The aim in faculty hiring is to recruit the very best among available candidates in any given field. The college wants to bring to Cornell persons who are highly educated, broadly interested, and committed to meeting the complex challenges of membership in the faculty at a small liberal arts college. In addition, the college wants to engage individuals whose ideas about teaching and learning are sufficiently flexible and imaginative to take full advantage of the block plan.

Cornell's published guidelines for faculty appointments (see the Faculty Handbook) are in keeping with this general aim. Moreover, in keeping with the Equal Opportunity / Affirmative Action program, Cornell must ensure equal opportunity in employment and education regardless of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, age, national origin, or disability. This policy can be found in the Faculty Handbook and on the Human Resources website.

Searches for tenure track and other full-time faculty positions are coordinated through the Office of Academic Affairs, and more specifically by the Assistant Dean. Chairs are encouraged to begin work on tenure track searches no later than early September in order that appointments can be made by February or March. Searches for tenure-track appointments will not be conducted after March 1.

Why searches are so important

It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of searches to the department and the college, most especially searches for tenure-track faculty. Given how small our departments are, one person constitutes a sizable percentage of a department's identity and activity-in some departments as much as 50%. Each person in the department affects the success of the program, and a new person will invariably bring change to the department. It's really important that you learn enough about the candidates to anticipate what those changes might be, and that the department is enthusiastic about the contributions (including changes) that this person will bring. A search is about shaping the department, not just adding a person. Even if a department wanted to replicate exactly a person who's just retired or left for another job, this is never possible. Each search provides the opportunity for a department to think again about mission and identity, about new perspectives or approaches that might be brought in, as well as any common characteristics you would like to preserve. Because departments are so small, searches may be few and far between. This is all the more reason to see each search as an opportunity to diversify the department. Diversity in terms of gender, race, class, ethnicity, and region of country are important, as well as the obvious characteristics of field, methodology, intellectual perspective, or type of graduate training. The college is sometimes able to make "affirmative action hires" outside of a normal search process. See "Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Program for Cornell College" in the Faculty Handbook for policy details. As with any hire, an affirmative action hire must be carefully coordinated with the Office of Academic Affairs.

Searches are a great deal of work, but the stakes are high, so it's worth it. A search can even be fun, particularly the intellectual stimulation of talking with people newly immersed in their fields and the camaraderie of working closely with colleagues on an important task. The prospect of gaining a new colleague-something that may not happen very often-can also be exciting in itself.

Requesting approval to conduct a search

The comments that follow all have to do with tenure-track positions. For advice about hiring sabbatical replacements and other visitors, see the relevant sections in "The Day-to-Day Tasks." 

There are three circumstances that can result in a request for a tenure-track hire:

  • a tenured faculty member is about to retire
  • a tenure-track or tenured faculty member is leaving the college (either from their own desire or from a non-renewal of contract)
  • the department perceives a curricular- or enrollment-driven need for an additional tenure-line

When a tenure line is vacated, do not assume it will be filled without justification from your department. The department must submit a formal justification and proposal to the Committee on Administration, after consultation with the Dean. The procedure is described in the section of the Faculty Handbook entitled "Procedures: Initial Appointment of Faculty"; more detailed proposal guidelines are provided in the "Vacancy Review Procedures" document, approved annually by the Faculty Committee on Administration and available from the chair of that committee. The proposal requires departmental enrollment data, which may be obtained from the Office of Institutional Research.

What makes for a strong proposal?  It will be similar for each of the above circumstances, but you can expect the bar to be higher in the case of addition of a new line. On the other hand, no matter how obvious it may seem to you that an existing tenure line needs to be filled again, a case has to be made that will be convincing to others. Each opening can be an opportunity to think about college-level priorities, while the department is understandably thinking of departmental priorities.

The proposal should come out of discussions within the department, and a draft (most likely written by you) should be circulated through the department for comments. The Dean and/or the Chair of the Committee on Administration may be willing to look at drafts, making suggestions that may enhance the likelihood the proposal will be approved.

