The Integrated Interview – Re-thinking the Faculty Hiring Process

Basic Skills Committee Chair
ASCCC Vice President

At the Academic Senate’s Student Success: Basic Skills Across the Curriculum Institute, one breakout was on hiring faculty and what we can do to ensure that we hire the “right” faculty – whomever that might be. While a discussion of the how and what to do was planned, what emerged from this interactive breakout was a new concept – viewing the faculty hiring process, from beginning to end, like a really good course outline – integrated, purposeful, comprehensive, and explicitly planned. While the presenters and attendees explored this concept in some detail, an overview is probably needed to help the rest of you follow our train of thought.

Like a course outline of record, the interview process has many parts – parts that we often do not explicitly and thoughtfully link together. Prior to even developing the description for a hire, we should begin by developing clear objectives. We’re always very good about explaining what we want a new hire to teach and how we want him or her to appreciate the diversity of our students. But how often are we clear about what it means to fit into our campus culture? And, more importantly, how well do we design the rest of the interview/hiring process to facilitate achieving our desired outcomes?

Developing objectives. The first things to consider and determine are your hiring objectives. Ideally, the discipline faculty or the department would meet and have a serious dialogue about who this person needs to be – both objectively and subjectively. What strengths does the new hire need to have? What particular challenges will he or she face? What perspective might be needed in the department? The development of the objectives should be the product of extensive dialogue such that the whole committee has a common understanding of what characteristics are desired in this new faculty member.

The next challenge is crafting the job announcement to capture the objectives. Aside from your college’s required information on each faculty vacancy announcement, the discipline faculty/department must decide what minimum qualifications are expected from a candidate and what desired qualifications the ideal candidate possesses. To broaden the pool of applicants, you may only wish to have the standard minimum qualifications from the Discipline’s List. Depending on the position, however, more rigorous minimum qualifications than stipulated by the List may be desired. If your new hire needs to have particular experience, a license or certificate in a particular area, or be bilingual, these supplemental criteria may be used. After determining the minimum required qualifications, a determination of desirable qualifications should be made. Your desirables, as well as your minimum qualifications, should clearly connect to your objectives. In the context of the integrated interview, your “desirables” are the course content that supports and is necessary to achieve the course objectives. Committees should identify the desirables that, when teamed with the minimum qualifications, will result in a candidate that meets the characteristics of your ideal candidate.

Assessing the candidates – application materials. After establishing objectives and describing what you are looking for, the next step is determining how you will assess candidates in terms of the stated objectives. What should applicants submit? Once you have objectives and your announcement, you need to consider how you will evaluate your candidates – both on paper and in the actual interview. This is where we often lose that notion of “integration.” What is wanted in a candidate is often not linked to the information the candidates submit or to the questions asked in the interview. Do you request that applicants submit answers to supplemental questions that are directly linked to the characteristics you desire in the person that is hired? When you request supplemental answers be submitted, be sure that the questions asked will give you the information you want. The committee should discuss ideal answers to the questions to help determine if the question will result in providing the information it wants to know about each candidate.

Assessing the candidates – interview questions. The next phase of “assessment” is determining what interview questions should be asked and what form the interview should take. After determining what each candidate will submit, the committee needs to develop interview questions. This process should be completed prior to reading the applications so that the content in the applicants’ packets does not, even subconsciously, guide the questions you ask. If you tend to use standard questions from the interviews of the past, do you know if they were useful? Tracking the utility of elements of the hiring process makes a lot of sense – but do we do this? If not, doing so is highly encouraged. If a question has not been useful in the past, it continuing to use it borders on inane. And if a question works out really well, shouldn’t you record that for posterity? And then the interview questions – do they have anything to do with your objectives? As the questions for the interview are developed, the committee should refer back to the original list of objectives (i.e., characteristics you are looking for). What questions should you ask to continue building on the information you need from each applicant? Discuss if the question is written to get you the information you really want from the candidates. Are they sufficiently focused, yet open enough, to elicit the best potential answer? Every attempt should be made to ensure that questions you ask relate directly to the objectives you set for the faculty hire and thus should relate to the minimum and desired qualifications.

Further, you should explore the format of the interview process. Will the applicant complete a teaching demonstration? If so, you need to develop a prompt that addresses your objectives. Will candidates do another task, such as write a letter to a student that is unhappy with his or her grade? It is important to constantly consider what you need to know about a candidate and what a candidate needs to be able to do to ensure that she or he is the best person for your college and meets the objectives.

After applications are received, campuses have many different processes for determining the completeness of the information received and if an applicant meets the minimum qualifications. The initial screening ideally culls out applications that are clearly incomplete but does not eliminate any applicant for other reasons that may not be substantive. While this is typically a Human Resources function, if there are concerns about the process, additional information should be sought – what were the reasons some applications were screened out at this early phase?

Before the committee reviews the applications, there should be a process in place to make sure that the criteria used during the paper screening process clearly links back to the objectives that were established. Is there a component of the paper process that begins delving beyond academic preparation and experience and starts exploring the candidate further? Are the candidates’ answers to the supplemental questions assessed for content? The ideal answers that were developed with the questions should be used as a guide when reading the applications. Remember that the questions were developed to specifically assess the characteristics that were wanted in the ideal candidate. The candidates’ responses should provide this information to the committee. Also, determine if some questions should be weighted more heavily than others. During this first screening phase, how many of the stated objectives are assessed? Are you careful to prioritize screening criteria in a manner that is both appropriately inclusive and exclusive? It is imperative that you are clear about your criteria so that you do not lose sight of your goal to hire the candidate that has the characteristics that you need and want. Some sort of rating form or assessment form is helpful in this process when it is completed by each committee member for each application. Every attempt should be made to have the assessment of each application be directly related to your already developed objectives. The committee should consider the objectives when making a determination about whom to interview. It is important to remember that you want the best person that meets your stated objectives; it might be better to interview someone and further explore the person’s qualifications if your have doubts.

Assessing the objectives – the interview. This is probably the most important assessment you make– this “method of evaluation” should be clear and systematic. It is important that the committee is able to focus on each interview and how the candidate meets the objectives or how the candidate does not. This is not the time to change objectives because you “really like” a candidate. You have engaged in a thoughtful process this far, so stay focused on what is needed in that department and at your college. Consider your interview process – is it designed to identify the candidate that really meets your objectives? Or is it so mechanical and planned – and predictable – that it yields little information? As the pace of hiring slows due to the current fiscal crisis, why not re-visit and perfect your processes? If we are looking at adding few faculty to our ranks in the years to come, why not ensure your process is designed to ensure the best hire possible?