Tenure-Track Search Process Guide

5.0 Ensure a fair and thorough review of applicants

5.1 Meeting with the Dean and Faculty Associate for Diversity and Inclusive Excellence
5.2 Stage 1: Selecting applicants who meet minimum qualifications
5.3 Stage 2: Evaluating applicants who meet the minimum requirements
5.4 Stage 3: Evaluating top-third candidates
5.5 Stage 4: Conducting reference calls
5.6 Stage 5: Evaluation of the finalists
5.7 Resources


No application will be viewed before the deadline. Furthermore, only complete applications will be considered.

There are four stages and five meetings of the application/candidate review process, each centered upon the agreed upon rubric and search grid. Stages two through four each take a significant amount of time, roughly 20 minutes per application at each stage. Thus, if you expect 100 applications that meet the minimum requirements, each person will need to allocate 33 hours for screening for stage two, and so forth. (If this is the case, it may be valuable to create a screening subcommittee to reduce the size of the applicant pool.)

Decide in advance whether you will prioritize any particular criteria at any stage of the process. If yes, then assign greater weight to those criteria. If all criteria are prioritized equally, you might consider creating separate short lists for each criterion and develop the top-third list by taking the top candidates across different criteria.

5.1 Meeting with the Dean and Faculty Associate for Diversity and Inclusive Excellence

At this meeting, the Dean introduces the search process to the committee. All search committee members should be present for this initial meeting. Any member who is unavailable will need complete the initial meeting and interrupting bias training prior to participating in the search (which often means attending a meeting of another department/program that is conducting a search). The FADIE provides training to the search committee to interrupt bias. Research has shown that when decision-makers learn about hiring biases they are more likely to evaluate candidates fairly.

5.2 Stage 1: Selecting applicants who meet minimum qualifications

The day after the close of applications, a sub-group of the screening committee reviews all applications to determine which applicants meet the minimum required qualifications. Those that do not meet the minimum required qualification are set aside. Candidates are ONLY excluded at this stage if they do not meet the minimum requirements. The remaining list of qualified applicants is given to the screening committee. NOTE: the only applications/applicants that are considered are COMPLETE applications. Candidates who have submitted some portion of the materials are not considered until the application is complete.

5.3 Stage 2: Evaluating applicants who meet the minimum requirements

(This process can take several weeks, depending on the number of applications: 50 applications = 17 hours; 150 applications = 50 hours)

Stage 2 evaluation: Each member of the screening subcommittee reviews the applications for all applicants that meet the minimum criteria and adds their results to a candidate grid. The completed grid will give a clear picture of candidate evaluations. Look for strengths. In considering applicants in this stage, the committee should look for reason to continue considering applicants for the position. Aim to include, using specific application evidence.

Each committee member works through one aspect of the rubric at a time for all applicants.

For example, if Criterion 1 is excellence in teaching, you would evaluate each applicant against that criterion only. Note the ranking in the search grid, along with the evidence that resulted in the ranking. Then move onto criterion two: commitment to undergraduate teaching. Evaluate each applicant. And so on.

This strategy reduces the bias associated with reading one application at a time and rating the candidate as a whole.

Tips for evaluation: Set aside a block of time. Be in a quiet space. Shut off email notifications. Treat yourself to a sweet drink/snack. Take regular breaks.

All members of the screening subcommittee need to review EACH application. If you have a large number of applications, you can assign responsibility for a thorough and detailed review of a subset of the rubric to groups of at least two people (so two people could be assigned to evaluate excellence in teaching in detail for all candidates, while two others are assigned promise of scholarship, and so forth). Each criterion and each application must have a detailed review by at least two members of the screening subcommittee and every member should review every application.

Stage 2 meeting: Create “top-third” list: (Meeting set for a minimum of two weeks after applications close, based on time needed for evaluation of applicants who meet the minimum requirements.).

Create a “top-third” list. The screening subcommittee meets to evaluate the list of those candidates who scored highly in the evaluation process at this stage. This list includes at least 1/3 of the minimally qualified applicants (so 33, if there are 100 applications that have met the minimum requirements in stage one). At this stage, the screening subcommittee examines the number of known underrepresented applicants within this group and whether any candidates (currently not on the list) were scored highly by particular committee members. Who should be added to this top-third list? If this list lacks women and/or underrepresented minorities: 1. consider more aggressive recruitment efforts before moving to the next phase in the search; 2. revisit top women and underrepresented minority candidates in pool to see if evaluation bias played a part in their exclusion.

