Conducting a Staff Search

Information, steps, and tips to efficiently organize a job search, properly conduct candidate interviews, and process and close new staff positions at Columbia.

Reminder Notice

Reminder Notice 

New York's Local Law 67 prohibits employers in New York City from inquiring about or relying on an applicant's salary history during the hiring process. See Presentation: Salary History Inquiries (NYC Local Law 67)


How to Conduct Staff Searches

All applicants, including current University employees, must apply via TalentLink. Applicants must complete the electronic application, answer all questions, and upload their résumé and any other required documentation (cover letter, writing sample, etc.). If an applicant does not answer the questions, their application will appear as “incomplete” in TalentLink, and they will not be considered for the position.

Once an applicant completes the application process, he/she will receive a system-generated confirmation e-mail.

Hiring managers should not interview candidates who have not applied through TalentLink.

To ensure consistency and comply with policies and employment laws, please use the Offer Letter Templates available in TalentLink. All templates are located under System Settings > Offers > Offer Letter templates > Manage Documents.

Communicating with Applicants

Making the position known, whether through advertising or professional networks, marks the beginning of communications with potential applicants.  Responding promptly to correspondence and keeping applicants apprised of the recruiting process and its timeline is essential.

  • Convey appreciation of applicant interest by acknowledging receipt of applications
  • Inform applicant of next steps in the process, if consideration is continuing
  • Provide details of interviews and campus visits in a timely manner
  • Wait until after you have filled the position to let the applicant know that they are no longer under consideration
  • Ignore applicant e-mails

Best Practices for Applicant Evaluation

When evaluating applicants, it is important to make sure that the process is fair and gives due consideration to each candidate. It may be necessary to correct for unconscious tendencies by instituting certain protocols around reviewing applications.

  • Establish evaluation criteria: The dimensions for judging applicants, as well as their relative importance, should be determined prior to reviewing applications. Choose criteria that can help predict the future success of the applicant.
  • Adhere to evaluation criteria: A standard evaluation form will help committees to rate criteria consistently across a pool of applicants.
  • Look for strengths: Search for reasons to continue considering individuals for the position. Such an approach will ensure that strengths are not overlooked and that all promising applicants are included.
  • Rely on evidence: Refer to materials in candidate’s application. Ensure that similar information is collected on all applicants. For example, if one applicant receives an unsolicited reference from a colleague, then the search committee should reach out to colleagues of other applicants to obtain references.
  • Set aside adequate time: Spend adequate time reviewing each application to ensure that each receives a thorough assessment.
  • Seek different perspectives: Secure reviews by more than one search committee member. Each application should be assessed by more than one search committee member to ensure a fair evaluation.
  • Avoid elitism: Be careful of rating an applicant highly solely because of the reputation of their institution.
  • Avoid premature ranking: Ensure that each application has been fully considered with respect to the different criteria that were agreed upon prior to expressing preferences for particular applicants.

All applicants, including current University employees, must apply via TalentLink. Applicants must complete the electronic application, answer all questions, and upload their résumé and any other required documentation (cover letter, writing sample, etc.). If an applicant does not answer the questions or upload the required documents, their application will appear as “incomplete” in TalentLink, and they will not be considered for the position.

An interview aims to gather information about an applicant, present a realistic description of the position, ensure a fair selection process, establish adequate records in the event that the hiring decision must be justified, and determine whether the candidate would succeed in the position.

After reviewing the cover letters, applications and résumés for all applicants who meet minimum qualifications, select those who most closely match the job criteria for an initial interview. TalentLink will help screen out any applicants who do not meet the minimum qualifications.

A number of variables affect the size of the initial or first-round applicant pool. Some variables include the number of applicants in the pool, the quality of the pool, the budgeted salary versus the applicants’ salary requirements, and whether or not intensive outreach is required.

The University endeavors to give fair consideration to all highly qualified applicants to ensure an unbiased and nondiscriminatory search process. Unless intensive outreach is required, you may want to narrow your initial candidate pool to three to six applicants.

Before contacting applicants to verify their continued interest in a position, prepare one set of interview questions directly related to the job requirements. All those involved in the interview process should have a copy of this set of questions.

Compliance with Federal, State and Local Laws

  1. Interviewers are prohibited from asking applicants questions pertaining to a race, color, sex, gender, pregnancy, religion, creed, marital status, partnership status, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, disability, military status, or any other legally protected status. Interviewers should also avoid questions involving health-related issues. 

