The Other Side of the Desk: Conducting a Successful Search, Part II

December 04, 1998

Your program has a faculty vacancy, and you've done all the necessary preparation. You've advertised the position, screened applications, and prepared faculty members involved in the search. Now what? The next step is to bring candidates to your campus for interviews.

This is where some search committees go wrong. They sabotage the process by creating a hostile climate for the candidate or by being a poor host. Here are some suggestions to help make campus visits go smoothly:

Planning the interview. Once candidates have been selected for on-campus visits, search committees should plan carefully for the interview. On-campus interviews usually include a formal presentation by the candidate to faculty members, an interview with the search committee, interviews with faculty members, a tour of the campus, and an interview with the department chair and the dean.

The department chair or dean should provide the candidate with information about workloads, expectations for achieving promotion and tenure, and any other faculty policies that might give the candidate a realistic glimpse of the work environment. Some academic units request candidates to teach a class or meet with students to assess candidates teaching skills and rapport with students.

We also recommend an exit interview with the administrator in charge of the actual hiring. The exit interview allows the candidate to ask any remaining questions and offers an opportunity for the administrator to summarize the visit, provide the candidate with a time frame for the search, and, if the candidate is a good fit with the institution, provide information about salary and moving expenses.

Preparing faculty members and administrators for the interview. Faculty members and administrators involved in the search should be given plenty of notice regarding dates and agenda for the visit. Faculty attendance at the candidate's presentation and interviews is critical. While class conflicts are an ever-present problem in arranging colloquia times, poor attendance, arriving late, or leaving early may give candidates a poor impression of your academic unit.

In one instance we know of, a colloquium was poorly attended by departmental faculty members, most of whom knew the candidate from her previous years in the undergraduate program. The faculty members were familiar and favorably impressed with her work, so they did not feel the need to attend. The candidate's interpretation was that the faculty members were uninterested, so she accepted a position elsewhere. Faculty members should be prepared to treat each candidate as a highly-sought-after recruit.

In-house haggling or heated debates among faculty members or with the candidate are not appropriate and should be avoided. We know of more than one candidate who refused a job offer because of hostile treatment by one or more faculty members during a campus interview. Other highly qualified candidates have been turned off by the prevalence of faculty politics and schisms. Candidates have been asked such ridiculous questions as "Which side would you be on?" Not surprisingly, candidates frequently turn down job offers from such institutions.

Preparing candidates for the campus interview. Search committee chairs should prepare candidates with details of the visit, including the entire schedule,, expected topic and length of the candidate's presentation, content for teaching a class, and what type and level of class will be addressed. Someone from the committee should identify the equipment needed by the candidate, such as an overhead projector, and make appropriate arrangements.

At least one week before the visit, the candidate should receive an schedule detailing who will pick him or her up at the airport, the hotel address and phone number, times and places of presentations and interviews, lunch and dinner meetings, and arrangements back to the airport. Candidates appreciate knowing the agenda ahead of time, and this clearly communicates to the candidate your level of interest.

Reimbursement procedures should be discussed with candidates before the visit. If possible, try and pre-pay as much of the expenses as possible. Most new Ph.D.'s and post-docs do not have extra money and appreciate when departments can pay the airfare, hotel accommodations, and meals in advance. If the candidate will be expected to pay and then get reimbursed, make sure that the candidate knows this ahead of time. We know of a candidate who arrived at a hotel late at night with no credit cards and little cash and the hotel room had not been pre-paid.

Other information that is appreciated by candidates includes new-resident packets from the local Chamber of Commerce and materials describing the department and institution. Candidates are impressed by well-organized and thoughtful preparation for their visit.

During the visit. It is critical that each person involved in the campus visit know the agenda and what is expected of them.

We have heard from job candidates who were left waiting at the airport or their hotel, or were stranded with no arrangements made for their return home. Someone should serve as a designated host for the candidate for all phases of the visit, from the time the candidate arrives to when the candidate leaves, making sure that appointments move on time and that the candidate gets to each location.

Job candidates are often initially nervous. A friendly welcome will go a long way in making the candidate feel more comfortable. Remember to give the candidate time for restroom breaks and review for the presentation. Providing an office or private space they can use while on the campus is also a good idea, if possible.

Some departments have candidates arrive over the weekend not only to save on airfare, but also to allow time for a tour of the community, escorted by either a faculty member or a real-estate agent who can give an idea of the local housing market.

After the visit. If you are seriously interested in particular candidates, tell them and request that if the interest is mutual they contact you before accepting any other offers. Let them know how many more candidates will be interviewed and when you expect to make an offer. Once offers are made, faculty members can candidates encouraging e-mail messages about joining them as colleagues.

In certain fields, competition for outstanding faculty members is especially fierce. In these instances, aggressive recruiting pays off. Even in disciplines where candidates are competing for only a few openings, institutions are well-served by treating all candidates in a professional and highly courteous manner. A secondary goal of campus interviews is for all candidates (even those you are not pursuing) to leave with a positive view of the institution.

Karen Sowers is professor of social work and dean of the College of Social Work at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Dianne Harrison Montgomery is professor of social work and dean of the School of Social Work at Florida State University. They are the authors of Finding an Academic Job (Sage Publications). You can order the book directly from Sage