How Do You Get the Right Person for a Job to Take It?

I met a guy who has done a fantastic job of building up a department of economics at a major university. He is an impressive administrator, who clearly has both an absolute advantage and a comparative advantage at academic administration. I said that he will surely become a dean, then probably a university president, and would do a great job at both. When I told him this he replied “maybe so,” but said that he won’t become either because he doesn’t want that kind of lifestyle.

Unlike in international trade or the allocation of productive labor in an organization, when we decide how to spend our time, our personal preferences matter. Our preferences do interact with monetary incentives, but those are apparently not enough in this case to induce this man to change his lifestyle.

One can’t argue with taste; but it is a shame, given his obvious and scarce skills, that his preferences are so strong in another direction. The general problem is how to create incentives for people with these skills without providing more economic rent for mediocre people who would love to, and so often do, fill these jobs.


The easy answer is Communism. You're taking the job because we said so. It's in society's interest so it doesn't matter whether you like it or not.

The other option is, of course, to make the deal sweeter for them. Either offer them more money (if you think the extra money is worth it for their extra quality) or change the job description to make it more palatable to them--perhaps sacrificing some of the more symbolic duties of the post for more meat-and-potatoes administrative duties. In the end, though, there is nothing you can do in a free market economy to get them to take a job they really don't want. In a bad job market you could potentially tell them "take this promotion or else you're fired" (assuming they're not tenured, which they probably are), but even then you are betting that some other school won't be willing to take them on as department head, which seems a poor bet if he is really so good at his current job.


Andromeda Abushady-Wuebker

1. More latitude over working conditions (i.e. let them live where they want, additional resources (budgets, people, time)
2. Retainer (i.e. paid retainer for help with specific task as they arise)
3. Limited engagements (i.e. do this for a year and walk with break-out cash)

Imad Qureshi

I think the person you are talking about is being humble. He'll probably take the position if offered. The prestige that comes with being a dean or a university President is enough an incentive for an able person to accept these positions.

Javier Matamoros

It seems that workplaces should move away from only considering monetary reward as an incentive for someone to take a job. In this case, what is your acquaintance's dislike for the lifestyle of a dean or a university president? Perhaps he's wary of having to work extended hours, or of his job creeping into his family time. On such a case, couldn't the university offer him a contract with limited hours in exchange for an inflated salary? If the person is good enough this could be more effective than hiring a less skilled administrator willing to put in more time


I see this all the time in non-academic jobs. Many types of jobs require the kind of dedication that does not go along well with having a life outside of the job, like spending time with ones family or having non-job-related interests.


Isn't it obvious? Reduce the lifestyle negatives.

Assuming work hours is the major issue: Is a highly competent candidate that works 8-5, M-F (or whatever a normal University schedule is) better than a barely competent candidate that is a workaholic?

Smart people realize that no amount of money is worth losing a lifestyle they enjoy, so stop making the job require lifestyle sacrifices and you'll get more smart, capable candidates.

Tom Woolf

One of the "disadvantages" of our labor and market system is that we allow individuals to choose their own path. As such, some individuals can become "greedy" and base their decisions on their own desires, and those decisions may not benefit society as well as other decisions.

A few years back, a relative went to a funeral of a man in his 30's who had died in a skydiving accident. This young man was smart, well educated, ambitious, and was going places. And he liked skydiving. Most at the funeral were commenting on "at least he died doing something he loved." An older gentleman sneered at the well-wishers, stating that his death was greedy. He complained that the young man was greedy in partaking in such a dangerous sport when society had put so many resources into his growth and education, and he owed society to live a long productive life.

Overall, we've taken the most effective route. Yes, we "let" people be wasteful, but the sum of the individual gains from each person who chooses their own path greatly exceeds the costs of those who chose paths that did not benefit society as much as other paths might have.

(Please forgive the use of "quotations" above - it is intended to show that I am not really serious about those terms. Sadly, I am not a skilled enough writer to make those intentions clear without this cheat.)