    Note: Hiring managers or search committee members should not interview candidates who do not meet the minimum qualifications as posted in TalentLink.
  2. Interviewers cannot ask about salary history during the hiring process (NYC Local Law 67). 
  • Interviewers cannot rely on salary history when making salary decisions.
  • Interviewers cannot search public records or reports to learn about the candidate's salary history.

Guidelines for Conducting Interviews

Be mindful that this outline will vary depending upon the nature of the open position and the number of interviewers involved.

  • Schedule the interview so that the applicant and interviewer have adequate advance notice. Allow 30 to 90 minutes for the initial interview, depending on the type of position. Always allow a few extra minutes between interviews.
  • Be sure each scheduled applicant has completed an online employment application via TalentLink
  • Whenever possible, have the interview in a private, quiet setting. Avoid interruptions and phone calls. You may also want to keep the door open or ajar for safety reasons.
  • Arrange seating to allow for easy eye contact. Other than handshakes, interviewers should not make physical contact with applicants.
  • Be aware of personal bias used during the interview.
  • Consult with CUHR/CUMC HR and the manager of the Return to Work Program if an applicant needs reasonable accommodation in order to be interviewed. Visit the Workplace Accommodations page under Working at Columbia for more information.
  • Fail to put the candidate at ease
  • Lead applicant to expected answers to questions
  • Fail to actively listen
  • Dominate the interview
  • Fail to probe—lack of follow-up questions to clarify ideas
  • Fail to plan for the interview
  • Ask yes/no questions versus open-ended questions

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and similar state and city laws, it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a qualified applicant with a disability. Often, managers are unsure about how to handle an interview with a candidate with a disability that may cause undue stress during an interview. The following guidelines will help managers navigate through the process and ensure a successful interview:

Key Points:
  • The ADA defines an individual with a disability as a person who: (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity; (2) has a record or history of a substantially limiting impairment; or (3) is regarded or perceived by an employer as having a substantially limiting impairment.
  • An applicant with a disability, like all other applicants, must be able to meet the employer's requirements for the job, such as education, training, employment experience, skills, or licenses. In addition, an applicant with a disability must be able to perform the "essential functions" of the job either with or without "reasonable accommodations." However, an employer does not have to provide a reasonable accommodation that will cause "undue hardship," which is a legal standard that considers significant difficulty and expense for the University.

    (The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Job Applicants, and the Americans with Disabilities Act,
Best Practice:
  • Ensure the interview occurs in an accessible location.
  • Treat the individual with the same respect as any other candidate. Likewise, hold individuals with disabilities to the same standards as all applicants, subject to any approved reasonable accommodations.
  • Ask only job-related questions that speak to the functions of the job for which the applicant is applying.
  • Concentrate on the applicant’s technical and professional knowledge, skills, abilities, experiences, and interests.
  • Focus questions and comments on job-related topics.

    Note: Schools and departments should consult with their HR client manager for additional guidance.

Studies have shown that past behavior is the best way to predict future performance. Behavioral-based interview questions (also known as competency-based questions) can reveal how an applicant dealt with a specific situation in the past, helping to provide the interviewer with an idea of how the applicant might deal with similar situations at Columbia. The first step in the process is to identify the specific behaviors associated with the position and then select the questions that would provide the best insight.

Types of Interviews

  • Individual Interview: An interview conducted one-on-one. In some instances, the Human Resources representative may conduct the first round of interviews and select one to three finalists for final interviews with the hiring manager.
  • Panel Interview: An interview conducted by a small group of managers and/or campus representatives (faculty, staff, students) that allows for various perspectives on the competencies required for the position. This approach may provide a more objective measurement of the applicant’s ability to do the job.
  • Sequential Interview: An interview that consists of a series of panel or individual interviews. The goal is to give different stakeholders a chance to interview and assess a candidate.

Using Search Committees

  • Depending on the position, a search committee should be broadly representative of the unit, department, and/or key stakeholders.
  • The committee members should be able to provide a variety of perspectives on the role and function of the position in question.
  • A good committee might include individuals who will be peers of the new hire, in his or her reporting chain, and/or among his or her "clients."
  • In the case of top executive positions, the committee should also include some of CU’s stakeholders, such as representatives of alumni groups, foundations, and boards. Ideally, the committee would reflect diversity in gender and race.
  • The level of the position to be filled is a good indicator of the number of people who should serve on the committee.

