Unfortunately, some athletics departments have been notorious for not following the same Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defined hiring processes as other campus departments, especially in the hiring of head coaches. Athletics directors will claim that coaches are “emergency hires” because no one wants to lose recruits by going through a lengthy search process. This practice should be discouraged not only because it violates the spirit and or letter of federal laws, with the potential of perpetuating years of discrimination in athletics with regard to the hiring of female and racial/ethnic minorities, but will often result in “bad fit” hires because not enough due diligence was taken to check references or have the candidate engage with a strong cross section of stakeholders prior to the selection decision. Thus, the hiring process should be respected, methodical, and laser focused on working to identify the right person for the position. Following is a practical discussion of each step that includes important management tips.
STEP ONE: REVIEW THE JOB DESCRIPTION
Prior to posting any job, the job description should be analyzed for accuracy and decisions should be made on necessary changes. These changes could result in a different reporting line, a different term of appointment, an adjustment in the compensation package, or new responsibilities. Any new hire may provide an opportunity for additional changes. The potential for change should always be explored with the intent being an accurate description of the job responsibilities for the incoming position occupant.
STEP TWO: FORM THE SEARCH COMMITTEE
For department specified non-entry level professional positions (all head coach, senior staff and middle manager positions with extensive supervisory responsibilities and/or significant duties), a search committee should be formed. There may be institutional or department policies in place that require representation on the search committee to be diverse in various ways. If no policies currently exist, it is always desirable to assemble a cross section of individuals from inside and outside the department and a committee composition that reflects gender and race/ethnic diversity. If the athletics department work force is significantly underrepresented with regard to gender and racial/ethnic minorities, consideration should be given to a search committee that has a majority of members from these minorities. Consider the following search committee composition checklist:
It may not be necessary to include a representative from each group for each position. For example, to hire a second assistant in compliance, the search committee may be the direct supervisor, one coach, one athlete and a representative from a minority group. However, a senior management or head coaching position should warrant a search committee that has a strong cross section of the groups listed above. In the case of a very high profile coach or athletics director, there may be other people who meet with candidates that are not part of the official search committee such as the President or the Principal and members of the Board.
Unfortunately, too often athletics department searches are completed “in-house” with no outside voices. This is partially due to the “emergency hire” practice and partially due to some longstanding cronyism. It is very important that people with independent voices that are perceived as unbiased be included in searches so the best hires can be made, there are built in assurances that hiring processes were diligently followed, and the manager is protected from accusations of selection bias. It is also important that an appropriate Chair of the Search Committee be selected who has the confidence and trust of all members.
STEP THREE: POSTING THE POSITION
The next step is for the institution’s human resources (HR) office to take the job description and utilize it to construct the job advertisement. If this is not the function of of HR and a responsibility the athletics department, care must be taken to ensure that this posting announcement is accurate and functional. In some institutions, the “hiring manager” is an assigned HR office employee while at others, this responsibility is within the athletics department and performed by an assigned athletics business affairs employee or the direct supervisor for the position to be posted. Job advertisements are usually shorter and more concise than job descriptions because of the cost of posting in various print and electronic media and the size restrictions of such postings. If the job description is comprehensive and complete, it will make this process much easier. The sections detailing education and experience required and preferred for the job and required skills, such as specific knowledge of computer programs, should be included. The actual job responsibilities, reporting line, and term of the appointment are already at hand on the job description. The hiring manager will have to decide whether to post a definite salary, a salary range, or leave compensation open ended with a statement that salary is commensurate with experience. Remember that the salary range for coaching positions in men’s and women’s sports should be identical. Any difference in marketplace salaries offered must be on the basis of the experience and qualifications of the individual, not the sex of the athletic team. In most instances, a brief description of benefits offered is also included in the posting as well as statements related to the institution’s commitment to equal opportunity employment processes.
At the first search committee meeting, committee members should review the job description and job posting and questions or comments that may help inform thinking about the position should be invited. Collectively, the search committee should complete the posting document by determining what documents the applicants must submit (i.e. transcripts, resume, cover letter, three letters of reference, etc.), the closing date for application submission (or can leave it open until the position is filled if there is a concern that the talent pool will be limited), and where to send all applications. Another important task of the committee is to decide where and when the posting will take place. Often, there are institutional policies about the level of the job and how extensive the search will be as well as affirmative action policies ensuring that advertising reaches minority candidates. The athletics department may also have separate, institutionally approved policies that reflect what employee groups mandate local, regional or national searches depending on the needs of the position and the availability of talented people for those positions. For example, if the institution is in a well populated area with many businesses, excellent administrative assistants and personnel for the athletics business office may be easily found through local searches. If it is a requirement for certain coaches to have teams ranked in the top ten in the country, the search for those coaches may be extended to a national or international pool of candidates.
