The College of Humanities and Social Sciences has created the CHSS Guide to Faculty Recruitment to articulate best practices in the faculty search process. CHSS recognizes that the diversity of our faculty does not reflect the extraordinary diversity of our student body. This imbalance requires an evidence-based reconceptualization of faculty recruitment as well as efforts to retain diverse faculty through a focus on inclusion, well-being, and growth opportunities for all faculty.
Numerous colleges and universities around the country, as well as the Chronicle of Higher Education, have developed online resources, tutorials, and handbooks to offer advice and inform faculty and administrators about best practices in faculty recruitment. The below guide is public-facing and is therefore intended to be a resource for all members of our university community, for prospective faculty, and for other institutions of higher education.
Like other faculty recruitment sites, the below guide has three main sections corresponding to the three phases of a search: before the search, during the search, and after the search. Each section has step-by-step instructions and links to resources.
The CHSS Guide to Faculty Recruitment is the first step in improving the way we conduct faculty searches in the college. Moving forward, we will develop more support for search committees and candidates, such as setting up a search or equity advisor system, as well as stronger structures for assessment and accountability. In the meantime, we hope that this guide will provide helpful information, communicate the college’s expectations, and ultimately aid search committees in hiring outstanding faculty that contribute to our diverse community in multiple ways.
Bringing more careful thought to the composition of the search committee is a critical first step. With the goal of avoiding similarity effects (Goldberg, 2005) in the recruitment process that lead to workforce homogeneity, research shows that search committees should include faculty from underrepresented groups (persons of color or women either from within or outside the department) who have the seniority to speak freely and be heard by their peers (Smith, Turner, Osei-Kofi, & Richards, 2004). The following elements should be considered when slating individuals to the committee with the goal of composing a group that includes members with different perspectives and expertise and with a demonstrated commitment to diversity:
It is crucial to avoid tokenism. All individuals on the search committee must be seen as equal contributors to the search process.
It is also necessary to recognize that women (Guarino and Borden, 2017) and racially minoritized (Padilla, 1994) faculty are often asked to do significantly more service than majority males. It is important to be mindful of service load and reduce other service obligations if these individuals are bearing an inequitable service load. It is often helpful to appoint some search committee members from outside the department.
The university requires that each member of the search committee complete a training within a year prior to the search.
Every search committee member must be aware of implicit or unconscious bias and the way it can impact their evaluation and decision-making regarding candidate applications. Human Resources and the Office of Compliance, Diversity, and Ethics are currently developing an implicit bias training for search committees. In the meantime, the College strongly encourages department chairs, program directors, and search committee chairs to require search committee members to seek training through engaging with at least two online resources and/or to take an implicit bias test.
Defining the needs and goals of an academic department or program is the foundation of the hiring process. Chairs, directors, and search committees should embark upon a process to identify needs and goals, which may include course offerings, curricular structures and development, research expertise, faculty demographics, student demographics, and plans for establishing a culturally diverse and inclusive setting in which students, faculty, and staff can thrive. The department or program’s hiring history should be revisited in order to discern any particular trends or lacunae.
Possible questions include:
Reviewing web content is also an important step of this process. Departments and programs may wish to draft a statement regarding diversity and inclusion that is available to current students and faculty as well as prospective students and faculty.
The search committee should also search for data on the national, and when possible, international pool of candidates in the discipline designated for the search. Department chairs, program directors, and the College will be prepared to assist in collecting this data.
This self study should permit the search committee to define the details of its charge and to begin goal-setting for the faculty recruitment process. Chairs and directors should strategize and connect with other units to support of the position and the new hire. This may include cluster hires, dual career considerations, research support and start-up packages, collaborative or interdisciplinary research groups, and facilities.
The position should be defined in the widest possible terms that are consistent with the department’s or program’s needs based on the self study. The search committee should aim for consensus on specific expertise or requirements and should agree on language that will not needlessly or unintentionally limit the pool of applicants. Some position descriptions may inadvertently exclude female or minority candidates by focusing too narrowly on subfields in which few specialize.
Selection criteria for all candidates regardless of demographic categories should focus on the ability of the candidate to add excellence and diversity in research and teaching, to work successfully with diverse students and colleagues, and to mentor diverse students and colleagues.
