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How We Work

Drawing upon our extensive experience, we shape the search process to meet your specific needs.

Over the course of nearly 15 years of proud service to our clients, SP&A Executive Search has developed a five-step search and hiring process that has resulted in marked success identifying and securing leaders who thrive at the institutions they serve. Each step provides a framework for an intentional search that is attuned to the needs of the institution and to the marketplace of candidates.


Understanding, collaboration, and partnership are our watchwords as we approach our search process with you. To position you for success, we commit to partnering with the hiring authority and the search committee through the entirety of the search.

We strive to position the search committee for success, which includes:

  • Developing a useful committee structure and charge.
  • Building a sound vetting and decision-making process.
  • Establishing an efficient and sound timeline.
  • Shaping a relevant and comprehensive candidate recruitment strategy.
  • Creating a communications plan to keep key constituencies appropriately engaged and informed.

Support the committee throughout the search, which includes:

  • Assisting the committee in developing accurate information systems to track the status of candidates.
  • Providing an online, secure client portal that allows each member of the search committee to log on confidentially and review all candidate materials and committee support documents.

Understand your institution's specific situation, which includes:

  • Developing a deep understanding of your institution's culture, challenges, and goals.
  • Speaking with constituents, examining key documents, and evaluating critical institutional issues.
  • Exploring the broader context and priorities for the open position.

Create a tailored position description, which includes:

  • Identifying key priorities for the ideal candidate.
  • Articulating how the position fits into the institution’s larger mission and goals.
  • Using language that makes this description an important recruitment tool.


We will draw on our broad networks and proactively recruit accomplished candidates who may not be looking for new positions as well as candidates with strong ties to the client institution.

Our proactive recruiting generates the top candidates, who are often not actively seeking a new position but are persuaded by the opportunity that we present to them.

Candidates regularly report to us that we provide the support that ensures the search process addresses their needs and concerns from start to finish. This thoughtful approach advances a positive understanding of your institution and the opportunities that it offers.

Our process for determining where to look includes:

  • Assessing the landscape of possibilities.
  • Identifying organizations, media, and audiences that appeal to the talent that will best suit your needs.
  • Reaching out to individuals across our network likely to know of strong candidates for this specific opening.
  • Examining the promise of tapping into less conventional sources of candidates for each position.

Our process for determining how to look includes:

  • Blending the optimal mixture of tactics to identify the strongest candidates for your institution’s needs.
  • Contacting sources directly to assess interest and gather leads.
  • Tapping into the entire SPA team's deep experience and connections.
  • Consulting our extensive database for timely candidate ideas.
  • Advertising to generate awareness and reach new audiences.


In our experience, aiding in the committee's evaluation of candidates begins at the start.

To aid the client institution in the evaluation of candidates, we will:

  • Proactively recruit and assess candidates continuously, using the criteria defined by the committee and laid out in the position specification.
  • Provide the committee with insights we gather from our conversations with the candidates, which may occur by phone, video conference, or in person.
  • Offer additional insights gathered in conversations about candidates and vetting through our shared internal resources.
  • Share all candidate materials and expressions of interest, encourage open and timely communication, and facilitate confidential tracking of candidates by means of a password-protected portal hosted on our website.
  • Prompt a full and thorough discussion of the strengths, weaknesses, and qualifications of all viable candidates at each meeting.
  • Provide counsel on best practices for the interview and referencing processes.

Six-Step Referencing

SP&A Executive Search stands firm in our unyielding adherence to the “no surprises” rule in search, which powers our approach to due diligence in a six-stage referencing process.


Before we even speak to a candidate, we source prospects and their attributes with extensive internet research and leverage the data we have compiled in our comprehensive candidate database.


In parallel with backgrounding candidates, we reach out to our contacts to ask specifically about the candidate in question – confidentially. We are able to do this and maintain confidentiality owing to our years of search experience and the strong networks we have developed. Our contacts trust us, and we trust them.


After the committee has narrowed the candidate pool down to about 10-15 top prospects, we conduct negative press and social media checks. Working with a trusted vendor, we conduct a full review of all publicly accessible information (e.g., internet, news publications, student newspapers, blogs, social media) to identify any potentially negative information concerning these candidates.

Traditional referencing

We take this step typically after an initial (in-person or video) interview. We encourage the committee to play an active role in this outreach.

Off-list referencing

Here, too, we encourage the committee to play an active role. It is important to note that this stage of referencing is, like the others, carefully coordinated and structured, so that we all know who is calling whom, when, and how. We have a highly trained staff of professional recruiters and reference checkers, and whether the committee is involved in this referencing stage or not, we employ an appropriately aggressive referencing model to ensure that we explore all possible avenues of questioning, while balancing the need to be respectful of the candidate.


Once the committee has identified finalists, we complete a full background check through a trusted outside vendor. The report may include: employment and degree verification; civil and criminal legal review and checks; plagiarism checks; credit and financial history checks; confirmation of veteran status as appropriate; national sex offender registry, etc. We share this report only with the hiring officer, as it contains sensitive financial information. If significant issues arise from the report, we make a recommendation to the committee to reconsider the candidate.


Our support does not end when a candidate is selected. Our consultants work closely with the hiring manager to advise on compensation, the must-haves of leading candidates, and best practices for a successful transition.

Selecting the candidate who will fill the position is the last and most significant task.

We assist by:

  • Providing thorough commentary on each candidate for review by the hiring officer or governing board.
  • Assisting the final decision-maker with final interviews.
  • Helping to calibrate negotiation expectations among all parties involved.
  • If necessary, helping to gather the terms and conditions of employment of the final candidate.
  • Providing personal insight as the decision-maker completes deliberations.
  • Helping to manage the pivotal steps of securing the priority candidate and ushering the search to the most positive conclusion.
  • Providing guidance for the transition process to ensure that the institution and candidate are off to a great start and successful in the longer term.