If the posting is subject to hard and fast rules, it is less important for the search committee to be part of the decision where to post. However, if there is flexibility due to the importance of the hire or a perception that the talent pool is small, it is important for members of the search committee to help determine where the job will be posted. It is especially important to get feedback from the representatives of minority groups. Typically, prior to posting the job, the hiring manager must get approval to do so through the Human Resources office of the institution or school district, and, if available on campus, the Affirmative Action Officer. Once those approvals are secured, the hiring manager may post the position at the sites agreed upon by the search committee.
STEP FOUR: DEFINING COMMITTEE OPERATING PROCEDURES
After completing the work related to posting the position at the first search committee meeting, it is always a good strategy to cover the following additional agenda items:
All search committee members need to make their respective participation a priority so the sooner an agreed upon schedule can be determined; the greater the chance of full participation. The search committee must also understand the role they play. Some search committees will make the final hire based on majority vote. Other committees are responsible for providing a ranked or unranked list of finalists to a senior manager who will ultimately make the decision. In addition, it is very important that minutes be taken at all search committee meetings in case a complaint is lodged later in the process by a disgruntled applicant claiming biased selection. It is also important to detail the reasons for not selecting candidates and selecting one candidate over another. These explanations are usually required by the institution’s Human Resources office.
STEP FIVE: ENGAGING IN AGGRESSIVE RECRUITMENT STRATEGIES
It would be naïve to believe that most important hires (senior managers, head coaches, etc.) rely on the typical job advertisement to create an excellent pool of candidates. It is normal operating procedure for athletics directors, presidents, principals and the like to research winning programs or contact valued colleagues to identify the best talent in the market place. Personal solicitation of identified individuals and encouragement of their consideration not only happens all the time but is critical to identification of the most qualified and experienced applicants. Unfortunately, athletics recruitment often takes place before the job description is even written or posted and rumors abound that the job advertisement doesn’t even appear until a secret candidate has been selected. As noted above, “emergency hires” should be minimized whenever possible. However, we do encourage hiring managers maintain succession lists and to expand the applicant pool through solicitation of applications from candidates who have demonstrated excellence. This strategy will also help enrich the pool by soliciting strong minority and women candidates. There is nothing impermissible about encouraging prospective applicants to apply as long as the formal application, assessment and interview process is fair and equal for all candidates who apply. A hiring manager should never convey that a candidate will get the job or that the process of interviewing other candidates is merely to demonstrate that institutional policy or state or federal laws are being followed.
STEP SIX: ASSESSING AND INTERVIEWING CANDIDATES
Litigation surrounding search procedures is commonplace. Thus, it is critically important to follow hard and fast rules about assessing and interviewing candidates and checking references.
Pre-Interview Assessment Rules:
Post-Interview Assessment Rules:
STEP SEVEN: OFFERING THE JOB
It is standard procedure at most institutions that certain individuals (i.e. a human resources representative, an affirmative action officer, a direct supervisor, etc.) must approve a hiring before the job is offered. The person offering the position must be armed with any information that was not provided during the interview such as final salary, contract elements, and the like. It is standard form to offer the position in writing with all critical elements reviewed and acknowledge that the hiring will not be complete until all formal letters of appointment or contracts are agreed upon and signed. This conversation is a good faith job offer with as much detailed information as possible. It is not uncommon for candidates to take a day or two to make their final decision.
Most managers are excited about informing a strong candidate that they were selected for the position. However, it can be very frustrating when that person seems less than enthusiastic and asks for a significant amount time to think it over. Managers must be prepared for this occurrence before the telephone call is even made. Through consultation with appropriate others, the manager must be ready to respond with a deadline date based on a myriad of concerns that can range from worrying about losing other strong candidates, having to re-open the search, compromising the current program because there is no leader (especially if this is a head coach hire) and other issues relevant to each particular situation. Regardless of the circumstance, the hiring manager should avoid frustration and be as prepared as possible to take the next step if necessary. The last thing a manager wants to do is hire a reluctant employee. Chances are they may stay for a very short time or create unnecessary problems.
--By Connee Zotos, Ph.D., SMR Senior Associate