How do you recruit a Students’ Union Chief Executive?

In 2019, Peridot Partners worked with the University of Nottingham Students’ Union to recruit their new Chief Executive. Cassie O’Boyle, Education Officer at the time, shares her experience of the recruitment process and what she learnt.

For most Students’ Union Officers, being a sabbatical officer is their first full-time job. This means the majority of us have never had the responsibility or experience in recruitment – especially not in senior management.

Nonetheless, being a SU Officer usually means jumping in at the deep end when a great opportunity arises – this, for me, was recruiting our new Chief Executive at the University of Nottingham Students’ Union.

At the time, I was Education Officer at UoNSU and I was excited and nervous all at once to get the opportunity to recruit someone at such a senior level in our organisation.

I was asked alongside three others in our team – the President, a student trustee and a lay trustee – to take part in the recruitment process from start to finish.

We needed to find a recruitment partner that shared our values and who we trusted to support us to find the best candidate. We found Peridot Partners; and then the process of finding our new Chief Executive really began.

The process of recruiting a Students’ Union Chief Executive

It included multiple conversations about what we were looking for, reading over recruitment material, reading CVs, meeting as a panel and primary and secondary interviews – as student leaders, we were involved in every stage.

In the beginning, I doubted that I could possibly bring anything of value to this process. I was not a recruitment or HR professional, I’d had very little experience of interviews myself, let alone sitting on interview panels.

One of the most valuable realisations I had – especially when interviewing candidates – was that I was an expert.

I was an expert in the Students’ Union and students’ experience at Nottingham. That was exactly what I could bring to the process.

Using student experience to recruit

The other student leaders on the panel and I knew better than anyone about what it felt like to be a student; what the big priorities in the University were and the type of person that our organisation needed.

This realisation early on, with the encouragement of Bill and Drew from Peridot, meant I could be confident in asking questions and, ultimately, make a recommendation to our trustee board for who the next Chief Executive should be.

Nearly a year on from this experience, I’ve been reflecting on what I learnt and what I would tell myself going into this process.

Five tips for Students’ Union Chief Executive recruitment

Here are my five top tips for a Students’ Union Officer or student trustee who are about to begin CEO recruitment in their Students’ Union:

  1. Ask for support

You might not be a recruitment expert, but the recruitment agency you’re working with are. If you’re unsure of the process or protocol or you’re just feeling nervous – ask. No question is a silly question.

  1. Ask questions

During interviews, don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions or questions at the end that a candidate might not have covered. Sometimes these questions are the ones that give you a real feel for a candidate as they’ve come naturally from your conversations with them.

  1. Book time in your diary

The recruitment process can be lengthy and, while you’ll already have time booked in for interviews and meetings, I would advise booking in a few extra hours before each event to prep. You could use this to read paperwork, catch up with your recruitment partners or just some time to reflect.

  1. Take notes

Take notes about things you want to remember for your own recruitment. Chatting during our breaks or after formal meetings with Peridot, our lay trustee gave me some great food for thought for my own job search. I also jotted down when I thought a question or action from a candidate was really positive. All of this information and reflection made me 100% more confident as an interviewee.

  1. Keep in contact

Make sure you stay in contact. A little while after our Chief Executive had begun work, we met with Peridot again to reflect on the process as well as what was up next for me as an outgoing officer.

I recently called Bill for some advice on a role as a trustee in a charity and it’s been so valuable to have that connection. These informal conversations have continually provided me with a safe place to ask questions and give me confidence in using the skills I developed during my time recruiting at UoNSU.

Lastly – Good Luck. Recruitment can be nerve-wracking but it’s incredibly rewarding and means you’ll get to leave a particularly unique legacy in your Students’ Union.

Want to recruit a Students’ Union Chief Executive?

You can read more about our Students’ Union Chief Executive process here and how we recruit progressive, forward thinking CEOs passionate about the student movement.

You can also talk to Bill on leadership@peridotpartners.co.uk and arrange an informal chat.