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Recruiting The Very Best

So, the Chronicle of Higher Education announced a new blog On Hiring. An item of interest: Don’t Just Search, Recruit. There’s a link in the post to a Heads Up column on the topic, which I read in this week’s print version.
It’s a great article, with lots of good tips, most of which are summarized neatly in the On Hiring blog post.

  • Design a Web site dedicated to the search with links that will showcase the institution and the community.
  • Advertise in multiple venues so “the greatest number of people have the potential to see the announcement.”
  • A little extra personal attention goes a long way. “For positions above entry-level, especially administrative ones,” send “personal letters to individuals inviting them to apply or to nominate others.” Make personal calls to a chosen few.
  • Think of the interview process as a kind of courtship and give candidates who visit your campus the “red-carpet treatment.”
  • Don’t take no for an answer. Don’t let a candidate slip through your fingers because you failed to negotiate.

You can pretty much find all these tips here, here, here, or here. The difference is, when you find them in these contexts, people don’t respond to you with “Hey! Great ideas for broadening our candidate pools to make sure we get the very best applicants to choose from!”
No, what they say is, “We’re all for diversity, but we don’t want to lower our standards.”
So let me see if I’ve got this straight:

  • Aggressive, wide-net recruiting tactics designed to increase the diversity of the candidate pool are bad because they threaten our standards.
  • Aggressive, wide-net recruiting tactics designed to increase the “first-rate” candidate pool are good because “first-rate candidates” make the university better. And “first-rate” candidates are…who are they?

This is either a cleverly disguised call for more aggressive recruiting of white males, or a cleverly disguised push to mainstream diversity recruiting techniques. I’m really hoping for the latter.
The problem comes in when you actually start doing the recruiting. If you take the “just don’t mention diversity” approach to increasing diversity, most people are going to read “first-rate candidates” as white and male, most of the time, even if we don’t mean to, because of the unconscious gender and race schemas we carry around with us.
Still, I’m going to tell myself that it’s a good thing to see diversity recruiting mainstreamed like this. Now we can point to this article in the Chronicle – which was written by a man, so it must be right! – and say “See? It’s just good recruiting practice!”

  1. bsci
    June 1, 2007 at 1:00 pm

    I was thinking about this in relation to how a moderately famous professor I know finds grad students, postdocs, and possibly research assistants. (moderately famous means he’s very well known in his field, but probably unknown outside his field)
    If he ever posted an ad, he’d be flooded with applications. Instead he waits for people who have enough initiative to research him and personally contact him directly. This is good for him in that he only gets very serious applications and he finds more than a enough highly qualified people to populate a lab. The lab has an insignificant to large bias of men depending on the time, but is very white, european, or asian. Based on momentum, it would be hard to explain why he should spend many more hours looking for employees when he currently has a system that works well for him.
    Is it at the level of labs that you think these broad searches should take place or more at the department level? (i.e. the department should be adverstising for grad students and faculty far and wide, but individual labs don’t have the internal structure for this type of search)
    Related to this, the above anecdote is also partly why, whenever someone asks me about applying to grad school, I say nothing compares to writing faculty members directly.

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