Recommended Practice

Associated Challenges

Search committee members hold each other accountable for showing evidence of their evaluations that is directly related to the established criteria (Moody, 2010)

Comments that are unrelated to or several logical steps away from the established criteria (e.g. “I just don’t think they would be a good fit in the department”) can reflect assumptions that are inaccurate and/or unrelated to the criteria

Remain aware of research on implicit bias that identifies the tendency to look for and favor people like ourselves or those we are accustomed to seeing in similar positions

Without awareness of the ways in which implicit bias operates, search committees can miss opportunities to recognize outstanding candidates who do not represent what the search committee is familiar with (i.e. research areas, communication style)

Suspend judgments about candidates based on the institutions from which they come until more information is gathered

Quick judgments can be made based on the institution affiliation, yet these judgments are often an unreliable method for evaluating individuals

Pay attention to and invite every perspective, especially when there are differences of opinion about the strength of a candidate.

Downplaying less popular perspectives may contribute to the committee yielding to the momentum of the group (Moody, 2010) and result in less conscious and deliberate screening

Record detailed reasons as they are discussed for each applicant in the non/advancement in the selection process. This will facilitate the preparation of final hire paperwork and also assures that the decision-making process can be reconstructed should the process be questioned.

It is difficult to recreate the specifics of the decisions for each candidate at the end of the process if they are not recorded along the way. Inaccurate or incomplete information can slow the final review of hire paperwork. It can also put the search committee in a vulnerable position if the specific, job-related reasons for non-selection are not clear.


5.4 Stage 3: Evaluating top-third candidates

Request for additional material (if relevant): Departments that expect to receive a large number of applications (75+) do not always request all relevant material in the original position announcement. After a screening committee has narrowed the pool, the search chair may contact candidates still in contention and request additional materials. This might include writing samples, teaching evaluations, and/or transcripts. The request for additional materials should be made by email to individual candidates.

Stage 3 evaluation: After the top-third list is set and the committee has examined representation of that group, the screening subcommittee members should each review the top-third applicants and re-evaluate the candidates based on the rubric, including additional material if appropriate. Remember the 20-minute rule: if you have 20 in your top-third pool, set aside 7 hours for review: 30 takes 10 hours, and so forth.

Stage 3 meeting: Creating the “short” list. (Meeting set for a minimum of one week after stage three, depending on size of top-third list.)

Create an initial interview list. The screening (or full search) committee meets to choose the most highly qualified candidates from the “top-third” list to interview. The committee also examines how many underrepresented applicants are in this group and revisits the larger pool to ensure no potential finalist was overlooked.

References can be contacted either at this stage or after the initial interview stage.

Conducting initial/phone interviews

Interviews provide a crucial opportunity for the search committee to learn more about top candidates and their qualifications. Reciprocally, interviews also provide firsthand opportunities for candidates to learn more about the position, the college and the community. Given this two-way information gathering, it is important to design the interviews with the following two questions in mind: How can we design a process that will: Allow us to gather additional information about the candidate’s strengths, limitations and ability to serve our students? and assure that each candidate has the opportunity to gather the information they need to make an informed choice about the fit of the position with their goals?

Phone interviews are recommended at this stage, rather than Skype or conference interviews. Phone interviews require limited resources, which means that more individuals can be interviewed, and the candidate will not have the expense of attending a national conference. Phone interviews also mitigate against the bias that may occur upon seeing a candidate.

Recommended Practice

Associated Challenges

Use a consistent set of questions for all candidates during phone interviews, allowing candidates latitude to interpret and respond in a way that reflects their unique goals for the position.

Inconsistent questions can contribute to an inconsistent and unfair process.

Let the candidates know how much time is allocated for the interview and how many questions they will be asked.

Without this information, candidates may not use the time effectively, which can directly affect their ability to highlight their strengths.

Recognize that the challenge of interviewing with only auditory cues can be particularly difficult for some personal styles and fit better with some cultural norms than others.

Without this recognition, the phone interview process may inadvertently advantage some candidates over others.

Build in time at the end for candidates to ask questions of the committee.

