Goal: A Good Hire

Finding, assessing, and hiring for open positions in an athletic department is not as simple as it used to be. By developing streamlined and equitable procedures, the process will go much more smoothly.

By Dr. Elizabeth A. Alden

Elizabeth "Betsy" A. Alden, Ph.D., is Managing Partner at Alden-Perry Athletics Search www.alden-perry.com and President of Alden & Associates: Collegiate Athletics Consulting www.aldenandassociates.com. She is a former athletics administrator and past president of NACWAA.

Athletic Management, 13.6, October/November 2001, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1306/goodhire.htm

Job One for any senior administrator is hiring good people. But hiring coaches and athletic administrators today is far more complicated than just 10 or 20 years ago. Escalating salaries, incentives, bonuses, Title IX, diversity, endorsement deals--these have become routine parts of hiring at NCAA Division I institutions and increasingly at other levels as well.

Further complicating matters is maintaining equity in the search. Not only must all candidates have an equal chance to present their credentials to the hiring decision-makers, but nearly all positions must be filled through a standard process. If the head softball coach is hired through institutional and departmental practices, then so must the head football coach.

Cheryl Levick, Director of Athletics at Santa Clara University, believes the key ingredient to running any search is the equal opportunity component. "When conducting a search, I strive to reach all possible traditional and non-traditional candidates--regardless of age, race, etc.--who might be qualified for the position," she says. "Equal opportunity and thorough resourcing are significant components of searches I conduct."

To meet these demands, the hiring process should be consistent, streamlined, and clearly outlined to all involved. And one of the best ways to ensure this is to prepare a hiring manual. At first glance it may seem an arduous task, but once assembled, it will cut the time spent on filling key jobs, help protect you from charges of unfairness, and probably boost your chances of getting the best person.

Such a manual can be lengthy or short. It can give lots of direction or leave procedures open to change depending on the situation. It can be developed by the athletic director alone or by a team of staff members. But it must, at a minimum, provide direction and point out standard procedures. The following will offer guidance on nine sections that should be included in a "Hiring New Staff Manual."

1. Institutional Policies
The first section of your manual should outline procedures mandated by your institution due to liability concerns and affirmative-action initiatives. While these procedures can be cumbersome and even frustrating at times, their importance cannot be overstated. They protect both the institution and potential candidates from inappropriate search practices and bias.

Dr. Sandra L. Holbrook, Director of Equal Opportunity at North Dakota State University, says, "At our university there is a strong commitment to having all searches, no matter the department or level of responsibility, conducted using our institutionally defined procedures. This practice protects not only applicants but the individuals making hiring decisions. It provides a context of fairness and consistency that can be very important if claims of favoritism or charges of illegal discrimination are made by applicants.

"And, contrary to popular perception, these procedures need not delay the completion of a search if administrators fulfill their responsibilities in the process," Holbrook continues. "In my experience, when an administrator initiates a search as a cooperative effort with the affirmative action or equal opportunity office, the process goes well and concludes with a defensible outcome."

Therefore, it's critical to meet with your school's director of human resources and affirmative action officer to learn the policies and procedures regarding personnel hiring. One mistake can be interpreted as both ignorant and potentially hazardous for the administrator in charge of the hire.

While it is important to, first, follow the guidelines of the college or university, it is also appropriate to modify them to match your athletic department's vision and mission. Most of these specifics can be placed in the ensuing sections of the manual.

2. Mission Statement
Just as you have a mission statement for the overall operations of your department, you should write a mission statement for the hiring process. This mission statement should be reviewed and probably changed every couple of years depending on the strategic plans of your athletic department.

If having a more diverse staff is a goal, write this into the mission statement. If increasing the caliber of your coaching staff is a directive, then write this down. If decreasing staff turnover is important, then hiring coaches who would like to settle in one place can be part of the mission.

3. Checklist & Timeline
Especially for hiring coaches, the timing of the process is often quite critical. It seems like there is never enough time--that one component always takes longer than expected. It helps to have a checklist and timeline as the third part of your manual.

The checklist should include all actions needed to conduct the search to a successful conclusion, how long each action will take, and a blank line for who is specifically responsible for each action. A checklist will also facilitate keeping the search organized and moving forward.

To correlate the timeline with the checklist, think realistically about how long each component takes at your particular institution. Then make these part of your checklist. If it varies greatly, put in ranges of times. Or, during the next year of hiring, actually track how long each step takes, then update the manual with this information.

