Joey Williams is the director of communications in the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost at the University of Texas at Austin and Henry Tijerina III is a digital project manager.
Colleges and universities have become some of the world's most adept marketers — when it comes to recruiting students. They invest heavily in building brands that entice students and position themselves for consumer rankings.
But when it comes to recruiting faculty, the lifeblood of the institution, colleges haven't approached it with the same level of rigor and intentionality. And perhaps with good reason. Academics are discerning, independent thinkers that bristle at the thought of marketing, right?
As it turns out, marketing, a field that academics view with high levels of skepticism and sometimes outright mistrust, may hold the potential to help university leaders strengthen their faculty workforce.
Finding the right faculty to fit every niche is difficult. Faculty positions are in higher demand than ever before in a competitive global market. Hundreds of applications are submitted for many open positions, resulting in hiring processes that frustrate decision-makers and applicants alike. To give just one example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology can receive as many as 400 applications for every open engineering assistant professor position.
The push to close equity and diversity gaps is putting additional pressure, with good reason, on search and hiring committees. At the same time, faculty job-seekers face difficult trade-offs as they try to strike a balance between location, research interests and opportunities for tenure and promotion.
Against this backdrop, institutions are searching for a competitive edge. They need to stand out to attract and hold the attention of promising candidates. It may not be enough to sit back and wait for faculty applicants. To address these talent gaps and recruit the faculty talent needed to compete for grants, funding and students, colleges must think like marketers.
In 2017, the University of Texas at Austin launched a successful universitywide recruitment campaign with the goal of increasing brand awareness among prospective faculty, raising traffic to our careers portal, and growing and diversifying candidate pools.
Here are three marketing pillars that can help university leaders attract, identify and hire excellent and diverse faculty in a competitive market.
Build a brand
The hiring process does not begin when a department head realizes she needs to start the search for a new faculty member. Selling the institution as a whole is just as important as selling an individual position to a potential candidate. That sort of brand building needs to start earlier and come from the top.
The key to effective marketing begins with authenticity in the institution, its people and its role in society. Build your creative messaging around selling your institution as a great place to work, and direct potential faculty to your job board for any relevant job openings.
UT Austin's institutional tagline is "What Starts Here Changes the World." For this campaign, the university leveraged a modified version in digital and print advertisements: "Together, We Change the World." And when prospective job candidates arrived at the university's jobs website, they were greeted with messaging consistent from the ads.
Branding and advertising is the first impression many candidates will have of your institution — make sure it counts.
Consistency is key
The more consistent you make the hiring experience — from print advertisements to social media and job postings — the more likely potential candidates will believe you are being thoughtful and deliberate about your recruitment.
It's also important to remember that the staff who create job postings are likely not marketing experts. The institution should provide guidance and training on standardized position titles, formatting and effective job descriptions. Like a news organization or a marketing firm, it may be helpful for the university to create a clear style guide that staff can easily refer to when creating job postings.
From job titles to abbreviations, be consistent with stylization across departments and job types. Job postings should be clearly tagged with rank, title and tenure status.
Measure what matters
It is vital that an institution integrate marketing analytics into the search process. For example, an early goal was to grow our application pools. To do this, we needed to drive more traffic to the website, and improve the rate of visitors who started and completed the application process.
We have increased the number of visitors by more than 60% since we began our campaign in 2015. We now track and compare the application success rate of website visitors from different job boards to determine their relative effectiveness. This helps inform how we fine-tune and allocate our resources each year.
These are a few examples of how we support faculty searches. They also demonstrate the impact of these efforts for cost-conscious institutional leaders and other stakeholders. Institutions should use software that can help determine how they acquire and drive traffic to their job positions, and collect metrics about who engages in the application process.
You can also survey new incoming faculty about how they found their job, as well as their impression of the hiring experience. We surveyed recent cohorts of new faculty, asking them how they discovered their position, whether they experienced any pain-points during the hiring process and what their perceptions of the university were prior to their career here. Our goal is to track the entire hiring journey of our new employees.
Together, this insight allows institutions to continuously improve their campaigns, jobs board and hiring tools. And it's important that the platforms used are nimble enough to allow for quick reactions to marketing insights. In our case, we work with Interfolio, which allowed us to do just that.
It is a challenging time for institutions and job-seekers alike. But it is also an opportunity for institutions to use modern marketing to attract and recruit prospective faculty in an increasingly diverse and global pool of candidates. Finding top faculty talent will require institutions to rethink how they approach the recruitment process, and to embrace their inner marketer.