Without this opportunity, candidates miss an opportunity to begin assessing the fit of the position with their goals.


Contact the Telecommunications Office to arrange to have a speaker phone for these interviews. Not all rooms can be used for long-distance calls so be sure to let them know the room in which the interviews will take place. The cost of telephone interviews is paid by the department.

Strategies to address the inherent challenges of phone interviews

Prior to the interview: Allow at least 30 minutes for a phone interview and a minimum of 10 minutes between phone calls. Longer is better to enable evaluation between candidates. Evaluating each candidate after the individual interview minimizes the bias associated with evaluating candidates as a group. (Avoid comparisons.)

At least 48 hours before the phone interview, send the interview questions to all candidates so that they can organize their thinking. This inclusive practice levels the playing field for those who may have a harder time processing auditory clues.

Ensure that all candidates, including those with disabilities such as deafness, will be able to participate.

Designate a timekeeper to ensure all questions can be asked and that time remains for the candidate to pose questions.

Record the interview if not all screening committee members can be present. If an interviewee does not want to be recorded, then only the interviewers present can evaluate the candidate.

The same interviewers should be present for each interview.

Committee members cannot participate in evaluations of candidates if they are not present for, or do not have access to, the interview.

During the interview: Have search committee members introduce themselves by name at the beginning of the interview and identify themselves when speaking.

Offer to repeat or rephrase the questions if needed. If there is silence on the phone while committee members are making notes, or if other things occur in the room that may be confusing, let the candidate know what is happening.

Ensure that each candidate is asked about his or her demonstrated commitment to diversity. This question should not be asked by the only female or underrepresented committee member.

If a question is asked of one candidate that was not asked of previous candidates, please re-contact the previous candidates to follow-up. If that cannot be done, the question and answer must be removed from the evaluation process.

If the committee must interview at a conference, be sure to have a private space for the interview. This space must not be a hotel bedroom or a public location.

Suggested questions to help the candidate address more specific issues:

  • Tell us specifically how and why your teaching approaches have evolved over the past few years.
  • Tell us specifically how you would be an asset for our department.
  • Looking at the courses you’ve taught, as listed on your CV, I wonder which two courses were the most problematic for you and how exactly you dealt with the issues in those courses.
  • If you encountered this classroom problem (describe a specific situation that a new hire might be expected to deal with), how would you handle it?
  • Recall for us a successful collaborative research project that you undertook with others over the past two years. What was your role? What problems came up? How did you resolve them?
  • All of us, from time to time, have to deal with colleagues who severely disagree with us. Recall a time when this happened, and explain in detail how you managed the situation. What did you learn from the experience?
  • Given our geographical location, how do you see yourself thriving here?
  • Given our institutional mission and the needs of our students, what contributions do you see yourself making?

5.5 Stage 4: Conducting reference calls

Contact with references provides important information from those who have directly worked with candidates. The search committee can use references as one way to address concerns or questions that exist after reviewing application materials or the initial interview. Phone references provide greater opportunity to ask for specific information, follow up where there is a lack of clarity, and elicit specific examples. Reference calls can be made either for the shortlist of candidates interviewed by phone or the list of candidates who will be invited for a campus visit. Letters of reference will not be requested. Please inform the candidates that you will be contacting their references and the approximate timeframe for that contact.

Research has shown that men and women tend to be described differently in letters of reference for academic positions. Findings indicate that women are “described as more communal and less agentic then men, and that communal characteristics have a negative relationship with hiring decisions” (Madera et al 2009, p. 1597). Communal characteristics are those that focus on relationship and reflect concern about the welfare of others. Agentic characteristics include the ability to influence others, initiate tasks and engage assertively (Madera et al 2009). Further, requiring multiple reference letters from each candidate may keep some from applying for fear of wearing out their references. Hence, we recommend that contact information for referees be requested rather than letters.

Prior to on-campus visits, references for each candidate should be contacted. At least two committee members should be present for reference calls. Each reference ought to be asked the same questions. Detailed notes should be provided to the entire search committee. For an example of a reference call protocol see the resources section below.

Points to consider

Design a clear and well-structured process for contacting references. When references are contacted casually and without a plan, it can contribute to inconsistency and introduce bias, and can lead to conversations that touch on inappropriate areas of inquiry. This is particularly true when the reference is someone known to the search committee member.