Under the laws enforced by EEOC, it is illegal to discriminate against someone (applicant or employee) because of that person's race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. It is also illegal to retaliate against a person because he or she complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

Refer to the Guidelines for Interview Questions document for more information on appropriate and inappropriate interview questions.

Behavioral Attributes with Corresponding Behavioral-Based Questions

  • We all make mistakes we wish we could take back. Tell me about a time you wish you’d handled a situation differently with a colleague.
  • Describe a time when you struggled to build a relationship with someone important. How did you eventually overcome the obstacle?
  • Talk about a time when you had to work closely with someone whose personality was very different from yours.
  • Give me an example of a time you faced a conflict while working on a team. How did you handle the conflict?
  • Tell me about a time you needed to get information from someone who wasn’t very responsive. What did you do?
  • Describe a time when it was especially important to make a good impression on a customer/client. What did you do to make a good impression?
  • Give me an example of a time when you did not meet a customer/client’s expectation. What happened, and how did you attempt to rectify the situation?
  • Describe a time when you had to interact with a difficult customer/client. What was the situation, and how did you handle the situation?
  • Tell me about a time when you made sure a customer was satisfied with your service.
  • When you’re working with a large number of customers, it’s difficult to deliver excellent service to them all. How do you prioritize your customers’ needs?
Ability to Adapt
  • Tell me about a time in which you were under a lot of pressure. What was going on, and how did you get through it?
  • Give me an example of a time when you had to think on your feet in order to extricate yourself delicately from a difficult or awkward situation.
  • Tell me about a time you failed. How did you deal with this situation?
  • Describe a time when your team was undergoing some change. How did that impact you, and how did you adapt?
  • Tell me about your very  first job. What did you do to learn the ropes?
Time Management
  • Tell me about a time you had to be very strategic in order to meet all your top priorities.
  • Describe a long-term project that you managed. How did you keep everything moving along in a timely manner?
  • Give me an example of a time when you managed numerous responsibilities. How did you handle juggling all of the responsibilities?
  • Sometimes it’s just not possible to get everything on your to-do list completed. Describe a time in your life when the responsibilities became overwhelming. What did you do?
  • Tell me about a time you set a goal for yourself. How did you ensure you met your objective?
  • Give me an example of a time when you had to explain something fairly complex to a frustrated client. How did you handle this delicate situation?
  • Describe a time when you were the technical expert. What did you do to make sure everyone was able to understand you?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to rely on written communication to convey your ideas to your team.
  • Tell me about a successful presentation you gave and why you think it was a hit.
  • Give me an example of a time when you were able to successfully persuade someone to see things your way at work.
  • Tell me about your proudest professional accomplishment.
  • Describe a time when you saw a problem and took the initiative to correct it rather than wait for someone else to handle the issue.
  • Tell me about a time when you worked under close or extremely loose supervision. How did you handle that?
  • Give me an example of a time you were able to be creative with your work. What was exciting or difficult about it?
  • Describe a time when you were dissatisfied with your work. What could have been done differently to make things better?

Meeting the Minimum Requirements: There are times when a résumé does not clearly indicate that the candidate meets all requirements. If this is the case, the manager needs to verify qualification requirements during or following the interview and to indicate these qualifications clearly when documenting the reasons for selecting the candidate. In general, the language used in justifying the selection of the candidate to be hired must indicate clearly how the candidate meets the specified requirements of the position.

Meeting Educational and/or Experience Requirements: For Officer positions, experience obtained beyond the minimum requirements stated may be substituted for education where indicated in the job posting. In general, a bachelor’s degree is required for grades 13 and above.

Reasons for Selection: Reasons for selection should be position-specific and directly related to the qualifications stated in the job posting. The applicant must at least meet the minimum qualifications listed for the role.

Reasons for Nonselection: Reasons for nonselection should not include references to requirements/preferences that are not listed in the qualifications of the job posting.

Type of Experience: Related experience can refer to work performed in a similar industry, or it can also refer to transferable skills needed to do the job, and may be obtained in different work settings or job types. The hiring manager should be clear in the justification and indicate what skills were demonstrated through the interview or what specific experience was focused on, in determining the candidate's qualifications for the job.

Casual Experience: Previous casual experience at Columbia (in the job being filled) will not be the only factor considered toward qualifying a candidate as it relates to the required experience. Doing otherwise may imply preselection, which is contrary to University policies.

Summer Employment: Full-time summer employment will count for its respective duration.

