Foundations for Effective Recruiting: A Chair’s Perspective
The Facebook post showed three smiling young faculty members standing next to a departmental banner. The caption ready simply “We are recruiting!” What did this post tell us? So little. What was missing? So much.
Faculty and administrators may be investing a huge amount of time in recruiting. And yet these efforts can be ridden with problems: failure to consider the needs of today’s students, inconsistent messaging from within the department, inequitable distribution of effort in recruiting, and reluctance to abandon familiar but ineffective tactics.
When recruiting, many people want to start by creating visibility. This should be your last step. Think of it this way: you want prospective students to commit to your cause rather than join your club. Getting clarity about your cause requires that you establish your foundation or ROC—that is, your relevance, outcomes, and plan for collaboration—before you engage in visibility.
Engage in departmental conversations to establish consensus on these questions:
- Why do today’s students need your degree?
- What other majors combine well with yours to make a graduate especially compelling on the job market? How do you communicate these combined degree paths?
- How can you convince current students that persistence is worth the return on investment?
- How can you demonstrate that graduates are successful or fulfilled because they earned your degree?
- Are you cultivating and harnessing the commitment of your alumni in support of the future of your programs?
Your answers to these questions may begin with anecdotal evidence. To determine a course of action, you need more. Substantiate the stories with senior exit interviews and alumni surveys, custom data inquiries to institutional research, and content-rich events that connect current students with alumni who are making a difference in the field. Create an annual cycle of gathering and examining data points and cultivating connections. Only in this way will you be able to speak to prospective students in a convincing way.
Once you have determined why students need your degree and how it leads to success on today’s job market, determine how you will measure the outcomes of learning in your program. You may have already identified outcomes and be measuring these to fulfill accreditation requirements, but you may want to review them with the purpose of recruiting in mind.
Express your program outcomes in everyday language. You need to be able to communicate to students what they can do when they commit to your program. Students in turn must be able to convey with ease and clarity to friends, family, and prospective employers what they can do because they have earned your degree.
Make every effort to ensure consensus among faculty on desired outcomes for the program. While this may be a lofty goal, it is worth having the difficult conversations that lead to greater mutual understanding and appreciation within the department. Doing so lays the groundwork for more consistent outward communication. Involve all ranks and disciplinary tracks in these discussions. Set aside any divisions between lower-division or pedagogy faculty and senior research faculty. Just as the component parts of a curriculum must work together to provide a quality learning experience, so must the people who teach in each program when messaging about it.
This is where collaboration kicks in. If you didn’t have it before, you need it now. The structure of graduate education today can have the effect of encouraging faculty to be solitary soldiers. But this does not work for an academic unit that is building a future together.
- Labor should be shared and the work collaborative, even if this means that not everyone engages in the same activity in the same way. Make use of the varied talents of individuals while distributing the time on task as evenly as possible.
- Do not expect faculty to engage in recruiting efforts without making that part of the formula for service or another existing reward system.
- Do not allow recruiting to become the job of junior faculty. To do so is to support a caste system. Recruiting can be labor intensive, and it is essential to be respectful of the needs of junior faculty who will want to progress to promotion without unequal additional burdens on their time.
- To the extent that you can, make recruiting fun and social. Model best behaviors yourself. Create a social networking opportunity out of the recruiting event. Cast your faculty in the best light when you introduce them to others.
Having laid the foundation for clarity about identity and outcomes, you are ready to make your program more visible. Focus your efforts on these pillars of visibility:
- Faculty should engage in activities related to the relevance of your degrees for undergraduates. These might be applied uses of skills like those students acquire in the program or dissemination of research. Publicize these as a model for students who would choose your degree. For example, if a professor publishes the translation of a literary work, ask them to give a talk for undergraduates about translation both in the literary realm and in other fields..
- Your students are your best ambassadors. Share their successes as they occur. Examples of student successes you can share are research conference presentations, receipt of an internship or scholarship, or recognition on a national exam in the field. When students engage in service learning and create projects relevant to the community, publicize these. Create a student ambassador program and endow it with a small stipend from foundation funds to provide matching shirts and help compensate ambassadors for their time.
- Sing the praises of graduates who are using skills gained in your program in their careers. You can write up a short alumni spotlight for the university newsletter, invite a panel of alumni to speak, or even simply like or repost the LinkedIn announcement of a graduate’s promotion.
In this article, I have provided concrete ideas for the sequence of steps needed to build the foundation for a successful recruiting program. Engaging with your faculty on the components outlined here is likely to lead to quality dialogue and a fresh approach.
Laura G. McGee, PhD, served most recently as head of the Department of Modern Languages at Western Kentucky University. Under her leadership, the department nearly doubled the number of its languages, programs, and majors. She now conducts program reviews and consults for LifeStories Matter LLC Intercultural Training and Coaching. In February 2023, she was placed on the Fulbright Specialist Roster for a period of three years. As a Fulbright Specialist serving a university abroad on a short-term consulting assignment, she will share her expertise in the areas of world languages program development and higher education administration.