Academic Hiring – Pre-Closing the Applicant

When hiring faculty, administrators, university executives and post-docs, several key topics need to be addressed to ensure your ability to increase the probability of hiring your top academic applicant.  Sometimes, despite what you may believe, the top applicant is NOT always the best choice.

Avoid surprises – no matter what the cost.  As we all know, higher education hiring can sometimes be fickle, with too much inertia involved.  Having an engaged academic hiring process, including a variety of information-gatherers, keeps “blood flowing” and interest high.

The first contact during university hiring should always be via phone – we actually suggest two (2) preliminary phone calls for higher education hiring, from different people in the process.  Specially, involve the person who is in charge of the academic hiring process, as well as a person who most resembles a “peer” of the position you are hiring for.  Make them conversations – not interviews.  Getting to know the person helps in two ways: you are able to 1) remove the stigma of interview information gathering and 2) your interchange about likes (and dislikes), goals and motivations, and teaching vs. research will help define the applicant’s ability to both communicate and be a “fit within the academic organization.”

Having defined a conversation vs. an interview, we also need to be a bit hypocritical and emphasize that  you [the head of the search committee] ask one interview question towards the end of the conversation: “what compensation package are you seeking, and why?”  The worst thing that can happen is to fall in love with an academic “superstar” and then not be able to afford them.  Also, it is appropriate (if not a fit) to immediately tell the candidate: “you are a spectacular candidate, but outside of the bounds of our budget.  Best wishes on your search.”  As we discussed earlier, and your university human resources department will agree with - the top applicant is NOT always the best choice.

Be honest at every step of the university hiring process, and make sure those doing the information-gathering along the way are also honest.  If there are any discrepancies (such as teaching vs. research) in what has been discussed, make sure the applicant feels comfortable approaching the head of the search committee to discuss them.  Misinterpretation will bite you in the derriere later.  Make sure that they are addressed in debrief.

Know the cost of living (COLA), both where the position is located and where the applicant currently resides.  For instance, CNN has a good calculator which will break components into groceries, housing, utilities, transportation and healthcare.  There are other good COLA calculators, including some if you are from a smaller university community.

Finally, if applicable, the most important thing is to engage the partner/spouse/etc very early in the process.  It makes no difference if the applicant is male or female, straight or gay, old or young.  Find similarly situated individuals, even outside of your department, for the trailing person to talk to, even before the first visit.  While it not legal to ask certain questions, your university human resources department can help you find the “politically correct and allowable” way to get the knowledge you need to initiate the dialogue.  Doing this early in the process also has the added benefit of “showing you care.”

Good luck and happy academic hiring.

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