Building an Effective Search Committee

A smooth, effective and trusted hiring process should be the goal for any private club embarking on a search for its next executive leader or department head.

The club’s overall success depends on hiring the most qualified candidate who is the best fit for the leadership role.

Based on our firm’s experience in the private club executive search business since 1997, one of the most important factors determining the success of the leadership hiring process is the makeup of the search committee.

The search committee can make or break the effectiveness and efficiency of the executive search process. Members serving on this committee should be purposefully and carefully identified to ensure the best possible outcome. The club should require that these committee members meet certain conditions and be willing to invest the time and energy necessary for the commitment. Those serving on the search committee should be aware of their significance in the success of the hiring of the next executive leader or department head.

When selecting search committee members, confidentiality is of utmost importance. It is as imperative as finding the best candidate for the job. Search committee members should always maintain confidentiality and never reveal information about the candidates or their current positions before the club makes an official announcement.

Even an inkling to a friend or colleague who may know a candidate, or knows a member at a candidate’s current club, could jeopardize the search. Candidates’ jobs could be at stake, the risk of losing exceptional candidates in the search may be high and organizational credibility could be damaged. For this reason, only trusted members who will provide complete confidentiality should be invited to serve on the search committee.

The composition of the search committee should have representation from various demographics and club constituencies, including active members who represent a variety of the club’s programs.

Typically, frequent users of the club and a cross-section of tenured, senior members and younger, newer members are recommended. Members serving on club committees likely understand how the management/governance works and are committed to the betterment of the club.

Finding members who enjoy and support the club and who will positively represent the club is ideal. These members will interact with candidates.

While the committee is interviewing candidates and determining their capabilities and fit in the role, candidates will be observing committee members to determine if the club culture and members’ mentality are compatible with their career goals. We often say the more chamber of commerce-type members on the committee, the better.

We recommend at least five but no more than seven members make up the search committee. Odd numbers are best in case of a tie, and the fewer the members the better because of the discretion required. Too many opinions often hinder the efficiency and effectiveness of the process, offering another reason to keep the group tight.

A lot of time, effort and commitment is required of the search committee, and it is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly. These members will receive a substantial amount of information about candidates, including resumes, questionnaire responses, professional portfolios and behavioral assessments.

It is not unusual for these documents to add up to more than 200 pages. In addition, search committee members will participate in multiple candidate interviews and possibly even dinners or social events with the final candidates. A commitment to participation is a contributing factor to the success of the committee and the entire hiring process.

Lastly, it is important to determine the role of the search committee in advance of compiling the committee. In our experience, a best practice is to have the search committee recommend the final candidate(s) to the board of directors, and then the board meets with the final candidate(s). We recommend the board makes the final decision along with the input and support of the search committee.

All of these factors must be considered when determining the makeup of the search committee. To ensure the best candidate is selected for the job, it is vital to create a smooth, effective and trusted hiring process by establishing the best possible search committee.

BoardRoom – September/October 2023