Aim to work backward from the proposed date of appointment. If you want to hire the head coach or associate director of athletics by June 1, then you would work backward based upon the average amount of time it takes your institution to complete each step of the process.

4. Search Committee
It is always a great idea to use a search committee for any staff hire. Not only does this save a lot of time for the athletic director, but it provides insights from more than one perspective.

A standard search committee may comprise two head coaches, a faculty member outside the department, a staff person inside or outside the athletic program, two student-athletes, and the chair of the committee. The chair of the committee should usually be a senior athletic administrator, if not the athletic director, although this is dependent upon the specific position being searched.

The manual should state any rules about your search committee you may want to establish. For example, you might want a standard number of people on the committee, to always include a person from a minority group on the committee, and to establish rules on how discussion among committee members should proceed.

It is also a good idea to establish a code of conduct that includes a confidentiality statement for the committee. The code of conduct is a general understanding, in document form, which is disseminated by the chair of the search committee and agreed to by all members of the committee, regarding the following:

The names of the candidates will not be discussed except during the search committee meetings.

The chair of the search committee will be the only spokesperson for the group.

Internal and external candidates will be treated the same.

Any member of the search committee who may become a candidate should withdraw from the committee at the outset of the search.

All records regarding candidates will be destroyed at the completion of the search.

Whether or not the athletic director is on a specific search committee, he or she should always issue a charge in writing to the committee. This clearly states both the expectations and ultimate authority of the search committee. For example, if the athletic director expects the search committee to recommend three finalists, then that should be made clear. If, on the other hand, the search committee is expected to choose the final candidate, that should also be stated clearly. This will protect the search process and ultimate candidates from any confusion or inappropriate missteps in the end.

One of the pluses of using a search committee is that it gets those outside of the department involved in the hire. And you can get even more non-athletic personnel involved during the interview process. John Harper, Director of Athletics & Recreation at Bridgewater State College, says, "I always try to solicit as much input as possible from those staff members or campus colleagues who will also be affected by the person I ultimately hire.

"Even if it's a part time coach," he continues, "asking for reactions from my Director of Admissions or the Transportation Manager often helps me gain valuable insight into a candidate. Such a practice will also send the message to other offices on campus that the athletics department is interested in--and sometimes dependent upon--the goodwill and expertise of others."

5. Search Profile
The fifth section of the manual should instruct the committee how to put together a search profile, which is a description of the open job. Depending on your resources, this can be a simple or detailed document.

A simple profile might state the major objectives of the job and include a few paragraphs about the athletic department and the institution. It should also include a brief history of the team (for coaching hires) or a brief history of the athletic department (for administrative hires). If your department Web site includes this information, you can simply provide URLs on this document.

A more detailed profile outlines general information about the college or university and includes specific information about the intercollegiate athletics program. Also included in this profile are the qualifications the institution is seeking in the candidate, as well as possible challenges the candidate may face when working in the intercollegiate athletics program.

The goal of the search profile is twofold: to ensure that all committee members understand the major objectives of the job; and to provide applicants with more information than what appears in a short job listing. It makes sure that everyone is heading in the same direction on the hiring process.

6. Job Announcement
This part of the manual provides insight on publicizing the open position. Search committee members should be instructed to use the search profile as the starting point to develop the job announcement. The idea is to condense the job profile into a short description for publicity purposes.

There are several factors in determining where to place the job announcement. The budget and scope of the search is the main factor, but the overall goals should also be revisited. For example, if there is a mission to hire more female coaches in the department, you may want to post the job in women's coaching magazines or with the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators (NACWAA). Other suggestions include:

The NCAA News
The Chronicle of Higher Education
Coaches associations/support staff associations
Other professional associations/advertising sites
College or university Web site posting

Levick, for one, looks under every stone for the best possible candidate. "The best person may come from higher education," she says. "However, they may also come from the dot-com sector, the business sector, or some other non-traditional market."

7. Sourcing
Because today's job market no longer functions through "want ads" alone, your manual should include a section on finding individuals who may not be actively looking for a new position but would still be interested in what your institution has to offer--a process called sourcing. Sourcing is really specific to the position being searched. For example, if you are searching for a sports information director, you would contact the governing association for sports information, in this case the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA). They might have a Web site for job position announcements.

