In the last two posts I discussed establishing the criteria for an academic job and the data necessary for assessments. In this post I want to put the pieces together into a concrete process and then offer a few closing reflections on this series.
- The committee should determine which materials to solicit from applicants based on the selected criteria. Using the example in the last two posts, I might ask for a C.V.; statement; list of (four?) possible courses; writing sample of 25 or so pages; an annotated syllabus; and three letters.
- Initial screening. A spreadsheet with the criteria is helpful here, particularly if one has already developed the weighting. The first question of any application is whether it fits the job application. If it clearly does not, I will do no more than flip quickly through the file. (In my experience, this eliminates about 30-40% of the applications.) The remaining files are then read with an eye toward creating a numerical ranking (on, say, a 1-5 scale) for each of the criteria that can be judged on the basis of written materials (tentative for those that require data from interviews). These initial scores by members of the committee are, of course, subject to modification as a result of committee discussion. At this point, a more or less quantitative approach can be taken. Perhaps the committee will decide to eliminate all candidates who lack a “5” in selected categories. Maybe a weighted score will be generated and the top six to eight will move on. In any case, the decision can be justified explicitly (which is also a great help in dealing with EEO issues).
- Preliminary interviews are arranged with the top six to eight candidates. These might be at a professional conference, or they might be done by video conference. (I do not recommend Skype for this, but rather professional dedicated connections that are accessible in many universities and business facilities. The quality is better and creates a more equal playing field.) At this point additional materials, such as the entire dissertation, might be solicited from the candidates. A general description of the questions could also be provided in advance-the point of the interview is to help the candidate to make the strongest possible case, not to play “gotcha.” The entire faculty might be invited to participate, and the interviews, if done by video, taped for reference. The spreadsheet scores are adjusted as appropriate, and the list is narrowed to those who will be invited to campus. At this point, the candidates might be invited to submit additional syllabi and teaching evaluations (if they are thought helpful).
- Campus interview. The activities should be carefully designed to elicit the specific kind of data that would be useful for making judgments. A public lecture, for example, is not, in my opinion very informative, although it is useful in getting some feedback from more distant colleagues and in judging one particular kind of communication skill. I have found two other activities more useful: (1) a discussion with the faculty of one particular article or chapter determined by the candidate. This conversation might range to other issues of research, including the lecture; and (2) an actual teaching session to faculty. We almost never hire in areas in which we already have specialists, so we can always learn something, sometimes basic, from candidates. Candidates thus might be asked to teach us a lesson. This is not an artificial “as if you were in an undergraduate classroom,” but a real seminar to an intelligent group of non-specialists. This gives us an opportunity to see teaching in action. These activities, of course, should be accompanied by private meetings and meals, although the latter are less opportunities to continue the interview than they are to show simple kindness and hospitality.
This last point raises the issue of respect and dignity. Every applicant, though the entire process, needs to be treated with respect. This might translate into prompt written letters (which I prefer over email) to those who did not move past the preliminary screening, and phone calls to rejected applicants at later stages. The hiring process is sometimes circuitous and while it is not always advisable to share all of the bureaucratic details with a candidate, at least some approximate dates should be provided when possible. In interacting with a candidate I always like to think not only about judging him or her against the criteria, but also that I may well find myself asking a rejected candidate for help in the future. We should attempt to model in our behavior toward applicants the kind of collegial interaction to which our own units aspire.
My goal in these posts has not been to preach or to prescribe but rather to lay out a set of ideas that have been helpful to me and, perhaps, will be helpful to you as well. As always, I welcome your feedback.