Archive for September, 2014

Pete Carroll-198x300Pete Carroll, football coach for the Seattle Seahawks, in his 2010 book Win Forever: Live, Work, and Play Like a Champion, described in detail a conversation between himself and Jim Valvano, legendary college basketball coach.   The conversation was about Coach Valvano’s insights into the hiring process.   Coach Carroll recalls Valvano’s ‘interviewing tactics’.

Coach Valvano told me that my goal should be to leave the interview with “no negatives”.  Every comment, every phrase, or story must be positive, and I must be prepared to talk only about things that put me in the best light.  No matter what the topic, it was my job to turn every answer into a response that highlighted my strong points.  Like his point guard, who controlled the court, or my middle linebacker who controlled our defense, I had to control the interview.

Carroll summarized his conversation with Valvano:

He taught me that if they asked a questions I couldn’t answer, then I shouldn’t answer it but instead find a way to turn the question to something I could talk about comfortably, positively and honestly.  ……   He explained the importance of being disciplined in the setting and avoiding any and all negative thoughts.  If I spoke with positivity and confidence, it would be evident that I believed in myself, and that belief was what the interviewer would be looking for.

Actually, there is more to the story.   When Carroll had to apply these lessons when interviewing for the head football coach at the University of Southern California, he consistently responded to questions with answers that reflected a consistent theme about his vision and philosophy.

When it was time for me to present my vision and plan, I stated my intentions in the clearest and boldest way that I could think of. ….. I took them through my philosophical approach, discussing everything from the central theme of competition that would be synonymous with the program, ……   With each statement I gave, I felt more confident.   The more confident I felt, the more excited I became.

As I reflect on academic searches at the President, Provost, Vice-Provost and Dean levels, I certainly buy into Jim Valvano’s tactic of ‘leave the interview with no negatives’ and Pete Carroll’s strategy of ‘consistently responding with answers that reflect your vision and philosophy’.    I have witnessed several successful candidates at our university that were able to leave the interviews with ‘no negatives’.   However, I do not recall any candidates in my twenty years of academic experience who have left the interview process having effectively communicated a consistent vision and philosophy.   I’m still waiting!!!

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe


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Dean Search Provost Search We All Want to be DifferentMilton Greenberg, in the article ‘You Don’t Need a Search Firm to Hire a President’ (Chronicle of Higher Education, September 2014), recently developed a list of commonly cited characteristics for a university president. Here they are:

  • the ability to articulate a vision,
  • a collaborative working style,
  • capacity to lead and inspire diverse groups,
  • a commitment to excellence,
  • superb communication skills,
  • distinguished scholarly and professional achievement,
  • well-developed interpersonal skills,
  • an ability to work effectively with a wide range of constituents, and
  • a commitment to diversity.

In discussing presidential searches, Greenberg makes the point that the pool of likely candidates for major posts is quite small.   He emphasizes that the finalists for a position will typically be limited to:

  • leaders at colleges similar to the searching institution who are at a certain stage of their careers, and
  • individuals who know about the institution and a few of its major figures

According to Greenberg, the chances for an academic leader of getting on the shortlist are enhanced by a limited and careful targeting of possibilities.

Greenberg’s observations were based on presidential searches.    Do these observations apply to searches for provosts and deans?    I think so.

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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