Faculty Search Redux

Economic pressures have created an increasingly qualified, diverse applicant pool for all university careers. Faculty positions, especially, have become more competitive. Searches that formerly yielded 200 applicants for one faculty position may now receive 300 or even 400 potential candidates. Many search committees now find past search practices less effective and often unsustainable. Developing innovative, efficient strategies to handle navigating these circumstances generally entails reducing the number of applications accepted, restructuring the process through which applications once they are received, or a combination of both.

Restructuring the way applications are processed can include the following: Reconfigure each stage’s criteria to eliminate more applications earlier. Change the number or function of stages, such as adding a third cut or a phone/Skype interview.  Redistribute committee responsibilities, perhaps by having more people vet applications, more administrative support, or more people correspond with candidates and respond to inquiries.

Committees can also reduce the number of applications received: Make criteria in the job ad more rigorous. Limit where you advertise. Revamp deadlines to reduce the time a search is open. Rewrite the search ad to turn preferences into requirements.  Request more in the application, such as letters of recommendation, a writing sample, and/or a particularly tailored letter.

While adjusting search strategies seems imperative, the concern remains that, in so doing, we may overlook strong candidates or too severely limit our searches. These concerns, however, seemingly imply that prior search practices ensured our ability to reach and consider all good applicants. The reality is, though, that there are, and always have been, wonderful candidates who slip through the cracks. Faculty job searches inherently contain arbitrariness; what we can do, though, is continue trying to close those cracks and create humane search processes that are as effective, efficient, and transparent as possible.  

Denise K. Comer has over a decade of  experience serving on multidisciplinary search committees.



Disclaimer: Material in this column is not drawn from any specific experiences or people, and following this advice does not guarantee employment with the writer’s institution.

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