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Research Report

3 reasons your faculty searches aren’t yielding diverse candidates

August 27, 2018

In a typical academic job search, the search committee posts an advertisement online, the committee chair emails their friends and colleagues to let them know of the job opening, and then the committee waits to see what happens. This assumes, often incorrectly, that the best candidates will not only find their way to the job listing, but that the advertisement itself will be enough to attract a diverse pool of candidates.

The most successful search committees rely on active faculty networks to identify and create relationships with talented underrepresented candidates both before and during the search process.

More on this topic

This resource is part of the Increase Faculty Diversity and Inclusivity on Campus Roadmap. Access the Roadmap for stepwise guidance with additional tools and research.

Reason 1: Failing to follow up after informal faculty networking

Cultivating potential applicants can be challenging and there are some common mistakes to avoid. Faculty often attend conferences to network but don’t actually write down or record the names and contact information of promising candidates, making it difficult to remember those candidates when a search starts. If faculty do collect contact information, they may not know what to do with those names when they return to campus. Even if contact information is systematically tracked, there may be no formal process for initiating outreach.

Solution: Have faculty review a departmental database of high-potential recruits before every search, and invite prospective candidates to apply. This helps to ease future searches and build your departmental network.

Reason 2: Underestimating the power of institutional affinity

In addition to relying on individual faculty members to meet and track prospects, consider launching formal programs to introduce potential recruits to your campus. Building familiarity and comfort between candidates and current faculty members and academic leaders goes a long way toward ensuring your institution is a candidate’s first choice.

Virginia Tech, for example, created a Future Faculty Development event to recruit potential candidates for tenure-track jobs. There are two ways that candidates can participate in the event. First, Virginia Tech faculty are encouraged to nominate promising underrepresented candidates that they meet at conferences or other disciplinary events. Second, the program solicits nominations for external applicants from graduate deans at peer universities, aspirational peer institutions, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and other Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs).

A faculty committee selects the participants and those selected come to campus for three days. Doctoral candidates and postdocs network with chairs, faculty, administrators, and one another. They attend workshops on topics like diversity in higher education, the academic job search, and job offer negotiation.

The event demonstrates the department’s interest in the prospects and fosters meaningful relationships with promising candidates. Those departments interested in candidates for future hiring are encouraged to invite them back for a more formal job talk when students are on campus. The program found that keeping the cohort small maintains the high-touch necessary for success.

Reason 3: Counting on generic, templatized outreach to candidates


Increase in applications after sending personalized emails to 119 graduate deans
Increase in applications after sending personalized emails to 119 graduate deans

Too often, form emails announcing new positions lead underrepresented and nontraditional candidates to self-select out of the pool from the start. At Virginia Tech, an assistant provost created a list of 119 graduate deans at all departmental and institutional peers and aspirational peers, as well as those at HBCUs and MSIs. She then sent a personalized email to each one informing them of the program. In the first year after implementing this practice, applications increased by 100%.

Candidates accepted through external applications from peer institutions, HBCUS, and MSIs have engaged previously disengaged departments. In one case, a hire made from an external application inspired a department that had never participated in the Future Faculty Development event to submit nominations the following year.

More resources on faculty diversity

While higher education leaders agree on the need to increase diversity, long-standing preparedness gaps create critical barriers for enrolling a diverse class. This white paper explains the resulting pipeline problem, especially at selective colleges and universities, and three contemporary forces that make increasing diversity on campus more difficult than ever before.