Job Hakr

Blog from the Job Hakr: Student Affairs Job Search

Blog from the Job Hakr: Student Affairs Job Search


Job Search Consultants

Job Search Consultants

Job Search Consultants

Job Search Consultants

Job search consultants are often misunderstood. Most candidates don’t know if they work for their institution, the candidates, or both. There is definitely an air of mystery around the field, especially when it comes to presenting both candidates and institutions in the best light.

What exactly do job search consultants do? And is it practical (and ethical) to hire them?

What exactly do they do?

Candidates are often confused about the responsibilities of search consultants. Some believe that they work for the institution either directly or indirectly. Some believe that they only work for the candidate. While others believe that they work for both.

There are some job search consultants that do work for the institutions directly. But in that capacity they serve the institution exclusively. These consultants are in the business for preparing candidates for new openings at the institution.

Other job search consultants (like myself) work directly for candidates. These candidates are the student affairs professionals who are looking; are interested; or are in transition from their current role to the next one. I don’t work for institutions. Instead, I serve student affairs professionals in preparing, coaching, and helping them transition into their next role.

Traditional search firms

What most student affairs professionals think of when they hear “job search consultant” are the traditional search firms. These are businesses that actively seek out and recruit applicants for positions that they wouldn’t otherwise apply to.  These candidates are already happily employed and have been sought out as someone who might be interested in a new opportunity.

The job search consultants that work at these search firms are in charged with finding these skilled professionals. They can provide some insight into the position. But they always serve the institution first. So they cannot provide any candid advice that would advance one candidate over another one.

Higher Ed Jobs lists 83 different search firms that specialize in these types of higher education searches. Most of them are for administrative, senior, and high level positions that are out of reach for most student affairs professionals. Only one listed serves entry level professionals.

On the other hand, I exclusively serve entry level student affairs professionals in their student affairs job search.

When traditional search firms aren’t involved

Traditional search firms are not involved in all aspects of higher education hiring. There are some searches that aren’t included in their repertoire of activities. One of them is for faculty hiring. That’s because faculty searches are believed to be a privilege that current faculty have.

Additionally, mid-level and lower level staff searches are handled internally by institutions.  This is because these positions attract a wide number of applicants that don’t necessarily require a nuanced search approach. Also, because traditional human resource departments, in addition to traditional search committees, are already equipped to carry out these kinds of searches.

So who helps candidates find and prepare for jobs?

There are search firms that are not in a position to help candidates find their next job. They contract exclusively to work with the institution in curating candidates for a specific search.

This can be difficult for excellent and competitive executive candidates who have never had difficulties in the job search before.

Other search firms can provide some insight for candidates on their interview performance and their application materials. But, if they’ve been contracted by an institution, then they cannot intervene in a way that would corrupt the perspective of the candidate for their clients.   The best that these search firms have to offer is to find a pool of candidates that they can review, vet, and present accurately to the institution.

How entry level student affairs work is different

If you’re interested in becoming the next vice president or dean of student affairs then the traditional search firms are a much better fit for you. In those cases you must present your academic and administrative portfolio in a manner that would garner a search firm’s attention.

Entry level student affairs work is different. While experienced candidates can often conduct their own research into the inner workings of the institution; the entry level candidate cannot. Often they are caught off guard with the intricacies and details of the higher education search processes.

Entry level student affairs work depends greatly on two things: networking and preparation. Networking is a skill that will serve student affairs professionals for their entire career. You cannot apply for a position if you do not know if it’ll be open. Having a robust and diverse network helps make you aware of those positions earlier than other student affairs professionals.

Preparation is something that is often earned through experience, but can also be taught through coaching, mentorship, and practice. These are three areas that I’ve instilled in all mentees I’ve worked with.

Through networking and preparation you can gain a foothold in student affairs; a foothold that will one day gain you the attention of a competitive search firm.

Click here to get a starter guide on launching your student affairs job search

Happy interviewing,

Dave Eng, EdD

Provost, The Job Hakr



Barden, D. (2019, August 16). Is It Crossing a Line for a Search Consultant to Counsel a Job Candidate? Retrieved August 19, 2019, from

Dowdall, J. (1999, June 25). What Do Search Consultants Do? Retrieved August 19, 2019, from

Higher Ed Jobs. (n.d.). Search Firms. Retrieved August 19, 2019, from

Pierce, S. R. (2009, August 5). What Search Consultants Do. Retrieved August 19, 2019, from