that interviewing is also a recruiting process. Why are you passionate about the organization and why should they want to be apart of it? Some search committee members see it as their role to intimidate candidates and stump them with unanswerable questions. When interviewing candidates be sure to smile, be respectful and thank them for their interest. Even if they don’t get the job, their interview with the search committee will forever color their impression of your organization.

Helping to select the next leader through serving on a search committee is one of the most important things you can do to shape the future of an organization. It is an honor and responsibility that should be taken seriously. As a search firm, we see it as our role to help search committees be successful. Avoiding these costly mistakes will help ensure a smooth process and hopefully, an optimal conclusion for everyone involved.