Starting at the Beginning: Supporting Academic Progression Through Recruitment Practices

04 October 2017      Sophie Harris, Deputy Director of Human Resources

Reflecting on a session at the CUPA conference in San Diego about academic recruitment, Sophie Harris, UHR-CUPA Bursary winner, looks at how Michigan State University used a two-day recruitment event to fill 16 academic vacancies. 

I was really interested to attend a session on academic recruitment at the CUPA conference in San Diego.

Colleagues at Michigan State University had an unprecedented need for 16 early-career academic vacancies and developed an innovative approach to recruitment. 

While not an explicit objective, their approach had a positive impact on collegiality and collaboration at their institution, which I suggest may also have implications for female academic progression. 

Michigan decided to hold a joint recruitment event for all their positions. Their approach was interesting for several reasons:

  • Whittling down the shortlist by initial Skype interviews, the top candidates for all positions attended in on the same two days to participate in a range of selection activities.
  • The departments involved ranged from those that had some obvious interdisciplinary appeal, to those with disparate research themes.
  • Selection methods included an accessible TED talk, as well as a more detailed research talk.
  • All staff from across the University were invited to attend the TED talks; both academic and professional services staff. All candidates could also watch each other.
  • In addition to the presentations, there were some mixer events during which time the selection committees and all applicants could socialise and discuss their interests.

While there was some initial reticence from academic colleagues at the University (will this be like the Hunger Games?! - it wasn't!), not only were candidates successfully recruited, but there were many unanticipated positive outcomes of the approach:

  • Created a bond between applicants - Candidates were able to interact with each other as well as with existing members of staff. The successful candidates have developed early friendships which have contribute to collaborations in research. Even those who were unsuccessful had the chance to build relationships and meet potential collaborators. 
  • Existing staff felt engaged and involved in the process - Including the whole University in the process created a festive atmosphere and energised staff, generating a sense of community.
  • Supported retention - The thorough selection process ensured that candidates had a clear understanding of the institution. Developing relationships early on helped the appointed candidates to establish themselves quickly and drive early success. 
  • One-team ethos - The University presented itself as a single entity, rather than as separate departments, further promoting a positive culture and a sense of collegiality.
  • Time-efficient for the selection panel and welcoming for candidates - The single two-day recruitment event was more time and cost efficient than running 16 separate recruitment exercises. Candidates reported afterwards that as an interview candidate, they have sometimes felt as though they were an inconvenience, squeezed into an interviewer's day. The focused interview process generated engagement and commitment from the selection panels which positively reflected on the candidate experience. 

In my previous posts, I've discussed how academia can sometimes be a hostile environment, and those strategies that promote collegiality and mutual support networks can help female academic staff succeed. I would be interested to see how adopting this approach to recruitment could help build culture, relationships and retention, to the benefit of long-term female progression. 

I would like to credit Teresia Hagelberger, HR Director and Melanie Trowbridge, Assistant Director of Academic HR at Michigan State University who developed this approach to recruitment and presented their experience at the CUPA HR conference in San Diego.

Image: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 - Flickr, TEDxPeachtree Team

Author: Sophie Harris, Deputy Director of Human Resources, SOAS, University of London

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