By Paula Goodman
Higher Education customarily uses recruitment firms for only select positions. Yet they do so often enough that it is worth explaining here the differences in types of firms, what would be the reason a school/university would engage a firm, and how you should best interact with them. Being very cost conscious, academia more often than not chooses to try to fill positions using their own resources. There are certain circumstances, however when they feel the need to contract with a third party.
Those situations include (1) a senior position that is highly visible internally and externally (2) a position that is deemed “hard to fill” usually due to special skill sets not easily available on the open market (3) there is extreme urgency to fill the role and the hiring unit smartly recognizes that if they rely on their internal mechanisms the search will be prolonged.
These third party vendor firms are usually two types - retained or contingency. A retained search firm commands a hefty 30% of the base salary. These firms are elite and well known in their fields so do not have trouble sourcing high caliber people. They also have armies of researchers who maintain a strong data base. These firms get paid even if an internal candidate is hired or the employer ends up hiring by a referral from their own network. Alternatively, contingency firms get paid ONLY if the employer hires someone they referred. Their rates are also less.
So how should you as the candidate deal with these third party vendors? First keep in mind that they are unlikely to see you on an exploratory basis so reaching out to them will unlikely get a response. If, however, they happen to be working on an assignment for a university and you meet the qualifications then you become of interest to them. Keep in mind, however, they work for the client who is paying them and NOT for you. As long as you are “in play” they will be responsive to you. If you are not, then sadly you can expect what could border on ill treatment. I do not mean to be discouraging. These firms, especially the premier ones, can be your way into an institution of higher education if all else aligns. Your expectations of them simply need to be clear.
About the Author:
As Director of Recruitment in central Human Resources for Columbia University, Paula Goodman manages senior level searches on an ad hoc basis. She advises internal schools and departments on recruitment strategies for positions at various levels. She handles high priority referrals from internal and external stakeholders of importance to the University. Under the auspices of the Office of Work-Life, she provides career advisement for accompanying spouses/partners of potential faculty recruits. She also provides confidential career advisement for officers contemplating internal moves. Additionally, she was re-elected for a second term to the University Senate as the sole representative for non-faculty on the Morningside campus. Paula returned to Columbia in 2000 after spending 14 years in senior recruitment positions in industry. Prior to that she was Assistant Director of Career Services at Columbia Business School. She has both a Bachelor's and a Master's degree from the University of New Hampshire.