Building a stellar psychology department involves locating, nurturing and keeping a mix of talented, highly productive and compatible--if not always agreeable--people. While such factors as geography and name status may be out of your control, a number of strategies can attract top-notch people to your department, whether it's in rural America or an urban center.
The aim "is to create an environment that people would really like to join, and once they're there, that they wouldn't particularly want to leave," says Emanuel Donchin, PhD, who chairs the University of South Florida psychology department.
To foster such chemistry, he and others advise you to:
1. Figure out your needs.
Before plunging ahead with a recruitment effort, confer with faculty members to identify areas of the department you want to emphasize or improve, advises Elliot Hirshman, PhD, who chaired the George Washington University psychology department from 2002 to 2005. "Identifying areas of emphasis makes your department especially attractive to candidates in those areas and helps your search committee network with others in those subfields," he says.
Similarly, identify the resources that you need for each faculty search--for example, salary level, start-up funds, lab space and graduate student support--and meet with the dean to make sure those resources are available.
2. Make the candidate feel special.
Once you've narrowed down top candidates and they're in the interview seat, praise their strengths, says Robert J. Sternberg, PhD, dean of Tufts University's School of Arts and Sciences. "Tell them you really think a lot of them and their work, that you value the way they see and solve problems," he says. "Make them feel that their not coming would deal a serious blow to the department."
You can do that even if a few candidates are vying for a single spot, adds Henry L. "Roddy" Roediger III, PhD, who chaired the department of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis from 1996 to 2004, and is now dean of academic planning there.
"Tell the candidate that, although you can only choose one person, you really think highly of them," he says. "After all, you selected them to interview from many candidates."
3. Tout your assets.
Plug your department's virtues, which may include good salaries, benefits and lab space; a collegial, collaborative atmosphere; an affordable cost of living; on-campus child-care arrangements; and high-quality grad students.
University of California, Los Angeles Psychology Department Chair Robert A. Bjork, PhD, emphasizes to candidates that the university does not hire at the junior level without tenured positions ultimately being available for them. That's important, he says, because young faculty members can then feel free to cooperate and collaborate rather than compete for a given tenured slot, as they might at some Ivy League schools.
For that reason, he also makes sure visiting candidates spend substantial time with current junior faculty: "They get a very positive impression of our department and university from those interactions," he says. "My sense is our junior faculty have thrived at UCLA, and that comes across."
Location, if framed correctly, can be a selling point, too, says Roediger.
"We'll play up St. Louis as an affordable place to live, where you have the advantages of a big city, but that is still affordable compared to places like Boston, New York or Palo Alto," he says. Bjork, who must contend with Los Angeles' high housing costs, emphasizes that housing prices reflect quality-of-life advantages, such as great weather, ocean accessibility and diverse cultural offerings. "I make the point that there are good and attractive reasons that housing costs are high," he says.
4. Keep your word.
When you make promises--whether about salary, lab equipment or a reasonable teaching load--keep them, says Donchin.
"Maintain absolute credibility," he says, "so that people know when you promise something, it's going to happen."
If you don't, you can lose good people: He's been able to woo away a number of talented junior faculty unhappy with their departments' failure to honor commitments, he says.
5. Talk about fit.
Fit is a crucial variable in making a good hire, so make sure you discuss it, Sternberg adds.
"It's like looking for a spouse," says Sternberg. "If you don't have a good fit, the person will leave before too long, or they'll be unhappy with the person who hired them or vice versa."
6. Share your values.
Diversity and social justice are major values at the University of Georgia's department of counseling and human development services, says department head Rosemary E. Phelps, PhD. She urges her department's search committees to put in extra effort to network and find applicants from diverse pools, she says.
In addition, "I'm always working with colleagues and peers on the value of diversifying the faculty, and on educating them about how diversity can be a value-added feature for everyone in the department," she says. Her efforts have paid off: The department now includes five faculty of color out of 22 faculty, and three are in leadership spots--and she'd like to see more. "Having diverse faculty in leadership roles is important because it allows the department to address systemic factors and barriers at a broader level," she says.
7. Recruit early.
Most universities post ads asking people to apply by the first of November, December or January, or even later. This leaves open a strategy for a department to cast its net early. The tactic is somewhat controversial because it forces candidates to make early decisions before many universities have even begun the interview process, but it can work well for schools that have good reputations but might not be as "sexy" geographically as others, says Roediger.
"Some departments will interview people incredibly early, like in early October," he says. "Then they'll go after the top people they find and make them an offer." In fact, last year a school lured a student from Washington University using such a ploy: "I think it's really smart," Roediger says.
8. Be savvy about social trends.
In 2008, recruiting and retaining people means being sensitive to family issues and making accommodations accordingly, Sternberg maintains.
"I don't think it's enough to say, 'Here are some [job] databases to look through,'" he says. "That's not going to work, because there'll be some other place that will be actively trying to find a job for that person's spouse." At Tufts, not only does the school provide a bank listing jobs at area universities at local nonprofits, but Sternberg's office combs that bank and personally networks for the spouse, including at Tufts. Similarly, Washington University has a faculty recruiting specialist whose job is to help bring the whole family to St. Louis by consulting with the family on neighborhoods, jobs, realtors and other practical matters, Roediger says.
9. Keep your people happy.
Once you've hired a "catch," give them lots of reasons to stay, says Sternberg. That can mean providing more salary, more lab space, some summer salary, some research money, reducing their teaching load--and "showing you care," he says.
"We keep an eye on faculty who are making the greatest contributions," Sternberg notes, "and we try to keep them happy so they won't even look for offers elsewhere."
10. Walk your walk.
Make sure the department as a whole is healthy, experts say. For example, Phelps makes sure members of underrepresented groups feel welcomed by holding discussions about the importance of diversity issues, including the benefits and challenges; helping to sponsor campus-wide activities related to diversity; and designing curricula and research teams that emphasize diversity and multicultural views. "We try to put our money where our mouth is," she says.
The good feeling of hiring shouldn't end there, Hirshman agrees.
"The end of the recruitment process is the beginning of the retention process," he says.
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