Have you come to dread requests to serve as a member on an academic hiring committee?
If so, your feelings of reluctance are well understood. Serving as a member on a search committee is a time consuming process, which often has to be juggled with other teaching and research obligations.
To assist you in this process we have formulated 5 Academic Recruitment Tips to remember when serving on an academic search committee. These tips will help you remain objective and critical in your analysis of candidates, and will also hopefully improve your next search committee experience.
Number 1: Hiring Yourself
When hiring, two questions are important to bear in mind:
- What kind of academic environment do I wish to construct?
- How will the candidate contribute to the realization of this vision?
An academic environment is an “intellectual laboratory” of sorts, defined by inquiry, experimentation and rigorous dialogue among individuals with a diverse range of experiences and beliefs.
With that in mind, hiring a carbon copy of yourself (or even a younger version of yourself) won’t foster diversity. Such a decision may also limit the long-term research potential of your department, as it is likely the case that your intellectual doppelganger shares nearly identical research interests.
Students should be constantly challenged, but so should you! Recruiting your next colleague is an opportunity to welcome into your department someone whose interests and research goals differ from your own, but which still align with those of the department. This will ensure the vibrancy of your department’s research and the continuation of your own intellectual development.
Tip number 1: Don’t Hire Yourself!
Number 2: Overlooking skills beyond academic metrics
Here is a familiar scenario: after weeks sifting through resumes, a shining beacon appears! The perfectly-crafted letter of motivation attached to the spotless resume. Ivy league education, top grades, a dedicated volunteer, multiple publications and experience abroad. Yes, you have finally received an application from your dream candidate!
But, the interview itself is less than stellar. Nonetheless, you choose to overlook these shortcomings and excitingly extend the candidate an offer.
Yet, it soon becomes apparent that the selected candidate is not performing up to your expectations.
The answer is often that you allowed yourself to be overly swayed by the candidate’s academic accomplishments and failed to take into account other skills needed to succeed in academia such as leadership, emotional intelligence, fast thinking and good management skills.
But an academic career is not solely devoted to scholarship. Administrative needs and managerial responsibilities are part of the job – not to mention teaching. These tasks require not only scholarly ability, but also excellent social and leadership skills.
Consider all the demands that come with the job and not simply the research requirements to find the perfect candidate.
Tip number 2: Do Not Equate Academic Excellence with Leadership Ability
Number 3: Taking Your Candidates for Granted
High demand for academic positions[i] may leave hiring committee members with an over-sense of confidence when presenting their selected candidate with an offer of employment:
Surely this is the job that she has been dreaming of for years. In no way can she receive a better offer. Our research facilities, campus life and benefit packages are second to none.
But is this true? Is such confidence warranted?
The answer is no.
Highly qualified candidates are also in demand. Therefore, it is important to remember that you as a committee member also sell your offer, your research program, your department and your university!
Why should your selected candidate relocate from the other side of the country, or indeed the other side of the world, to begin a career at your institution? What advantages does your institution have over other institutions? What other benefits does your institution offer outside of work (e.g. location, quality of life, attractions, etc.).
If you fail to articulate these points during the interview, your favorite candidate may choose to go elsewhere.
Thus, remember that the recruitment process is not a one-sided affair. Both you and the candidate have to come to a mutual agreement that your institution is the right fit for both parties. Such an understanding can only be achieved if you understand and appreciate the needs of your candidates.
Tip number 3: Do Not Take Your Candidates for Granted!
Number 4: Exclusively Seeking the Ivy
Elite educational institutions hold a coveted place in our society. Therefore, the attraction – and preference – search committee members show to candidates with Ivy League pedigrees can be understood. However, in choosing to exclusively seek candidates from the Ivy League search committee members may be making a big mistake.
The World of Academia
Yes, Ivy League graduates have enjoyed a top level education and have accomplished a great deal, but so too have other candidates that attended other, albeit somewhat less prestigious, institutions. Therefore, one should not solely base their hiring decision on the Alma-mater of the candidate. In fact, by exclusively recruiting from the Ivy League you may be in fact contributing to a larger problem within the world of academia, whereby graduates of the Ivy League are disproportionately represented in academic faculties.[ii] In other words, institutional affiliation has begun to play an outsized role in the faculty hiring process.
On the micro-level, also consider how recruiting exclusively from the Ivy League may affect the long-term development of the department and campus. Could it be that your campus and academic culture will begin to mimic a model that is different from the one you wish to foster? These are questions to be considered before making a personal or departmental decision to recruit exclusively from the Ivy League.
Tip number 4: Do Not Hire Exclusively from the Ivy League!
Number 5: Not Stating Clearly What You Want
You may have mastered the art of formulating a clear and concise thesis statement, but can the same be said of your ability to write a clear job description?
Having an unclear job description is one of the most common mistakes that even the most seasoned of academics make in the initial stage of the recruitment process. Failing to outline the key responsibilities of the position and what is expected of the selected candidate can result in feelings of tension among all parties involved soon after the new hire has joined your department.
Consequently, you may be faced with a frustrated new faculty member who is unhappy in the role she worked extremely hard to get. This can spell disaster for both you and your colleagues, as a poorly motivated individual with considerable responsibility can have an adverse effect on the operations and the reputation of your department. Therefore, when writing a job description, clearly state both the job requirements and the preferred qualifications.
One might think that listing the job requirements for a position is a straightforward process. However, making this assumption would be a mistake as correctly stating the job requirements in a clear and concise, not to mention interesting manner, can be quite a challenging task. If the job requirement section of your description is too long, it might scare away candidates. If this section is too short, or too infused with dry language, then it may not pique the interest of qualified candidates. The solution is not to overwhelm candidates with an endless litany of requirements, but to instead entice them through a concise, well-crafted list of qualifications in bullet point form.
The make or break qualities are those listed in the preferred qualifications section. The preferred qualifications are thus particularly important as they give hints to the candidate regarding what the job actually entails. It is here that you convey the personality and culture of your department. Take particular care when crafting the language of this section. If this is not done, you may need to once again return to the recruiting process.
Tip number 5: Clearly State What You Want!
So next time that you are requested to serve on a search committee do not despair! With these tips in mind, you can successfully navigate the complexities of academic hiring and welcome a stellar colleague into your department.
[i] Powell, The future of the postdoc. (Nature, 2015)
[ii] Clauset et al., Systematic inequality and hierarchy in faculty hiring networks. (Science Advances, 2015)