Effective Strategies for Hiring the Best New Faculty

Written by: Mary C. Clement, Ed.D.
Published On: April 1, 2012

Colleges and universities have traditionally relied on search committees to select new faculty members. To ensure a successful new hire who can teach, publish, and serve the institution, search committees need a blueprint for their work - a set of strategies to lead them from the creation of the job advertisement to a productive on-site interview. The use of behavior-based interviewing (BBI), an interview style based on the premise that past behavior is the best predictor of future performance, can guide those who hire in every step of the selection process.

The job advertisement

Effective Faculty Hiring Strategies: A Behavior-based Approach

When a job opening occurs, the committee should first envision the duties required of that position. Consider the roles of the successful new hire, remembering that he or she may not have the exact duties of the former faculty member. After a clear description of the job has been outlined, then the job advertisement must be accurately formulated. In other words, provide truth in advertising.

From the job description, an evaluation instrument should be created for sorting the applications. It should be a written document listing the requirements from the published advertisement. To evaluate each application, reviewers may mark a simple yes or no for each criterion. Reviewers may create an evaluation with columns of strong, average, and weak as the categories to evaluate each area listed in the job advertisement.

Preliminary interviews

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A preliminary interview is usually conducted by telephone or at a professional conference and determines who will be brought to campus for on-site interviews. This preliminary interview should consist of six to eight behavior-based style questions. A BBI-style question begins with: tell about a time when, how have you, or describe your experience with. This style of question requires a candidate to describe past experiences within a given topic area. It is a candidate's past experience that predicts his or her future performance when hired. Sample preliminary interview questions include the following:

  1. Describe your past teaching experiences as specifically as possible.
  2. Describe an individual lesson that you have taught. Be specific with regard to how you began the class, presented material, and ended the class.
  3. Tell us about your research and writing agenda.
  4. How have you shared and presented your research?
  5. In what ways have you served the institution or the profession in the past?
  6. What is your interest in our institution?

To ensure a fair preliminary interview, the questions are written in advance, and the same set of questions is used with each candidate. The list of questions has an evaluation system with it, and can be as simple as strong, average, or weak, or target, acceptable, unacceptable. Some committees prefer to create numerical scales for rating the answers given by candidates.

Procedures for on-site interviews

Campus interviews are generally one to two days in length so that many more constituents can meet the candidates. The search committee will need to create a formal list of questions, similar to that for the preliminary interviews, and use that list with each candidate. Questions are similar to those listed above, but more specific to the discipline:

  1. Tell us about your experience teaching an introductory course in psychology to large groups of students.
  2. Tell us about a challenge you have faced in working with unprepared students and how you dealt with that challenge.
  3. Describe your experiences with technology-enhanced classes or blended learning.
  4. Our institution requires X publications annually for consideration for promotion and tenure. How has your research agenda produced this level of work?

In addition to the search committee's formal interview, candidates attend open-forum interviews and informal lunch and dinner events. It is the responsibility of the search committee to make sure that attendees at these events are prepared for them. Preparation includes informing attendees of illegal questions that cannot be asked and providing guidelines of relevant questions. This can be handled with a handout about questions at each seat and a quick announcement before the session begins.

Evaluating candidates' responses

Search committee members need to discuss the types of responses of a successful candidate before interviewing begins. Having mnemonic devices to guide the listener can be helpful. Two common guidelines for listening to, and evaluating, candidate answers are PAR and STAR. PAR represents problem, action, and result, and STAR stands for situation, task, action, and result. The interviewer listens to determine that a candidate has had experience with a problem or situation, and then to evaluate how that candidate took action and learned from the situation.

The behavior-based approach to hiring implies that a candidate who can discuss past experiences and problems is prepared to deal with those same events and issues in the future. For example, if the committee needs a new hire who can successfully work with underprepared new first-year students, then those interviewers need to ascertain that a candidate has worked with similar students successfully. A candidate who cannot articulate any successful past work with under-prepared students will not likely know how to work with them if hired.

Making objective final decisions

In today's job market, a job advertisement for a teaching position in higher education may garner hundreds of applications, making the selection of the single best candidate a huge undertaking. Using the philosophy that past behavior is the best predictor of future performance, criteria need to be established for the required past experiences and expertise of the candidates, and evaluations need to be created to objectively measure candidates' preparation. The use of BBI-style questions is critical to fairly assess the candidates during interviews.

All efforts should be made to be objective during any search. Not only does objectivity increase the likelihood of a strong hire, but it reduces the risk of legal ramifications. Hiring should always be more than a gut feeling, and the creation of structure for all steps of the hiring process, combined with training of those who hire, will create a fair process that identifies and even recruits the best new faculty members.

Mary C. Clement is a professor of teacher education at Berry College in Georgia. She teaches graduate courses in curriculum theory, instructional management, and supervision, and undergraduate courses in foreign-language methods.

This article originally appeared in the newsletter Academic Leader 26.10 (2010): 1,2. The Academic Leader newsletter is read by academic decision makers and thought leaders on campuses nationwide and offers innovative strategies and fresh ideas to advance teaching, scholarship, and service.