How to Hire an Interim Chief Enrollment Officer

So, you think you need an interim chief enrollment officer, but what kind? You mean, there is more than one kind? Let’s talk:

The Politician—While being hired for my first interim role, the president said, “I want you to pretend you are running for office. Shake hands, kiss babies.” In other words, he needed someone who was visible and made clear that there was a steady hand on the enrollment tiller. He did not want someone rocking the proverbial boat.

The Tester—Do you want to give someone a test run to see if s/he might be your permanent person? Often, this comes in the form of an internal candidate; however, I am frequently asked by the president (after a couple months or so on the job) if I might be interested in the permanent job. I didn’t think I was being tested, but the president sure had his/her eyes on me. If I am interested, they might save money by not hiring a search firm.

The New Shirt (and tie): You can’t hire someone permanently for several months, so you need a version of a chief enrollment officer who looks like what you’ve had in place for years—forty to sixty hours a week, on-site, attending all the meetings, running the show without cutting to commercial.

The Deck Clearer—To spare the permanent hire the burden and political capital, you need someone to make massive change, often requiring the departure of one or more current employees, to right the ship before you name a new captain.

These categories are likely not exhaustive or mutually exclusive. You might need bits and pieces of two or more types. The key is to know what you want before you go seeking an interim. Then, with great clarity, explain that to your candidates so that expectations are crystal clear.

Once your decision is made, there are several do’s, don’t’s, and considerations:

Do:

  • Onboard them just like any other employee. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve arrived for the first day and they don’t have a computer ready or accounts created, there are no office supplies readily at hand, no one has prepared the office phone, etc.
  • Treat them like the permanent person—if the Vice President of Enrollment Management (VPEM) usually attends Cabinet meetings, then so should the interim. If there are typical committee assignments, provide the history and expectations.
  • Make clear what decisions the interim can make on his/her own, what needs to go to Cabinet and/or get presidential approval, what requires Board approval.
  • What administrative work do you expect? Will they have control of the budget, approve time off requests, sign contracts, do staff evaluations, etc.? Whatever you decide, make sure they have access to and training for those systems. Often, I’ve found that software programs aren’t set up for interim usage. If that is the case, what is your workaround?
  • In the contract, make clear what the commitments are: does the interim get vacation time, how many days per week or month will s/he be expected on campus, how many hours are expected when working remotely, what housing and food arrangement are provided, what expenses are reimbursed (e.g. plane, rental car, food per diem, housing, etc.)?
  • Give them a campus tour and introduce them to everyone.
  • Have regular meetings between the interim and her/his direct supervisor, who is preferably the president.
  • Take the time to teach them about campus culture. What are Board meetings like? How does the Cabinet really work? Where are the landmines hidden (yes, you have some)? Which outspoken faculty members are likely to call them during the first week (you know they will)?

Don’t:

  • Treat them like they are temporary; instead make them feel an integral part of campus.
  • Present unrealistic expectations like, “I know it’s May, but we expect you to save the class.”
  • House them in the residence hall, even if it is an RA Suite. I’ve been there, done that, and it is uncomfortable for this 50+ year-old.
  • Say things like, “You aren’t going to be here, so you don’t need to know, hear, see, or think about this.” The right person will be invested and might even have insights that the insiders haven’t considered.
  • Micromanage their role. Presumably you’ve hired someone with significant experience, so give them enough latitude to do what they do best.

Considerations:

  • Do you really need an interim five or more days a week? If not, what are some reasonable expectations for the number of days/hours required. Let’s face it, Zoom has made almost everything possible. If the interim won’t be there full-time, what will you do to help them become well connected to campus—bi-weekly or monthly time on campus?
  • What sort of administrative support will the interim need? I’ve had the greatest success having someone on campus manage my calendar, schedule meetings, send Zoom links, etc. This only requires a couple of hours a week but takes an unnecessary burden off me. Besides, that person usually knows the campus players better than I.
  • Have a serious discussion regarding the interim’s potential interest in the permanent role. I’m not able to take on a full-time, on-site vice presidency and I make that clear up front with the president and the enrollment staff. I find it liberating for all parties and it removes (mostly) the perception that my decisions have an ulterior motive to position me for the permanent job.
  • Do you want an individual or an individual supported by a team? You might go to one of the more popular companies who supply interims and they’ll cash your checks while the interim is on a professional island. You’re likely better off going with a firm that can provide an interim AND has the human resources to support them. In our case, with Dutcher LLC, you’ll get an interim who has colleagues with experience as presidents and provosts, student affairs, undergraduate and graduate domestic and international enrollment, retention and student success, institutional research, financial aid, online program development and management, human resources, and more who will support your interim, in addition to you and your campus, often at no additional cost. Check us out at www.dutcher.llc  We also offer consulting and interim placements for a wide range of other campus positions and needs.

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