Include multiple search committee members in reference calls. For efficiency, the search chair often conducts reference calls alone. Doing so increases the likelihood of missed information, misunderstanding and limited perspectives. Having multiple search committee members hear the input from each reference maximizes the benefits of having multiple perspectives on the committee.

Ask for specific examples. Eliciting specific examples gives the search committee concrete information and minimizes the influence of possible bias entering the process via the person serving as the reference.

Contact multiple references. Input from a variety of references helps to elicit a complex view of the applicant. This can, for example, identify whether concerns raised by one reference are a pattern seen by many or the result of an isolated relationship or situation.

5.6 Stage 5: Evaluation of the finalists

Stage 5 evaluation: Each member of the search committee scores each candidate, using the agreed-upon rubric, as soon after the initial/phone interview as possible. Avoid evaluating candidates comparatively. Access to these interviews via recording should be made to any other person evaluating candidates who was not present for the interview.

Stage 5 meeting: Selecting Finalists for Campus Visits: The search committee will meet to deliberate, after adequate time has been given for review of each candidate and all materials (including initial materials and phone interview). As with the previous meetings, the discussion should begin from the search grid results. The full search committee meets to choose the most highly qualified candidates from the initial interviews to invite for campus visits. The committee also examines how many underrepresented applicants are in this finalist group and considers the initial interview pool to ensure no potential finalist was overlooked.

Submitting Files to the Provost’s Office: After the search committee has identified the top five candidates in the pool, the search chair will submit the application materials of those candidates and a rationale for invitations to the top three candidates (otherwise unranked) to the Provost’s Office (please send PDF files as email attachments, not links to online sources). The rationale should include a section explaining why the other candidates have been eliminated from the pool. The Dean will review those files and will meet with the search chair in order to discuss the three candidates who will be invited to an on-campus interview. search chairs should plan for turnaround time of approximately 48 hours from the time files are received by the Provost’s Office to the meeting with Dean.

search chairs should not contact the candidates whose files have been sent to the Provost’s Office until after the meeting with the Dean. If the chair is contacted by one of those candidates, you can say that you will be contacting campus interviewees within the week.

While the Provost’s Office is reviewing the files, the search chair can work with the department, the LASR, and the Provost’s Office to identify dates for the visit and begin constructing the interview schedule.

5.7 Resources

Sample reference call script

Please take notes. Begin with introductions of each participant (name, title, and department/office). Each person should state their name before asking their question.

Thanks so much for making time for this call. I’d like to first introduce the folks we have on the call today. [Introductions here.] As you know, I’m calling to ask questions about __ who is a candidate for the tenure-track position in our department. The search committee has conducted a telephone interview with her/him. She/he is now a finalist for the position.

I have a few questions I’d like to ask you about __ but first let me tell you a little bit about the position. [At this point, you might describe the area of focus for teaching and research, provide a brief description of tenure criteria (balanced among teaching, scholarship, and service), and one or two other items that you consider key to this hire such as supervising undergraduate research or the connection between this position and of areas of teaching/research in your department or an interdisciplinary program.]

We have 30 minutes together today, and we will ask all references the same questions, so we plan on staying with our scripted questions. Thanks for your understanding in this regard. Does that sound alright? Okay, let’s begin.

  1. What are the special talents or abilities you think __ will bring to this position?
  2. Can you provide an example of his/her excellence in teaching?
  3. In what ways does __ need to grow or improve in his/her professional life?
  4. Gustavus has a strong commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Can you give us examples of how __ will be able to contribute to diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives?
  5. Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about _?

What if a candidate is known to one or more committee members?

  1. A member who knows a candidate should disclose this to the committee at the beginning of the search process.
  2. If the committee member feels that their prior knowledge of the candidate will make it difficult for them to act as a fair and effective evaluator, they should share this concern with the search chair and hiring authority. The committee member can consider abstaining from their evaluation of the known candidate or step down from the search committee.
  3. If the committee member feels they can effectively and fairly evaluate all candidates, they should refrain from sharing details about their knowledge of the candidate unless and until that candidate makes it to the finalist list.

If the known candidate does make it to the finalist list, it is appropriate for the committee member to share their prior knowledge as long as it is first-hand knowledge that is relevant to the candidate’s ability to carry out the responsibilities of the position.