Write a clear and specific position description about primary and secondary responsibilities. With the goal of increasing and diversifying the applicant pool, be judicial in choosing words such as “preferred” vs. “required” or “should” vs. “must” in order to underscore areas of flexibility without significantly altering the nature of the position (Turner, 2002).
Avoid boilerplate language and hackneyed formulations. Instead, make the advertisement an authentic and dynamic communication that highlights the uniqueness of the university, the department or program, and the position as well as any resources that could attract candidates to apply for the position.
Articulating a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion for students, faculty, and staff is a crucial part of the ad. The search committee should also deliberate upon how they wish candidates to address these issues. In recent years, many universities across the country have begun asking candidates for faculty positions to speak about diversity in their cover letters or to submit a separate diversity statement. Some colleges and universities, including the University of California system, require diversity statements in candidate dossiers. Diversity statements have been a subject of questions and debate. Chairs, directors, and search committees may wish to familiarize themselves with frequently asked questions and what advocates and critics are saying. Many institutions offer guidance and samples to candidates who are drafting diversity statements.
Given that George Mason University has been recognized as the most diverse university in Virginia in terms of its student body, the College strongly recommends that departments and programs request that candidates address diversity in their cover letter or in a separate statement. This will aid candidates in understanding the intentionality that GMU faculty bring to teaching and mentoring our diverse student body and to creating an inclusive environment in which all students can flourish.
The search committee is now ready to discuss active recruitment and designate venues to post the ad that will attract a large and diverse pool of applicants. See following section: During the Search.
A principal task of the search committee is to generate a strong pool of applicants, not merely tap into a “pre-existing” one. The search committee should strategize and decide how each individual member will contribute to the process of active recruitment.
First, consider “upstream recruitment.” Upstream recruitment is the process by which universities, and especially department or program faculty, identify and forge connections with potential candidates (EAB, 2017). This may be accomplished by having faculty and/or search committee members attend conferences (regional, national, international) in order to create a database of names and research expertise that could be used for targeted recruitment. Many institutions recommend reaching out to individuals in one’s scholarly network—professors, graduate students, and postdocs at GMU and at other institutions—in order to identify potential candidates who are professors, graduate students, or postdocs. Contacting these promising candidates via email or approaching them at a conference in order to urge them to apply for the position is a highly effective means of recruitment.
Second, the search committee should develop a plan for posting the job advertisement. In addition to the expected job-posting services, websites, listservs, journals, and publications, be sure to include those that serve diverse or underrepresented groups, such as minority and women’s caucuses or professional networks. Consider advertising the job on the websites and listservs of other applicable disciplines in which scholars that possess the necessary expertise may be active. The search committee may want to divide the task of posting the ads in these different venues.
A few things to keep in mind in the active recruitment process:
You do not know who you do not know, meaning, your academic network may be more limited than you think. Upstream recruitment and a concerted effort toward outreach are the only ways to get to know people who you do not know, thereby expanding the applicant pool.
In your recruitment efforts, reach out to candidates from a wide range of educational and career trajectories. Highly qualified candidates from diverse backgrounds seek their graduate training and professional positions at an expansive variety of institutions for specific reasons. A diploma from a Research 1 institution in the Carnegie rankings is by no means a guarantee of quality or appropriate experience for the job that you are advertising. Also, recall that tenure-line job openings are few and far between. Fantastic candidates may be working as adjuncts, lecturers or teaching professors, postdocs, independent scholars, or in a wide variety of positions in academic administration. Candidates may also have non-traditional academic backgrounds, coming from the military for example, or may be working outside of academe altogether. It is critical to keep an open mind and to cast a wide net.
Remember that all candidates want to be and shall be evaluated based upon their qualifications. Avoid thinking in terms of a “diversity hire,” an expression that stigmatizes candidates and could indicate that what you value most about them is their underrepresented or protected status. When approaching candidates in the active recruitment process, make sure you do so in the spirit of genuine interest in their qualifications and experiences in research, teaching, and service as well as in the specific requirements for the position in your unit.
Certain universities, such as the University of Michigan, acknowledge that individual departments may be a significant source of qualified applicants nationally. In this case, and especially when considering candidates that bring intellectual diversity or come from underrepresented groups, the University of Michigan urges its search committees to consider setting aside the traditional constraint against “hiring one’s own.” If this may be applicable in a specific case, the search committee chair should contact the department chair or program director as well as CHSS for further discussion.