Crafting the job ad

Your proposal to fill a tenure-track vacancy will include a draft of the job ad, composed collaboratively by the department. The type of ad will vary by department and by need. Sometimes a department is looking for very specific interests while in other circumstances a very open-ended description would be best. Check ads in your professional journal to get a sense of commonly used language and categories. Some disciplines have further requirements for the information that must be included. In addition to noting disciplinary requirements, the ad should note the desirability of interdisciplinary interests as a signal about the character of a college like Cornell (e.g., "Cornell College is committed to excellence in teaching and encourages interdisciplinary interests among its faculty").

One key element to take into account is how large the supply of candidates is in a given field. If the supply is very large-where an open-ended ad might generate several hundred applications-the department would probably be best off to define the job in such a way as to limit the number of applications. But sometimes the supply is small, and the ad has to be crafted more broadly. A middle ground, commonly used, is to make the primary field broad, and then list a number of preferred secondary interests. If leaving the description open ended, it can help to say that the strongest candidates will be those who complement the strengths of the current faculty. See sample ads in the appendix for examples of such language.

All ads require inclusion of the Cornell EO/AA statement concerning encouragement of applications from women and other underrepresented groups. See appendix for this statement, which appears on the Human Resources website. Also consult the Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Handbook, available on the Human Resources website.

Should your proposal be approved, the Office of Academic Affairs will place the ad, after consultation with the department regarding timing and choice of publications. The ad will be placed in the major job placement publication for your field, often now on the web as well as (or instead of) a print publication. National advertising, published in time for a reasonable lead time for applications, is central for insuring a wide pool of applicants; it is also necessary for complying with affirmative action procedures. The Office of Academic Affairs will also arrange for advertisements to be sent to major universities, and to departments that produce a large number of minority candidates. In addition to such national, public advertisement, it can be helpful to use personal contacts or more targeted communication to stimulate further applications. Anyone in the department can write to friends in major universities, asking them to mention the job to graduate students. An announcement can be placed on e-mail lists that are specialized by sub-field. The Office of Academic Affairs will arrange for the ad to be listed in the employment opportunities section of the Cornell website.

Role of retiring faculty member in search for his or her successor

The search process should be carried out by the continuing members of the department, from the meeting where the definition of the position is discussed through to reading files and formal interviewing. (The exception to this is in the case of a phased retirement: although the person retiring may be continuing in the department for a defined period of time, this person will be treated as other retirees with respect to  the search.) However, the departing faculty member may play a role in the search process, depending on the circumstances. For example, the departing person may have expertise that would be particularly helpful in judging the qualifications and accomplishments of candidates. In addition, the candidates may have questions which the departing person is uniquely qualified to answer. Accordingly, the specific role to be played by a departing faculty member should be determined on a case-by-case basis following consultation between the department and the Dean.

Planning out the search

Emphasize the importance of confidentiality regarding all information in the files and all departmental discussions about candidates. Go over search procedures with the department so that everyone is on the same page about how things will proceed. How will the files be managed and divided up (if at all)?  Whom would the department like to request as the outside committee members, and what will be their role in the search?  Who will be able to go to the convention for interviewing?  If convention interviewing is not possible, who will be in on phone interviews?  Will it be a conference phone call, individual, or both?  What will be the role of students in the search?  (See below for more detail on each of these steps.)

Internal candidates

It happens quite often that a person at Cornell on a visiting appointment applies for a tenure-track appointment in the department. This is necessarily an awkward situation, even when you have a very high regard for the person in the temporary position and hope that they rise to the top in the competition for the tenure-track position. Cornell's official policy on internal candidates is included as an appendix. Here, in addition, are some suggestions for dealing in a professional way with this circumstance-both preserving the integrity of the search and taking into consideration the feelings of your colleague who is applying for the job.

Talk with the person in the temporary position as soon as the ad for the job has been approved. It's important that they hear about the position from you, rather than from the job boards in your field. If you think they're an appropriate candidate for the job, encourage them to apply. If they're in the right field for the position, but you have doubts about how competitive they'll be in the search, you might temper the warmth of your encouragement, but it's best not to shut any doors; it would be outright illegal to suggest they not apply. Talk about what will happen as the search progresses; explain that they will be treated in the same way as external candidates, with the same interview events should they make the final cuts.