Part-Time Employment: Part-time employment may be counted toward experience; however, the manager must verify and clearly indicate the amount of time that will be matched with experience requirements. In addition, the part-time experience will be prorated according to the number of hours worked.

Volunteer Experience: Full-time volunteer experience and internships will not count toward required years of experience.

Internships: Paid internships will count toward required years of experience; however, the work must be directly related to the role

Candidate Clearance

For All Grades: Once a search has been completed and an applicant has been identified for clearance, the applicant is submitted as a finalist in TalentLink and reviewed by the HR client manager for clearance. The school/department is responsible for:

  • Selecting the finalist in TalentLink
  • Changing the status of the other applicants
  • Submitting the finalist to the HR client manager for clearance

Checking References

References provide a valuable complement to interviews, allowing hiring managers to verify information that the applicant has provided, e.g., dates, title/position, responsibilities, and reason for leaving, and to have the benefit of the prior employer’s views about the applicant’s work performance, accomplishments, strengths, and weakness. A consistent method of reviewing these references will contribute to a fair assessment of candidates. Data shows that on-the-job performance is the most useful predictor of future success. As a result, hiring managers should request references from past supervisors, including the most recent position. There may be times when the former or current manager is not available. In these cases, it is important to get a reference from other managers, supervisors, or staff in the organization who may be able to provide information about an applicant's experience and qualifications.

Managers should not rely on written references provided by the applicant, because many times, they are written at the time of termination and may not provide an accurate representation of the applicant's work. Managers should make job offers subject to the satisfactory completion of all requested references.

Best Practice

  • Check references prior to making an offer.
  • Notify applicants that their references may be contacted. When interviewing references, be sure to only ask job-related questions. Questions that are not suitable to ask candidates are also not appropriate to ask of references.

For Internal Applicants

Hiring managers should follow Columbia’s Managing Transfers and Internal Mobility Policy. Schools and departments may contact their HR Client Manager for assistance.    


Developing a Salary Offer

Hiring managers are responsible for offering and agreeing to salaries for new applicants that are in accordance with the hiring range for the grade (for Officers of Administration and Non-Union Support Staff) or as agreed to in the collective bargaining agreements (for Union Support Staff). Individual schools/department may have additional policies and approval requirements; please consult with the appropriate local HR Office or Dean’s Office. The approval of your HR client manager is required before a final offer may be extended. In addition, your HR client manager must approve any proposed exceptions, relocation allowances, sign-on bonuses, or any other nonstandard benefits.

Best Practice:

  • Review and compare salaries of current department staff for internal equity with the new hire.
  • Consider whether the planned salary offer is equitable and justifiable based on the job requirements and the individual’s qualifications and background as compared to current staff.
  • Select a salary for the new hire that falls within the hiring range for the grade (from range minimum to mid-point of range for administrative Officers and Non-Union Support Staff).
  • Consult with your School or Department's HR Client Manager for the relevant salary-range grid, to obtain market data and to discuss any special salary considerations for offers over the mid-point of the range.

Salaries for positions covered by collective bargaining agreements are negotiated between the University and the respective union. Refer to the appropriate collective bargaining agreement for rates and effective dates.

Making the Offer

Once the salary has been determined, the manager or local HR representative should contact the applicant by phone to make the offer.

Best Practice

  • Make compensation decisions based on the applicant's qualifications, and not on the applicant's salary history.
  • Be enthusiastic about the offer and let them know how excited you are about their joining your team.
  • Discuss the offer in terms of a total compensation package: salary, paid time off, tuition, health, and retirement benefits.
  • Provide information about anticipated start dates, schedule (if applicable), grade, and title of the position.
  • Give the applicant the option of taking time to consider the offer (at least 24 hours).
  • Follow up with the applicant to finalize the offer and set the start date.
  • Send Offer Letter document and other hiring materials.
  • Review the Onboarding section in this guide and begin planning for onboarding the applicant.

The Offer Letter

To ensure consistency in the application of employment laws and University guidelines, all schools and departments should use the template offer letters in TalentLink. The templates are provided for the different employment categories defined in this guide and contain required statements and information. They also reference information specific to the different collective bargaining agreements. Offer letters created by a school or department must be approved by the HR client manager before they can be used.

Notifying Applicants

Following the acceptance of the offer by the finalist, the hiring manager will need to notify the other applicants interviewed of their status. It is the responsibility of the hiring manager to contact all applicants interviewed by the department to inform them of the hiring decision. Applicants not interviewed will be notified through TalentLink as to the filled status of a posting for which they applied.