Blue Rock Search

Using Scenario Analysis as Part of the Higher Education Executive Search Process

There is one priority when hiring leaders in higher education: hiring executives who can apply creative and thoughtful solutions to a wide range of problems. This goes well beyond the kind of background and skills that can be evident on a resume. It is also the reason why scenario analysis has become such a significant tool for assessing how well candidates would perform when solving the major challenges that an institution faces.


It’s important that candidates have the right mental models in place to solve challenging problems that may arise during the course of their job duties. However, the hiring team must be a little creative to figure out how to evaluate for this during the search and interview process.


Scenario evaluations reveal a candidate’s approach when facing a certain situation. The candidate’s answers can expose how they would perform in a manner that goes beyond their credentials, skills, and lists of accomplishments. Hence, it’s an important tool that allows for a more comprehensive approach to how the candidate employs reflective judgment within the context of the workplace.


How Blue Rock Search Builds a Scenario

When Blue Rock works to build a scenario for a higher education job search, we focus on crafting a unique situation that encompasses the key elements of the position. It all starts with a close reading of the job description. Afterwards, we factor in any institutional considerations. For example, an institution might be searching for new revenue sources, attempting to craft a student experience to compete with online programs, or they might be hoping to solve issues with their unused faculty capacity. Blue Rock incorporates all these factors when crafting a scenario that will be presented to candidates; these will include plenty of potential situations and possible responses to them.


Evaluating Candidate Responses

 Naturally, no candidate will match our expected response word-for-word. Therefore, we examine factors that are based on Scenario Driving Forces, as developed by James B. Rieley, Ph.D. in Organizational Effectiveness:



The key to using these factors is to understand that—depending on each situation—some of these forces may be able to be predetermined while others are more difficult to predict. It is important to consider and understand this uncertainty for scenario planning in a higher education job search; a strong candidate will possess an agile approach to working through these possibilities.


Scoring and Evaluation

It’s important to have a uniform evaluation system that focuses on your team’s priorities in order to effectively evaluate multiple candidates with complex scenarios. Keep an “interview rating sheet” ready to go; determine the specifics of metrics and any other requirements beforehand. It is necessary to have a clear scoring system for each element. Blue Rock often uses a rating system from 1 to 5—1 being the lowest score and 5 being the highest. According to the survey platform Jotform, these numerical rating systems are particularly good for measuring responses to variables that aren’t easily quantified: impressions, thoughts, perceptions, and so forth. They’re also a useful way to aggregate multiple people’s perceptions on the same variable, which make them ideal for a job search. Ultimately, it’s all about focusing on the qualities that your ideal, transformational leader needs to exhibit.


What You Should Know

As in any hiring process, there are surely challenges to be faced. Many institutions are confronting decreased enrollment and increased competition from both non-profit and for-profit competitors. They must also address financial and human capital resource challenges, along with concerns about finding new funding sources. On top of all these hurdles, institutions must also keep up with the constant shifts and advances in technology.


Institutions need someone who can meet these challenges head-on. The leader you seek will have taken the time to research and understand your institution’s values and goals. They will be excited about the opportunity. They will have the skills and vision to succeed. Scenario analysis is one of many ways that search and hiring teams can find these transformative leaders who will take their institutions into the next era.


By Ruben Moreno


About the Author

After a 25-year career in Corporate Human Resources and HR Executive Search, Ruben and his two partners co-founded Blue Rock Search based on a simple but ambitious vision of creating a firm that would “Change Lives and Organizations One Relationship at a Time.” Ruben leads the Blue Rock HR Executive Search and Higher Education Executive Search practice specializing in identifying, assessing, recruiting, and onboarding key executives in HR, Diversity, Enrollment, Student Affairs, and Advancement. Ruben is a thought leader who has helped place hundreds of executives. His clients consider him a trusted partner who takes the time to understand their organization and add value beyond executive search.

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