To cut costs, GW uses fewer search firms for hiring

The University’s human resources office has moved away from hiring headhunters to fill mid-level spots this year, a move that will cut costs and promote more GW staffers.

Sabrina Ellis, vice president of human relations, said her office shaved 13 percent off its recruiting expenses last year by running its own searches for top management positions instead of hiring search firms to recruit nationally. She declined to give the specific amount of money saved.

GW is searching for six senior management positions, from a new director of graduate admissions to the Elliott School’s associate vice president of development.

Ellis said her team is leaning more on its own networks for the hires, as well as being “more thoughtful and deliberate” about how and where it advertises jobs.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Philosophy professor Gail Weiss speaks to students and faculty last fall during the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences dean search. While that search used a high-priced search firm, GW is using consultants less for mid-level positions.

GW will continue to rely on costly search firms, like Witt/Kieffer, to fill its top leadership positions, including its three ongoing dean searches for the law school, business school and nursing school. The law school will use a search firm for the first time in a dean search – a move suggested by GW’s top administrators.

The University declines to release costs of searches. But at universities where data is public, that bill can range from $70,370 for the arts and science dean at Ohio University to $118,510 for the University of Hawaii’s medical school dean search.

Colleges’ use of consulting firms came under fire from Illinois state lawmakers last year, who said headhunters were hired excessively, driving up the costs of education.

The strategy to use fewer consultants falls in line with the University’s goals to limit administrative spending. That’s also highlighted by GW’s Innovation Task Force, which has promoted ideas like more telecommuting and reducing leased space to cut costs.

One consultant who regularly works with universities, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said his company’s fees are typically one-third of a hire’s first-year salary, as well as a baseline fee and any out-of-pocket costs.

He said his firm’s fees were comparable to GW’s searches by Witt/Kieffer.

A top search firm, Korn/Ferry International, charged $166,578 to hire a business dean at the University of Iowa last year.

He said even when a University chooses to run the search internally, through committees of faculty and administrators, it drains that college’s resources and underlines the importance of bringing in consultants.

“There is virtue to hiring someone to do something who does it all the time,” the consultant said.

Witt/Kieffer’s spokeswoman declined to speak with The Hatchet because its contract with GW is confidential.

For GW’s highest-level searches, using national firms is key, Ellis said, because it offers discretion for candidates who may not want their employer to know they are being considered for another position.

These firms also offer a wider reach, a more efficient process and unrivaled day-to-day attention, Ellis said.

“Typically when you’re bringing folks in at the highest level, they want some assurance that there is going to be a high level of confidentiality,” Ellis said.

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