July 2016

Job Searches

Perhaps the only good news in the state’s inability to pass a budget is that restrictions on spending have also resulted in fewer job searches. You may have noticed the monthly Academic Search Update is smaller. For budget-related reasons, the campus imposed a brief moratorium on hiring civil service employees. And of course you may be feeling this tailing off of activity in the number of search committees on which you serve. After a sustained and probably unprecedented period of hiring, this is a good opportunity to take stock.

The Library’s search processes are admirably rigorous and well-structured, and the conclusions we reach are thoughtful and well-documented. In recent years, I met with the University’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Access (ODEA), as well as members of the Diversity Realized at Illinois Visioning Excellence (DRIVE) committee, and they both praised our efforts.

Our success in hiring requires us to be continuously attentive to ways that we can improve. In the recent past I’ve discussed several topics with our search committees.

  • Avoid prescriptive position requirements. It’s important for us to be thoughtful and clear about what it takes to do a given job, but being too specific eliminates individuals who have the potential to adapt and sometimes sends the wrong message. It’s often the case that a specific skill (e.g., a specific programming language or cataloging framework like RDA) can be acquired on the job, and that a related skill provides evidence of a candidate’s ability to succeed. Our flexibility and judgment are critically important in these processes.
  • Small pools are almost always a problem. A relatively small pool of candidates diminishes the opportunity for us to have a diverse pool of candidates and may limit our ability to hire the best possible candidate. A small pool is likely to reflect an overly specific job description and may be the result of a posting that gave potential candidates the wrong impression (e.g., that there is an internal candidate). I’ve asked a number of search committees to re-open searches to develop a larger pool of candidates. While I am very concerned about small pools of candidates, I also recognize that the exception may prove the rule: sometimes a small pool is the right pool.
  • Diversity in hiring makes us a stronger organization. We strive for diversity for many reasons. For example, it’s important for our employees to be able to see the diverse culture they come from reflected in the workplace. We need to recognize, too, that diversity gives us organizational strength. I worked for a short time with Scott Page, a political scientist whose research focuses on complex systems. Scott’s research demonstrates that groups that display a range of perspectives outperform groups of like-minded experts.
  • We must use our institutional systems to help us perform better. Although we may feel constrained by the apparatus the system imposes on hiring, that same apparatus can be a tool to improve our processes. For example, even though the information we receive about candidates does not include their race or ethnicity, ODEA now provides us (at our request) information about qualified candidates who meet diversity goals. That feedback loop can be helpful in expanding our pools of finalists.

Hiring processes are challenging, but, as an organization, we are doing well and we continue to adjust and improve. We should continue to adapt. For example, I am keenly aware of the need to find ways to promote from within (and our AP promotion process should give us more tools for that), and this need should be balanced with the other criteria I’ve laid out here.

John Wilkin
The Juanita J. and Robert E. Simpson Dean of Libraries and University Librarian