Amanda M. Termuhlen, MD
Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs
Professor of Pediatrics
University of Minnesota Medical School
Faculty and leadership recruitment is one of the most important processes in a medical school. Recruiting diverse faculty members and leaders who stay in the organization is critical to creating the intellectual and inclusive environment necessary to fulfill research, teaching, and clinical missions. As a new associate dean for faculty affairs or faculty affairs professional staff, it is important to develop a deep understanding of the recruitment process and make sure all staff and faculty leaders understand their roles and responsibilities in recruiting. In medical schools, faculty recruitment may be centralized at the school level, based in the departments, or a hybrid process. Offices of faculty affairs can play a central role in recruitment even when much of the recruitment is departmentally based; they can help train department heads and faculty members in basic recruiting principles and develop a toolbox of materials to assist in the process. Building robust policies and procedures based on best practices in recruiting is worth the investment. Several guiding principles are at the core of establishing best practices for faculty recruitment: preparation for the search, basic recruiting practices, communication, professionalism, and commitment to process improvement.
Regardless of how recruitment is handled, communication, professionalism, and confidentiality are key to conducting a good search. Use human resources expertise for guidance on writing and posting advertisements, screening and interviewing candidates, and pertinent equal employment opportunity rules and regulations. Even if a search firm or consultant is used to facilitate the recruitment process, it is important to know and adhere to the basics of recruiting.
The first step in preparing for the search is defining the position and the desired qualifications and attributes sought in candidates. Establish responsibility for the recruitment expenses, role of the search firm and/or consultant, type of position, and funding for the start-up package. Write a position description that encourages a broad candidate pool. Consider making the required qualifications minimal and preferred qualifications more broadly defined. Clearly define the attributes and characteristics expected of a successful candidate. Review the job description for inclusivity for those with diverse experiences. Ask the hiring department for major meetings, professional society websites, and discipline journals that are key sites for posting the job. U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services regulations may bring additional posting requirements for certain candidates under consideration. Check your institution’s requirements for posting. In addition to job boards, personal outreach by the search committee can bring depth and diversity to the candidate pool.
Search Committee Composition
The first visible step in the search process is naming the search committee chair and members. The search committee chair is usually a senior faculty member. The ideal search committee chair should be able to commit to the additional work and have a history of performing successful and diverse searches. Search committees ideally consist of five to seven members. Larger committees are sometimes unavoidable, as multiple competing interests are at play, and it may be advisable to have everyone at the table. The committee must be designed to bring different perspectives and expertise to the deliberations. Appoint members with a demonstrated commitment to supporting or working with diverse communities in research, education, or service. Provide implicit bias training for the search committee as part of the search process. The inclusion of midcareer faculty members on a search committee may bring a different perspective and helps prepare those faculty members for future leadership roles in searches. School or university policies may require specific qualities of the search committee chair and/or members. Consult university bylaws and policies and the campus faculty handbook before naming and charging the committee. Committee members all should be aware of federal regulations pertaining to hiring and any relevant state regulations. Some schools include a faculty member representative from the same department, while others do not permit faculty members from the same department. Learn the relevant institutional practice.
The first meeting of the search committee allows the hiring authority (dean or department chair) to define the expected outcomes of the search: number of finalists, ranked or unranked, along with any specific characteristics of the candidate pool.
Preparation for Interviewing
The search committee should develop standard interview questions and candidate evaluation metrics based on the required, preferred, and desired attributes in the position description. Redacting materials may facilitate objective initial screenings of multiple candidates. The search committee should decide whether phone, video, or airport interviews will be used prior to in-person visits and choose the key interviewers for the first interview. When setting up an in-person interview, consider: Are there any physical limitations that will need to be taken into account (e.g., ability to climb stairs, lactation, dietary restrictions)? Will the candidate be able to connect with the interviewers? Did the candidate request to meet specific people? Are potential collaborators included? Are administrative leaders, students, trainees, or other key stakeholders included? Will the candidate be giving a presentation? If they will give a talk, the search committee chair should let the candidate know ahead of time the expected audience, number of attendees, and objective of the talk (science versus vision).
If conducting a phone or video interview, make sure to test the technology prior to the interview. In a phone interview, introduce your questions with your name. For video, make sure the backdrop is appropriate, and make eye contact with the camera (not the screen). For in-person interviews, allow ample time for breaks and transitions between interviews. Plan a break in the interview schedule prior to a candidate talk. Give the candidate an opportunity to collect themselves and get familiar with the lectern, pointer, microphone, and computer controls. All interviewers should have a copy of the position description, the list of questions, the candidate’s CV and application materials, and the evaluation form (with a submission deadline within 24 hours of the interview, as delay introduces bias). Encourage all interviewers to spend at least 15-20 minutes reviewing the candidate’s application materials prior to the interview and to focus the interview on the candidate and the candidate’s responses to questions.
Even with a decentralized faculty recruiting process, faculty affairs offices can support departments in screening and selecting candidates and preparing for candidate interviews. Faculty affairs can assist in developing guidelines for screening CVs, standardized questions for interviews, formats for interviews and visits, and evaluation forms for interviewers.
- Search committee — The committee represents too narrow range of perspectives and interests. Not all voices are heard in the course of meeting and evaluating candidates. The committee does not follow the metrics set up prior to the interview by the committee.
- Single “Pre-selected” candidate search process — Institutions usually have methods for handling exceptional candidates. Learn the process at your institution. Pre-selection may compromise and devalue the search process, reducing the legitimacy of future searches.
- Joint spousal/partner hires — Establish relationships with other academic units at your university. Try to determine any factors that would be critical to hiring if the candidate is successful. If a partner recruitment is required, start early in candidate recruitment.
- Interviews — Common errors in interviewing include when the interviewer dominates the interview, conducts the interview like an informal chat, does not take notes, does not use questions prepared in advance, guides the responses, or does not question the candidate in sufficient depth. Beware of stereotype bias. Also beware of halo bias (“We both played X in college — that makes you great!”), affinity bias (“You look like me, therefore you are a good candidate and fit in”), confirmation bias (“I heard from my colleagues you are…”), and elite-institution bias (“Everyone from X University is a high achiever!”). Also note that when an interviewer delays completing the evaluation, they are subject to bias from other interviewers or may get candidates confused.1
While just a brief overview, this summary can help you think through recruitment and hiring issues in your medical school. Consistency and communication are vital to success, as is a commitment to continuous improvement of the process over time. Recruitment is critical to the core missions of academic medicine, and its importance must be appreciated by all who participate in the recruitment process.
As an associate dean or professional staff in faculty affairs, you can develop policies, procedures, processes, and trainings that maximize your chances of hiring faculty members and leaders who commit long term to your institution and carry your missions forward!
- Mallon WT, Grigsby RK, Barrett MD. Finding Top Talent: How to Search for Leaders in Academic Medicine. Washington, DC: AAMC; 2009.
- Burden M, Pino-Jones A, Shafer M, Sheth S, Rexrode K. GWIMS Equity Recruitment Toolkit. Washington, DC: AAMC; 2019. aamc.org/media/10351/download.
- National Institutes of Health. NIH Scientific Workforce Diversity Toolkit. https://diversity.nih.gov/toolkit.
Many institutions provide implicit bias tests and educational modules online and have institution-specific institution guidelines for human resource practices. Please check your institution’s resources.
- 11 harmful types of unconscious bias and how to interrupt them. Catalyst’s blog. Jan. 2, 2020. www.catalyst.org/2020/01/02/interrupt-unconscious-bias. Accessed Nov. 29, 2020.