3 Lessons I Learned as Hiring Manager at a Canadian University

3 Lessons I Learned as Hiring Manager at a Canadian University

  • Wednesday November 9th, 2016
  • 11,875

It is aemployerlways useful to see things from the perspective of people we deal with.  I have been working for several different universities in Canada for over 20 years and have hired for many academic positions. I have met job candidates of different calibres, with impressive as well as regular credentials and experiences. Do you really know what hiring committees look for?
I am happy to share some of my personal experience. When you are applying for a job it is even more important to try to understand my thinking as head of the selection board.  So here is what is important to me.

  1. It’s not whereyou went to school that matters, it’s rather what you did while you were there

The prestige of your study, your school reputation, your diploma or degree: they certainly matter. Yet other elements carry significant weight.  That is why it is important for students to participate in some of the many extracurricular activities which teach them leadership and interpersonal skills.  It is also important for you, as a job applicant to list some of the activities you were involved in since they just might be the tipping point in your being selected.

It is also important to stress characteristics like meeting deadlines and taking initiatives; because, when I hire, I am looking for people who can do my work. Can a candidate deliver the results and performance I expect? Will he or she be a good fit for our culture? It doesn’t matter how the applicant got that knowledge and experience or developed that capability so long as it can be demonstrated.

One of the ways I can test for your capacity is to present various situations and have you, as the job applicant tell me how you would handle them. For example:

– as a new instructor, you receive complaints about your ability to teach

– you know a student plagiarized a major section of a paper

– one of your colleagues claims you have done something unethical

-your research grant gets cut.  Do you just give up?

-you are asked to take on an extra teaching load when you are already oversubscribed.

I am looking less for what you would do about each of these, rather, I am looking for how you approach the problem.  Before any interview, you should think of a number of possible scenarios and have examples of how you handled a similar or related situation.


  1. No matter how carefully I screen applicants, I can never really be sure of a prospective employee’s performance

The philosophers tell us, each person, like each snowflake is unique.  Each person is also unpredictable.  Human behaviour is not scripted or deterministic. It’s always a reaction to a set of circumstances. A good departmental head, congenial colleagues, quality of office space, research facilities and collaborators, organizational governance, personal life circumstances:, all these are often overlooked considerations for a person’s performance and success in the workplace. All of these also take place after the person has been hired.

This is why I recommend assigning a mentor to each new hire.  Many software companies credit their success to what they call the on-boarding process: getting new customers or staff up and running as quickly and smoothly as possible. As a job applicant, you should ask your interviewing panel what provision the employer has for transitioning new employees.  After all, hiring a new employee, and, the employee’s acceptance of the job is like committing to marriage: it is unpredictable even if you have known your future spouse for years. So I am always taking a chance with a new employee, as you are with a new employer.  I simply have to trust my intuition.

Job ads don’t always reach the top candidates for a particular position. So, I am always hiring from the best in a pool of candidates, but not necessarily the best candidates. It is important for my school to develop a strategy to attract top talents.  That may mean canvassing colleagues in professional associations, going to school job search days or even running a series of tweets.

For candidates, that means expanding the approaches you take for finding that ideal job.  Sign up for all the online job sites.  Contact anyone you know who might be a member of your future professional association to see if that person can get access to any positions posted through the association.  Attend ‘meet the employer’ type events sponsored by your school or community; but, do your homework – find out which employers are going to be represented.  Use the social media to put family and friends on alert to watch for any opportunity that comes by.
Since both you and your potential employer have expanded your search, you just might make a great partnership.


  1. Employers are not the only decision makers

I may not always be able to hire my ideal candidate.   Employers, today, are confronted with a wide range of restrictions on their hiring practices.

Legislation sets targets for gender and minority hiring.  It also often prescribes what an employer must cover in such things as moving expenses.  Based on that, a person from a distance may be discounted only for that reason.

Unions may also play a major role in the choice, sometimes even having a seat on the selection panel.  Unions tend to be quite powerful at Canadian universities and they can heavily influence hiring practices and decisions. Their contracts also impact negotiations on salary ranges and benefits.

So, when you are preparing for your job interview, remember all these things I need to consider before I make an offer to a candidate for my position.

Erin Bailo, Career Advisor.

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