June 21st, 2010

The Faculty Hiring Process: Steps to Finding the Right Candidate


Finding the right candidate for a faculty position is a critical decision, and selecting the right person can involve a complex search for the perfect combination of qualifications and experiences. Adding to the complexity of the process are the legal and policy issues that institutions must address to ensure a fair screening process.

It also comes down to something else, which often is harder to define but just as important: Does the person fit with the culture and mission of the institution?

“If you hire someone and you do everything exactly the way you’re supposed to and legally are in a good position, but the person is not a fit for the institution I think you’ve sort of lost the battle,” says Brian Van Brunt, director of counseling at Western Kentucky University.

In a recent online video seminar, Hiring Faculty: How to Make Your Most Critical Decision, Van Brunt and Jason Ebbeling, director of residential life at Southern Oregon University, discussed several core concepts of the faculty hiring process, and how to properly navigate the legal risks while searching for the best candidate for your institution.

The steps involved in the hiring process include:
Brainstorm the position – Members of the search committee should think about the traits they want to see in candidates and what the key functions of the position are.

Match position with HR – Align the duties and traits identified during brainstorming with HR requirements. Are there some job duties that can’t be required? Do some traits (e.g. young, energetic) conflict with what can be asked?

Post position – Determine where you will advertise the position, and what your hiring timeline is. What kind of information do you want from candidates?

Paper review of applicants – Decide in advance who will review the files and how you will handle incomplete files. Be prepared. Given the tough job market, you’re likely to receive a large number of applications, including those from under-qualified and over-qualified candidates.

Phone interview – Determine who will be on the phone interview team, create a set of approved questions and decide whether questions will be asked randomly or in a set order. Keep an objective tally of each candidate’s answers.

Campus interview – It’s important that each candidate receives the same type of on-campus experience. If there’s a teaching component to the campus visit, make sure each candidate is teaching to the same type of students. Consider how to handle travel reimbursement, and whether benefits will be discussed.

Hiring decision – The final hiring recommendation should be based on a clear process of qualitative and quantitative written documentation. It’s a good idea to have one person take notes of the group discussions involving the candidates. Laws on mandatory release of this information vary from state to state so it’s critical this person is trained in what to document and what not to document.

“There’s often this sense that we can quantitatively analyze every single faculty candidate on a 1 to 100 scale,” says Ebbeling. “But hiring isn’t just a science. There’s an art to hiring as well so I think as much as we want to have that quantitative analysis, I would say that we also want to make sure that there is some room for some qualitative factors to come in as well.”