Also, most coaches' associations have Web sites or opportunities for their membership to learn about new positions. Conference commissioners and their senior staff are another wonderful resource for coaches and support staff recommendations. Don't hesitate to make a few phone calls in search of qualified candidates for your open position. Sourcing can be as intricate or simple a process as you choose to make it.

8. Review & Selection
This section of the manual should give guidance on how committee members should process, evaluate, and choose candidates. It should include answers to questions such as:

How should the initial weeding out process work? Does every resume need to be looked at by more than one person?

Should there always be a round of semifinalists, then a round of finalists?

Should the sports information office be given information to publicize after finalists are announced?

Should the finalists be introduced to the department and institution?

How should references be used?

What is the list of criteria to judge the candidate by?

How should each criterion be weighed?

Who makes the final decision?

Who has the authority to negotiate?

How will candidates not chosen be notified?

9. Final Checks
Since anyone you hire will be working with students in some capacity, the committee must complete due diligence checks on them. This includes credit checks, public record checks, criminal and civil litigation checks, educational degree verification, and NCAA infractions checks. You might want to consider adding a statement on what to do if these checks turn up negative information, and what exactly would rule out a candidate.

Along with searching for negative information, reference calls should be done on all final candidates to flesh out their positive characteristics. This is one area of the process that is difficult to do by committee. Because it is such a subjective process, if the reference checking is done on three finalists by three different members of the search committee the objectivity of the process is moot.

One solution is to have the chair of the committee make all of these phone calls. Another is to use a search firm for this process. A third is to ask your university's human resources staff to assist you with this phase of the search. They have the staff and resources, and it takes the burden off of the search committee and the hiring supervisor to be responsible for all of this work.

Using the Manual
Once this type of manual is written, each and every search you need to perform will be much more efficient. To begin a specific search, simply review the manual and decide if this search will differ at all from what is stated. Next, check that the timeline is okay for your start date. Then, review the details and checklist--and get started!

After examining what needs to be done, if your time and resources aren't going to match your "need to be hired by" date, you may want to consider using a search firm to assist you in this process. Search firms can perform as much or as little of the hiring process as you desire. For example, search firms will usually put together the search profile, write and place all job announcements, have the expertise to do sourcing, review all candidate materials, help with the interview process, call references, and perform due diligence checks. They may also serve as the intermediary in contract negotiations.

Whether you prefer to keep the process completely in the department or use outside resources, the key is to give it the time and thought needed. "The importance of standardizing your search process is critical to a professionally run search," says Levick. "By having consistent standards regarding the search process, the department ensures that the same standards are utilized for hiring all employees.

"Personnel matters, and in this case, hiring of personnel," she continues, "really is the backbone of your program. You have to make sure the person fits and is a good match--you are essentially voting someone into your family and nothing should be more important."

More advice on hiring (including articles on the interview process and negotiating contracts) can be found on our Web site at www.AthleticSearch.com. Just type "hiring" into the search engine.

An Interim Approach

While Director of Athletics at Ithaca College, one year I decided that I would take my two-week vacation right before the student-athletes came back for preseason practice. We had a couple of coaching staff hires to make that summer and by August 1, I had everyone hired and ready to start the new year. I went on holiday feeling slightly smug and relaxed about having "the house in order" for the coming year.

Upon my return, I walked into my assistant's office, who greeted me and suggested that I read the note on my desk right away. It turned out to be a resignation letter from my head women's cross country coach. I had three days to get someone hired before the women's cross country team came back.

Surely this story could be repeated each summer by many college and university athletic administrators. The moral of the story is: don't panic! We all know the difficulties in conducting searches under impossible time constraints.

How can one conduct a search in such a short period of time? The bottom-line answer is that search procedures are meant to be thorough and conclusive in nature, therefore, it is next to impossible to hire someone so quickly. The answer to this dilemma is the "interim" position title. This allows for a quick find regarding personnel to be hired, but does not put the institution in the position of a full-time or part-time permanent hire taking place.

It is critical to work closely with human resources and affirmative action personnel in making any type of interim appointment. Also, get advice from human resources before making the offer to the interim employee regarding whether they will be allowed to apply for the permanent position in the future. It should be clearly stated, preferably in writing, that they will be allowed or not be allowed to apply for the position once the search process begins.
-- B.A.