It sometimes happens that an internal candidate is not strong enough to make it into the pool of candidates to be interviewed. It can be tempting to include them in the interview pool as a "courtesy," but this would be a mistake. If the search committee agrees that this person does not measure up to others in the pool, it would be better to break the news sooner than to string them along through the rest of the search.

Explain that it is the custom at Cornell to ask internal candidates not to go to the talks of other candidates; that while such talks are understandably interesting from the perspective of the internal candidate, it is not fair to the other candidates and can be uncomfortable for the department also. Mention that you know it will be difficult for them to see the search progressing (something everyone else in the department will be involved in, but not them), and that it will be especially difficult for them if the job ends up going to someone else, but that you hope going forward with a professional attitude on both sides will help. Make sure you give them a chance to ask any questions they may have about how this all will work.

Another complication of this type of search is that students in the department may have strong opinions about the internal candidate. Encourage students to give you comments on all candidates for the position as they come to campus. Keep conversations with students about the candidates professional, holding back on casual conversation, which can be tempting on the subject of the candidate they know best. If the internal candidate doesn't get the job, and students are upset, explain that it was "a difficult decision."  Be open, but without telling them everything. You don't want to say something that would in any way damage the reputation of the internal (or other) candidates.


The Office of Academic Affairs will acknowledge each application and prepare a file for each candidate. If the number of applications is very large, there are ways to divide up the work so that not all search committee members have to read every file (even while they are welcome to do so):

  • the chair can make a first pass through all the files, setting aside files of people clearly inappropriate for the job, and putting the rest into two piles: "top candidates" (being very generous in this distinction) and "others in the running."
  • the whole stack can be divided amongst all search committee members, who perform a similar sort.

Even if such a preliminary sort is done, it should be made clear that all committee members are welcome to read all of the files.

Committee members should take notes on each candidate as they read, and should make an assessment of each candidate as they proceed. One method is to agree on a common rating system at the outset, so that rankings can easily be compared. For example:

         4 = definitely want to interview

         3 = a possible interview candidate

         2 = some good qualities, but probably not interview

         1 = definitely do not want to interview

An important reminder to those reviewing applications: Do not write on the applications themselves, as the documents may become evidence if for any reason a lawsuit were brought against the College.

Narrowing the list for preliminary interviews (at a convention or by phone)

Perhaps one of the most challenging tasks in the search is to narrow the list to those applicants (perhaps 10 or 12) who will receive a preliminary interview, either at the appropriate annual convention or over the phone. Convention interviews are usually preferred, but if the timing of the search doesn't allow for these, phone interviews should be done. It's probably best to have no more than three people from Cornell on the line. (The Office of Academic Affairs will set up the conference call. You can do such a call either with a borrowed conference phone-all the Cornell people in one room-or by linking up everyone at their separate extensions.) Once on the line, have each person introduce themselves, and then repeat one's name before asking a question or making a comment.

Convention interviewing

The Office of Academic Affairs will support the presence of two faculty members at professional meetings for the purpose of conducting preliminary interviews. Convention interviews are an enormous help in sorting out candidates. Among the ten who all looked terrific on paper, some, invariably, will not shine in person. The goal is to end up with three candidates who will be invited to campus for a full interview, and to have some back-ups if none of the top candidates work out. Frequently, Cornell faculty interview fifteen to eighteen candidates over two days. This is intense and interesting work, but also exhausting.

The Office of Academic Affairs will schedule interviews in consultation with the department, and will send candidates packets that include general information about the college. Some scheduling considerations:

  • Leave a little time between each interview so that you can jot down notes about the interview, compare opinions, read up on the next person, and stretch a bit.
  • Try to leave 90 minutes for lunch to allow yourself a decent break. Lunch places near the convention hall are also likely to be crowded.
  • Some departments prefer thirty-minutes for each interview, while other prefer forty-five. Schedule enough time to get a good sense of the candidate, but keep it short enough so that if the interview happens to bomb, you can make it through to the end comfortably. If you schedule fifteen minutes between interviews, this gives you some leeway if one or another interview goes a little longer than scheduled.
  • Leave the last five minutes for the candidate to ask questions.
  • Schedule in time after the final interview for search committee members to compare notes and come to a ranking of the candidates. It is much better to do this when candidates are fresh in your mind.

