It’s the time of year during which we (along with everyone else in academe who’s doing a search) decide what kind of schedule we want our searches to follow. There are both strategic and logistical aspects of this decision: When is the best time for us to advertise, interview, and offer in order to be most competitive in the market? And, how can we fit these searches together across the academic year so that it’s possible to do all of them efficiently and courteously for our candidates and our own faculty and staff?
Some disciplines pretty much fix the timetable. I’m thinking here of the major conferences that have a large interviewing/hiring component, such as the Modern Language Association, the American Historical Association, and the College Art Association. Because many programs conduct preliminary interviews at these conventions, it’s difficult to do a search before they occur because a lot of candidates are waiting for whatever may happen at interviews there.
Like many small institutions, and some larger ones, we have gradually abandoned preliminary interviews at these conferences for a variety of reasons, not the only one of which is their very high costs in time and money. But we have learned by experience that trying to jump out ahead of them is not a successful tactic and so we are basically locked into the same schedule as institutions that interview at those events.
One of our challenges, which we share with a number of other colleges and universities, is that we have a January term that starts right after the first of the year. In our case, we have a large number of faculty and students traveling domestically and internationally, and a lot of the business of the institution slows to a near-halt during that time because they are gone. Unless an entire search committee is still in town during that time, our searches basically stop as well. So in the fields with winter-break conferences, we would like to start out ahead of, but almost inevitably end up behind, the preferred schedule for those disciplines, which is unfortunate.
In other instances, we want to start as early as we can and wrap up the hiring process quickly. There are a couple of reasons for this approach. The first is that in disciplines without a customary annual hiring cycle, we hope to get out ahead of the crowd and hire strong candidates quickly. The second is that if the first round doesn’t work, we have a reasonable chance of reopening the search and still bringing it to a good conclusion before the end of the year.
Interestingly, in the past few years we have had a couple of instances where the applicant pool the second time around has been broader, deeper, and stronger than it was in the search’s first iteration. I have some theories about this, one of which is that a lot of excellent candidates don’t have the success they believe they should earlier in the year and need to continue to pursue a position later, looking at jobs they may not have considered previously. Having once been a grad student on the market, I understand this dynamic well, and am perfectly happy to recruit such candidates as long as they are truly interested in coming here.
I don’t think, though, that we can derive a rule from this experience that we should wait until after the main hiring season to mount our main hiring effort. There are a lot of very strong candidates who are interested in jobs like ours, and there are other such jobs, and so we don’t want to lose them preemptively by waiting until the first wave of hiring is complete.
We have been able to make a lot of very strong additions to our faculty over the past several years, but unfortunately a clear pattern for how to schedule our approach to searches has not emerged. So as we face a new hiring season, once again it will be most interesting to see how it comes out for us and for our potential future colleagues.