The search committee must create a standard evaluation grid or form to evaluate all candidates. The criteria on this grid are based upon the required and preferred qualifications for the position as advertised in the job description.
The search committee should discuss the range of evidence that would be considered legitimate for each criterion and also consider how the criteria are weighted (e.g. is experience directing degree programs or laboratories more important than the quantity of publications). Identify “threshold” or essential qualifications without which a candidate cannot be selected for the short list, regardless of other impressive achievements.
Remember that different assessment tools produce different information. As such, differential inclusion and weighting of criteria produce different top candidates. A rating scale and notes section for each candidate are important elements of the form.
As you begin to evaluate candidate dossiers, please recall the following:
Some institutions encourage developing a “medium” list from which to generate your short list. Are there candidates from different backgrounds on your list? If not, consider intensifying the search before making a short list.
As you begin designating the candidates on the short list, consider the shortlisted group as a whole from the perspective of diversity. If there is a disparity between the diversity of the larger applicant pool and the shortlisted group, take time to reconsider what may have caused this. Be open to interviewing additional candidates if they satisfy all required criteria. Unconscious bias in the evaluation process (also called evaluation bias) is minimized if you interview more than one woman and/or underrepresented minority candidate.
Aim for consensus among search committee members, but also be flexible in your willingness to interview candidates that some feel more strongly about than you. Make sure every search committee member’s voice is heard in this process and that no one feels silenced due to hierarchical power structures (e.g. a tenure-track search committee member does not dare to disagree with a full professor who will have a vote on their tenure case) or other causes.
It is a best practice to notify candidates who were eliminated at the outset of the search because they do not meet minimum requirements. Always communicate respectfully and express appreciation for their interest in George Mason University.
Create a standard list of questions that you will ask all shortlisted candidates. This list of questions should again be based upon the required and preferred qualifications listed in the job description as it was originally advertised. Make sure to offer candidates the chance to ask questions as well. Along with this list of questions should be a second evaluation grid or form so that committee members can assess each candidate following the same criteria and scale. Be ready to take note of questions asked and interests expressed by the semifinalists regarding Mason so that we can think about how to include these items in the finalist campus visits.
Decide the format in which the interviews will be conducted, typically in person at a professional conference or via videoconference. All interviews must be conducted in the same fashion in order for the search to be equitable. Remember that each of these formats has its advantages and drawbacks. Videoconference is cheaper and could thereby be more inclusive. At the same time, technical difficulties can arise that can completely derail any one interview leading to inequities and negative experiences. Also, some individuals have received coaching on videoconferencing (i.e. height and distance from webcam, appropriate setting and lighting, etc.), while others have received no coaching at all. Do not let these disparities block you from evaluating candidates equitably. Asking candidates to travel to a professional conference for the interview is an expensive enterprise and can pose significant logistical difficulty to shortlisted candidates. On the other hand, meeting individuals in person often proves rewarding. If you must interview candidates in a hotel room, make sure that this is done with utmost professionalism, preferably conducting interviews in the living room area of a suite rather than in a bedroom.
Communicate promptly and cordially with shortlisted candidates. Inform them of the logistics of scheduling their interview (timeline, name and contact of office manager or administrative assistance), the format of the interview, and who will be in attendance at the interview. Feel free to share with each candidate in equal measure any further information about what will be discussed at the interview. Always respect confidentiality. Keep an electronic copy of all communications with candidates.
Once again, be aware of unconscious bias.
Set a time for the search committee to discuss the interviews and who to invite to campus as finalists for the position. Revisit the Equitable Evaluation of Materials section of this guide as a support in your deliberations. If you have been authorized to bring three candidates to campus, but there is a fourth who would contribute to diversity in a significant way, the search committee chair should reach out to their chair or director and CHSS to ask about available funds for bringing additional candidates to campus.
A thoughtfully organized campus visit can leave a strong, positive impression on a candidate and also offer us the opportunity to learn more about each finalist. This information gathering on both sides informs decision-making and sets expectations, all the while following legal standards available through Human Resources. It can also help us to put together the most attractive hiring package possible and then to begin planning concrete ways of welcoming our new colleague to campus and setting them up for success at Mason.
