The competencies community college leaders must demonstrate have expanded and evolved over time to match the changing needs of students, communities and the workforce. That also means the hiring process has gone through some changes.
Melissa Trotta, associate managing principal of AGB Search, which specializes in higher education executive searches, spoke with Community College Journal about the hiring process and what job candidates and search committees need to know.
CCJ: How has the hiring process changed during the pandemic?
Since the pandemic, the hiring process has changed in a few ways. The most impactful change we have seen at AGB Search is searches being conducted virtually – some partially, some completely. When the pandemic first emerged, business came to a momentary standstill in many industries; however, we quickly realized Covid-19 was going to have a much more extended impact than we originally thought. Thankfully, technology has made it possible to continue most operations, such as the search process, virtually.
AGB Search has supported numerous searches in a virtual environment. There are some additional protocols we have put in place to support a virtual process. We offer an on-demand recorded interviews tool, extensive and enhanced due diligence, online listening sessions, and video presentations for candidates to learn about the campus and community. In some instances, the institution has requested hybrid finalist interviews, with the top one or two candidates visiting in person. In that case, we are careful to follow Covid-19 protocols.
What advice would you give to a candidate applying for a community college leadership position?
Candidates should recognize that community colleges are incredibly important assets to the students and the communities they serve. They play a vital role in providing access to education and preparing students for contributing to – and benefiting from – the local economy and beyond. As with any institution, candidates should become as knowledgeable as possible about the nuances of the college and the community, including any challenges the college is facing. We advise candidates that the match has to be right for both the institution and the appointee.
Are there any skills or competencies that are more relevant now than they were in the last 5 or 10 years?
Higher education leadership is an ever-evolving competency. Successful leaders tend to be those who can quickly adapt to a rapidly changing environment, as well as anticipate change and strategically prepare for it. We find more institutions are looking for leaders who are skilled at managing change, navigating crises and communicating well with stakeholders at all levels. A demonstrated commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives is imperative. Financial acumen is critical as leaders need to identify new revenue streams and budget models. Candidates also should have a deep understanding of and commitment to shared governance; maintaining constructive working relationships with governing boards furthers an environment of trust and effective leadership.
What are some mistakes that colleges may make when looking to hire a new leader?
While we understand the need for certain searches to happen quickly, we advise against rushing the process. Institutions are well served when they take the time to establish a well-rounded search committee; identify a comprehensive, diverse applicant pool; conduct the necessary due diligence, including inviting stakeholder participation; and carefully consider each semi-finalist and finalist.
We also advise that institutions engage with a well-established search firm to support the leadership search. The firm should serve as an active, engaged partner throughout the search process and have access to substantial networks of leaders to ensure a strong, diverse candidate pool.
Once a candidate accepts a job offer, what are a couple ways that colleges can support a smooth transition?
It is so important to support a leader as they transition into a new college and position. The college can offer assistance in helping the new leader integrate into their new community, such as recommending housing locations, meeting community leaders, and becoming acquainted with the area. Moreover, the college should provide preparatory information to the new leader and ensure there is clarity around roles and responsibilities.