Magazine article University Business

College 'Talent Scouts' Should Focus on Internal Employees: Institutions Are Now Incentivized to Lure Away One Another's Rising Stars

Magazine article University Business

College 'Talent Scouts' Should Focus on Internal Employees: Institutions Are Now Incentivized to Lure Away One Another's Rising Stars

Article excerpt

The Chicago Cubs finally learned this lesson: A baseball team without a good farm system won't make it to the top. Higher education needs to focus on employee development and start rebuilding their own farm systems. Why do so many colleges look externally for new talent instead of developing their employees?

Due to an external-candidate bias, many staff and faculty look elsewhere to advance. The current theme seems to be "out, then up"; employees switch often. This practice creates an environment where institutions are incentivized to lure away one another's employees, and succession planning is disappearing.

Talented employees are scarce resources for institutions, and essential to maintaining operations. Many leaders take a consumable approach to hiring--looking to an external "shelf" for candidates--rather than fostering home-grown talent in a sustainable way.


This practice differs considerably from the talent management approaches found in international higher education and in other businesses. The divide, for the most part, is not generated by human resources. Academic hiring managers, acting without considering internal talent first, often run narrowly focused external searches.

Ignored potential

A lack of effective diversity hiring plans has accelerated this atmosphere as well. Colleges and universities are competing fiercely to fill open top spots with available qualified candidates. Colleges entice another school's rising star to join their ranks, causing a chain reaction. During this chase, diverse internal candidates are often overlooked. Potential is ignored in favor of experience.

The vast majority of new college presidents, more than 80 percent, also come from outside of the institution. External candidates are now hired to provide a different perspective, shake the status quo and bring about change. This outsider-hiring philosophy seems widespread across academia, even extending to non-academic hires. An employee who has worked at another institution is often considered more valuable than one developed internally. The externally recruited employee will often land higher-paying positions over an internal candidate (

Over time, a prevailing attitude emerged against the internal development of talent, perhaps inspired by a bias against hiring an institution's graduates. While it is common for universities from other countries ( to hire from their graduate pool, the practice is frowned upon in the United States, and dismissed as "inbreeding." This label suggests an abnormal practice, but it used to be the norm.

In the early part of the 20th century, Harvard hired as many as 60 percent of its graduates as faculty. But in 1908, Harvard President Charles Eliot started pushing away, warning that "it is natural, but not wise... because [inbreeding] has grave dangers for a university."

Conflicting views

Researchers have received mixed answers when they have asked if internal hires make for less successful faculty. A team from the University of Washington found that some of the bias in favor of external hires was well-founded. They concluded that so-called inbred scholars do not produce research at the same rate as outside academics.

The research has led to vastly different hiring practices, even among elite institutions. …

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