About questions to ask: It's important to have some questions that are asked of all candidates, as this gives easy points of comparison. Begin with a question that will be relatively easy for the candidate to answer, probably something about their dissertation (or the equivalent in non-Ph.D. fields). Be sure to ask about both research and teaching. Some candidates will assume that research is unimportant at a small liberal arts college, and it's important for them to know that we are very much interested in this part of their professional life. Some sample questions:


How would you describe the contribution of your research to the field?

What directions might your future research take?

In what ways might your research inform your teaching?


What courses do you most look forward to teaching?

How might/do you structure an introductory survey course in our field?

What assignments have you found most productive?

What is a mistake you've made in teaching that you've learned from?

The Field

What's been happening in [your field] in the last 10 or 20 years of special interest to you?

What scholar's work do you most admire?


What other interests, academic or otherwise, would you bring to campus?

On what kinds of college committees would you be interested in serving?
(By law, all questions must be job-related.)

After the convention, the department decides which three or four people to invite to campus. These names are then submitted to the Dean. The Dean will want to review candidate materials and confer with the chair prior to inviting candidates to campus. If in the chair's judgment no women or minority candidates qualify for this top group, the dean may also want to review the files of the best women and minority candidates in the larger pool. Candidates in this final screening group should be informed regarding their interview status as soon as decisions are made, and top candidates who are not to be interviewed in the first round should be given positive feedback and should understand that they are not completely out of the running. Some chairs prefer to make calls to candidates themselves, but the Office of Academic Affairs also regularly provides assistance with notifying candidates of their status.

Setting up the campus visit

When a firm decision regarding on-campus interviews has been made, the chair should work closely with the Assistant Dean in the Office of Academic Affairs to plan the on-campus interview schedule.

The Office of Academic Affairs will provide on-campus interviewees with the interview schedule and an information packet, including information about the college and community, prior to their arrival on campus. See the appendix for a sample candidate itinerary.

The search committee, initial meeting

All tenure-track search committees include several students and two faculty members from outside the department. The department gives a few names to the Assistant Dean, who makes the requests to serve. With respect to outside faculty, it's most helpful to have members who are connected to the discipline in some way, and whose judgment you will respect. You can also look to balance out the search committee on one or another factor. If all search committee members are tenured, it would be helpful to have someone more junior. If all are female, then someone male. You want faculty members (and students) who, when it comes time for the campus visit, will play a positive role in recruiting the candidates. It would be best to avoid those faculty members who have a particular stake in the outcome of the search (e.g., those who might be much more interested in one subfield than another).

With respect to student members, consider nominating five or six sophomores, juniors, and seniors, both men and women, who have been involved in the department in multiple ways and who are likely to make a good impression. (First-year students usually lack the experience necessary to provide a comprehensive view of the department and college.) Ask them to help in the search by attending the lunches, candidate talks, and organizational meetings. You can do this through an open call to majors for volunteers, direct solicitation of individuals, or some combination of the two. Stress that student participants must be available to attend all events.

Once membership has been determined, the Office of Academic Affairs will organize an initial meeting of the search committee. The College Affirmative Action Officer will attend and distribute the college's affirmative action policy. You will want to use this time to explain procedures, including the roles and expectations of outside faculty and students, and to introduce the candidates and their application materials.

The role of the outside faculty members

The role of the outside members can vary. The outside members do not go to the convention for interviewing, but should be involved in all aspects of the campus visit. When it comes time to decide on which candidate gets the offer, it is customary in some departments to allow the outside faculty and student members to vote (although decisions are as often decided on the basis of consensus rather than a formal vote); it is customary in other departments to vote after receiving input from outside members. Be sure to talk with both department members and the outside members early in the search process, so that there is agreement about the role of the outside members in the search.

Coaching students about their role during the campus visit

Explain to the students that they have (as do the faculty) a dual role in interacting with the candidate: we are evaluating the candidate, but we are also "selling Cornell" to the candidate; assessing and recruiting are both going on at once. Interviewees are strong candidates who may well have other options, so if the person looks good for Cornell, we want to let them know about what a good place Cornell has been for us-and might be for them. Of course we should also be honest about weaknesses where it is relevant-and perhaps even important-to mention them. But the general tone should be upbeat.