What I love about this particular instance is that the jump from dept. head to Dean or President in academia means adding fundraising to your responsibilities. Most academics want nothing to do with this.

This is one of the reasons you see administrators instead of acadmics becoming presidents at many colleges and universities now.


I agree with #3 [humility] -- but it's also possible that this person can do the type of things being a dean requires, but hates to do them. It might even be worse than that -- it might be affecting his health due to the added stress.

Better to be happy and well-off than hate your job and be rich.


If the job is too intense in terms of hours, let them hire a competent deputy they can trust. Instead of one person doing a huge job, have two people do normal jobs. You probably don't even have to salary bump that much.


You could look at this the reverse way; that if the person doesn't want to do the job, then by default, he isn't the right person for it. It is nearly impossible to throw enough incentives into the offer to make up for the drop in productivity and work quality brought around by a lack of desire for the work itself. Just like it takes a lot of seasoning to convince someone that rotten food is palatable, much less a gourmet dish. Really, getting the right person to take the job is the easy part, correctly identifying the right person is not.

People that are good at actually identifying the best person for the job out of a set of people are few and far between. If this wasn't the case, we wouldn't have so many people that are hardly competent in cushy jobs, while many of the grossly competent languish in unemployment or jobs where their talents are vastly under utilized. Instead of our incredibly inefficient labor market, we would have an efficient one.

If someone found a way to quickly, cheaply, and reliably attract and match the right people to the right jobs, it would reinvent the economy in much the same way as the industrial revolution did. It would be a human revolution to match the mechanical.



Is it possible that this guy is not the right person for the job because he is unwilling to change his lifestyle? My experience is that almost all leadership positions (especially academic and non-profit) require overtime hours, or at least flexibility to be available at night and on weekends. It seems that society really values that, although it may just be a badly constructed reward system. Could you imagine choosing a "highly-qualified" President of the United States who wouldn't live at the White House or take calls from China at 3 AM? Maybe we would get a much more efficient leader, or is POTUS too much of an outlier position to serve as an example?


Face facts. Wealth, power, fame, accolades ... personal exaltation isn't everything.

Consider my own example. If less is more, there's no end to me.


It seems to me that the university may face this problem more than other organizations. Why does one become an academic? Most, I assume, do it because they like research and/or teaching. The money's great, too, but most people in academics could be making tons more money if they'd gone into other careers. But becoming Dean or President means kissing good-bye to both of these, and money is not itself an attraction.


Could be that with more hours and stress the candidate would be less productive.

trader n

Obviously I have no idea if the person in question was sincere or not, but no academic ever says they want to be a dean or a president.

In academia there is widespread disdain for anyone that expresses some ambition career wise besides doing research and interacting with colleagues.

But those titles and the compensation and political clout that go with it are widely coveted.


Which is one reason we so often end up with bad people in politics. What good person would subject themselves to it?

Charlie Wood

Saying that someone has a comparative advantage at something--that he's better at that one thing than at anything else--is a bit of a back-handed compliment, isn't it?

Since you said he also has an absolute advantage, maybe he's good a everything and just insanely great at academic administration, but it's probably more polite to leave out the comparative advantage part and leave open the possibility he's also insanely great at other things too. :-)



Are the comments mostly glossing over this portion of the articles last sentence, "without providing more economic rent for mediocre people"?

I think the concept is at odds with regulatory labor controls that attempt to ensure fairness and have broad societal agreement. It seems what would be needed is nearly complete discretion by the hiring agent to negotiate on an individual basis that consisted of little to no legal or negative PR risks.


They're going to have to figure this out soon--Gen Y is way more into work-life balance than our parents ever were (probably because we're bitter that we were all latch-key kids).,9171,1640395,00.html

The easy answer is probably to stop rewarding people for face time/hours logged, and instead reward them for outcome/results. That means giving them the freedom and the tools to delegate, work collaboratively, and make their schedule flexible to their own needs.