Internal candidates

Candidate pools often include one or more people who are known to members of the search committee, including faculty teaching at Gustavus in a temporary position. It is imperative that internal candidates be treated fairly, which means neither advantaging nor disadvantaging them in the process. The following list is intended to clarify how internal candidacies ought to be managed in order to insure fairness.

  • It is acceptable to invite an internal candidate to apply for a tenure-track opening just as it is acceptable to invite someone from off-campus to apply. In both cases, the invitation should not imply a promise of the job or even an on-campus interview.
  • Each candidate, whether internal or external, must make their own decision about whether to apply for the position. Even if you believe someone in a temporary faculty position is not qualified for the position, the decision to apply must rest with them. If you are asked a direct question about it, it is reasonable to point out that, as a search committee member it is not appropriate for you to discuss the search. You can direct the individual to the search chair who can provide them with the identified minimum required qualifications for the position.
  • The internal candidate must formally submit a new application/materials as requested in the job announcement. The department cannot recycle the materials submitted for the temporary position.
  • Internal candidates may choose to include members of the Gustavus community as professional references. However, faculty in the department conducting the search cannot agree to act as a reference for a Gustavus search even if that person is not a member of the search committee. If an internal candidate submits a review letter that was written/submitted by a departmental faculty member as part of her application packet, that letter would serve as a source of evidence toward the evaluation criteria, just like all of the other application materials.
  • Telephone interviews can be awkward when there is an internal candidate. However, out of fairness, telephone interviews need to be conducted with internal candidates who have advanced to that stage of the process.
  • If the department conducts formal conference interviews and an internal candidate is on the list of conference interviewees, the interview needs to be conducted at the conference. If the department offers to accommodate external candidates who are not attending the conference, the same offer can be made to the internal candidate.
  • If the internal candidate is one of the candidates invited for an on-campus interview, each element of the interview schedule should be the same for both candidates, with the exception of the overnight stay at the Guest House (unless the internal candidate elects to stay at the Guest House).
  • Internal candidates must conduct a teaching demonstration under the same circumstances as an external candidate. Specifically, the demonstration cannot be held in a current section of a course currently being taught by the internal candidate. Nor should the external candidate be asked to conduct a teaching demonstration in the class of the internal candidate.
  • Student feedback about the internal candidate should not be solicited in any manner beyond those available to external candidates. Students who view the teaching demonstration should be asked for feedback, all candidates may be invited to provide evidence of teaching effectiveness, and all candidates may ask students to write letters of recommendation (although this is rarely a choice made by external candidates).
  • When an external candidate comes for the campus visit, it is reasonable to let the internal candidate know the date of the visit and expect her/him to keep limited hours in the department during the visit.
  • Information provided to the candidates about the search process should, within reason, be the same for all candidates. Nothing about the search process should be communicated to the internal candidate that is not also communicated to external candidates. Department colleagues often find it very difficult to refrain from talking with internal candidates about the search. The chair of the search committee and the chair of the department have the responsibility of making it clear to all members of the department that this is inappropriate and unfair behavior that threatens the integrity of the search process.
  • Internal candidates should receive notification of their place in the search pool within the same time frame as external candidates. For instance, if an internal candidate does not advance beyond the first screening, the chair of the search committee can communicate that information in person at about the same time that external candidates receive a letter/email with that information. The internal candidate should also receive formal notification.

Sample letters to applicants

Email messages acknowledging the receipt of applications should be sent as quickly as possible. Unless the applicant does not supply an email address, this correspondence should be send via email not hard-copy. Two samples of the acknowledgment messages are as follows:

Complete application email reply

Dear <<Applicant Name>>:

Thank you for your application for the tenure-track job opening in the <<Dept. Name>> Department at Gustavus Adolphus College.

Your application will receive careful consideration by the department Search Committee. If further information will be needed, we will be in touch with you.

Sincerely,
<<Search Chair’s Name>>
Search Chair

Incomplete application email reply

Dear <<Applicant Name>>:

Thank you for your application for the tenure-track job opening in the <<Dept. Name>> Department at Gustavus Adolphus College. Once we receive the following items (below), your application will be complete and eligible for consideration.
<<Add Missing Materials>>

Sincerely,
<<Search Chair’s Name>>
Search Chair


Last modified: 21 August 2017, by Shanon Nowell