Emphasize to students that it is essential that they see all the candidates so that a comparative assessment can be done.

Encourage students to ask questions about each candidate's talk, either from the audience or during the reception following the formal question-and-answer time.

Campus visits always include a meeting with students familiar with the department, without faculty, often over lunch. For the purposes of comparison, encourage student to ask the same set of questions of each candidate, and perhaps to coordinate their questions in advance. The Affirmative Action Officer will stress that all questions must be job related, and will include a list of questions as examples that are off-limits (see the Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Handbook on the Human Resources website for examples). You might suggest questions students can use to get the conversation started. For example:

  • What would you be most interested in teaching?
  • What was your own undergraduate experience like?
  • What is your approach to teaching?
  • Have you directed any independent student work?
  • Are there any areas of your research in which students might also participate?

Alert students that the candidate might well ask them what they think about the department, and what they think about student life at Cornell.

All search members, including students, should record their responses to each candidate immediately after each visit, to keep visits from blurring together in memory.  Encourage students to record what positive contributions each candidate would bring to Cornell, as well as weaknesses. After all the visits have occurred, committee members will rank the candidates and note whether each candidate is acceptable or unacceptable. Explain that an "unacceptable" ranking is reserved for potentially serious problems. Let students know that once the position has been filled, whoever fills the position should be appreciated for what they uniquely bring to the college.

You may wish to discourage students from talking together about candidates before jotting down individual responses, and even before the final search committee meeting, as this can lead to "group-think." Explain that a diversity of responses can lead to a productive final discussion, and let students know that their comments and perspectives are extremely valuable.

Some guidelines for discussions with the candidate

Topics that are off limits: Discussions with the candidate while on campus should be wide-ranging; this is your chance to learn as much as possible about the candidate. But there are certainly topics that are off-limits-illegal. Even if you're really curious to know the person's marital status and whether a spouse/partner may be an issue in whether or not they would accept an offer from Cornell, any such personal questions are illegal. We may not ask about marital status, sexual orientation, whether the candidate has children or is planning on having children, religious affiliation, or physical handicap. (See below for appropriate questions in these areas once an offer has been made.)  If the candidate brings up such information, you can continue the conversation, but do not use this as an opening to probe further. If the candidate asks about possible employment for a spouse/partner, talk about the college's willingness to help when it can, supplying an example or two, but explain that discussions about this are best held just after an offer is made. The point is that our goal is to identify the best candidate for the job on the basis of their professional capabilities and their own personal qualities (e.g.,  curiosity, intelligence, etc.), not on the basis of our preconceptions of what might complicate the hiring process and/or the likelihood of a person's ultimate happiness at Cornell.

Describing the job, discussing courses to be taught: When talking with candidates during the campus visit, two tasks are sometimes at odds with each other: assessing the strengths of the candidate and selling the strengths of Cornell and of your department. The stronger the candidate, the more one is tempted to focus on the latter, and it is indeed a very important part of the visit. But it is also important to be realistic. Think carefully ahead of time-and discuss with colleagues-what the teaching responsibilities of the new person are likely to be. This can range from very fixed to very flexible. To what extent will the candidate be teaching directly in their field of specialization and to what extent outside it?  How much opportunity will there be for them to develop courses that would be entirely new to the Cornell curriculum?  Do not promise more flexibility than you are certain will be forthcoming, as it can be very discouraging to a new faculty member to experience more constraint in teaching than they were led to believe would be the case.

Exit interview: It is important for the chair to have a conversation with the candidate toward the end of the visit. It's often convenient to do this on the drive to the airport, but if someone else is doing that task, time should be set aside before the candidate leaves for an exit interview. Give the candidate a chance to ask any final questions they may have. Tell the candidate what you project to be the timetable for the search, and when to expect a phone call from you. (If you are uncertain how to handle these calls, the Office of Academic Affairs will be able to provide suggestions.) Be sure you have current contact information so that you can reach them easily in the next few weeks (e-mail address, cell phone), and ask if there's anything that affects their timetable. It's natural for us to be curious about details of other interviews, but there's no need to ask about specifics. What is relevant is the timetable. Ask the candidate to let you know if they receive any other offer; it is sometimes possible to give information in advance of a final decision (e.g., an offer has been made to someone else and you're waiting for an answer, or where the person stands on your short list).