The University of Michigan’s protocol for planning on-campus interviews is the very best guide available. The following text is excerpted directly from their Handbook for Faculty Searches and Hiring (pp.20-23).
Planning for Effective Information-Gathering
First impressions are important.
Now that the finalists for the position have all visited campus, it is time to make final deliberations regarding whom to recommend for the position.
The chair of the search committee should collect feedback from all of the individuals that met each candidate during their campus interview. The search committee chair should make the candidate evaluation forms available to the committee or could create a single document that summarizes and/or quotes all views expressed in the feedback.
The search committee must again be very aware of implicit bias. Be particularly aware of the notion of “fit,” which can mask biases and rationalize similarity effects. Assessment should be focused on the required and preferred qualifications and deliberations should follow the same format for each finalist. Do not engage in or permit others to engage in discussions of personal information about candidates, especially information that is considered illegal to solicit.
Some units may make a single recommendation to the chair or director, while others may indicate an unranked list of acceptable candidates with justifications.
Negotiations and start-up packages associated with a job offer are not only part of landing the candidate. They play a vital role in an individual’s career, success, and satisfaction at Mason. Research through the ADVANCE office at the University of Michigan has shown that “candidates who feel that University representatives (committee chairs, department chairs, deans, etc.) conduct negotiations honestly and openly, and aim to create circumstances in which they will thrive, are more satisfied in their positions and more likely to stay at the [university] than are those who feel that a department or chair has deliberately withheld information, resources, or opportunities from them. Initial equity in both the negotiated conditions and in the department’s follow-through on the commitments it makes are important factors in retention as well as recruitment” (Handbook for Faculty Searches and Hiring, p.26).
Some candidates may have received less mentoring and are less informed about cost of living calculators, what types of additional funding they can request, or other accommodations possible for families or dual faculty careers. Studies also show that women often decline to negotiate or do not make “asks” that are as substantial as those of their male counterparts. Department chairs and program heads should inform and empower their selected candidate as much as possible in the negotiations phase.
In this role as advocate for an individual who will hopefully become your new colleague, you may consider the following:
Certain institutions appoint a negotiation facilitator to help with this process.
While these negotiations are taking place, please remember that the other finalists are awaiting news. The search committee chair should stay in touch with finalists, even if the only information to report is that no decision has been made. Search committee members and other members of the campus community who participated in the campus interviews should respond promptly and cordially to emails from finalists.
The finalists, as well as the short-listed candidates from the semifinalist round, can be kept up-to-date on the status of the search but should not be told that another candidate has been offered the job until the top candidate has accepted the department’s offer.
The search committee chair should be sure to collect all necessary paperwork and notes from the different phases of the search, all of which must be turned in to HR. Chairs and directors should thank search committee members for their service.
The department chair or program director and the search committee chair (or full search committee) should meet to assess the search. What went well? What did not? Where were the biggest challenges? More specifically, you should discuss the quality and diversity of the applicant pool, whether the language of the job advertisement was sufficiently inclusive, the effectiveness of active recruitment efforts, and why top candidates accepted the job offer or declined it. If the department hires a faculty member from an underrepresented group, what good practices fostered this outcome?
The next part of the discussion should concern how to help the new faculty member get off to a good start at Mason.
The department chair/program director and the search committee chair should talk about how we can best support the new faculty member upon arrival. The chair or director should seek answers to the following questions:
When are new faculty orientations with HR, the university, the college, and the department?
What online tools and resources are available?
What trainings, Title IX and other, are required before or at the time of taking up employment at Mason?
What mentoring structures and which other faculty members can the new faculty member connect with at this time?
What departmental/program documents and by-laws can the new faculty member review?
What courses could they teach that would make for a soft landing in their first semester? What pedagogical advice or resources in the department/program or the Stearns Center for Teaching and Learning can be shared as the new faculty member constructs their first syllabi for Mason courses?
What other help can be offered to assist in making this a smooth transition into the department/program and Mason?
What types of service roles and workload expectations should the new faculty member be aware of?
You are finished with your search and ready for the arrival of your new colleague. The College of Humanities and Social Sciences is here to support the faculty recruitment process and to join you in welcoming our new faculty member to Mason.