Making the decision

Shortly after the last candidate's interview, remind each member of the search committee to send you written comments, including a ranking of the candidates, an indication of whether each candidate would be acceptable or unacceptable, and written comments identifying potential strengths and weaknesses of each candidate. These comments become part of the institutional record regarding the search and may be consulted if any questions arise following the hire.

The Assistant Dean will reconvene the search committee, and the Dean may wish to attend, and to share an opinion about the candidates.

In the best of circumstances, the search committee will find itself with a broad consensus, and the choice is easy. If there are strong differences of opinion, the decision may need to come to a vote.

Sometimes it happens that no candidate is considered appropriate for the position, or the offer(s) made to acceptable candidates are declined. The options in this event are:

  • ask the Dean for approval to bring in one or more additional candidates;
  • hire no one and plan to search again the following year;

When the search committee is ready with its recommendation for hiring, notify the Office of Academic Affairs in writing so they can confer with the President before an offer is made. Include a brief, written recommendation including the committee's rankings, a justification of the rankings, and an indication of whether each candidate is acceptable. This information will be important, should the first-choice candidate decline an offer.

If an offer is to be made, the dean and the chair will work together to negotiate with the candidate of choice to make the hire.

Should the candidate not be a U.S. citizen, extra work may need to be done by the College regarding visas and other matters. The Office of Academic Affairs has a good deal of experience with these matters and will assist the candidate.

The offer and its aftermath

Do not expect an immediate answer from a candidate to an offer. Of course it's great when they accept during the Dean's phone call, but candidates will often need time to think over the offer. They may have mixed feelings about the job, or they may be waiting to find out what happens with other potential employers. The Dean will extend a reasonable amount of time for the candidate to consider the offer, usually ten to fourteen days, depending on circumstances. Follow up the Dean's call with one of your own, a day or so later, to see if the candidate has any questions and to convey the enthusiasm of the department for this appointment. At this point, if issues about a candidate's personal situation come up-such as circumstances with a spouse or children-it is now fine to talk about it. You might want to initiate the possibility of such a conversation by asking: "Is there any way I can be of help as you make your decision?  Are there any factors in the decision that I could give you information about?"  If the candidate's partner/spouse is concerned about employment possibilities, ask for further information, including a c.v., and then talk with the Dean about any way the college might be able to help out.

The Dean might offer to bring the candidate and a family member to campus to help them make a decision. The department should be prepared to show the candidate around the area. It is a good idea to arrange a dinner with all members of the department, and perhaps family members, who can attend, to convey the department's collegiality and offer various perspectives on the area and college.

Between the interviews and the acceptance of an offer, you may get queries from other candidates, asking where they stand in the search. It is fine to be open with them about where you are in the search process, emphasizing (to any candidate who might still be a possibility if #1 says no) that the search isn't over until an offer is accepted, and that you would like to know if they get another offer and are still interested in Cornell. In the case of an internal candidate who made it to the final on-campus interview stage, and is still a potentially viable candidate, but who did not get the initial offer, here we recommend as a matter of courtesy that you initiate a conversation about the status of the search, rather than waiting for them to ask.

Do not consider the search completed until the offer has been accepted in writing. After a verbal acceptance over the phone, the Dean will send out an appointment letter. The candidate's written response to that letter seals the search. The Office of Academic Affairs will keep the search committee apprised of the search results in an ongoing way.

Once the position has been offered and accepted, it is important to call candidates who were interviewed on campus in a timely way. The Office of Academic Affairs will follow the call with a personalized letter. Even when rejected, candidates appreciate consideration, and will think well of Cornell if treated as such.

Retention of Search Records

The Office of Academic Affairs will retain individual applicant files for a period of three years and other records relating to the search for an indefinite period of time.

Search Expenses

All expenses relating to the search are covered by the Office of Academic Affairs. Paperwork should be routed through the Office of Academic Affairs for proper processing.

Spring search for housing

A hire might wish to visit Cornell in spring to search for housing and to reconnect with future colleagues. The College may pay in part for this visit. Consider organizing a dinner or other social event with departmental colleagues.