PSU Mark
Eberly College of Science Mathematics Department

Tenure-Line Faculty Search Process Guidelines




This document, which is based on a similar one available at MIT, is intended to help faculty members and search committees in the Penn State (University Park) mathematics department as they seek to find and persuade world-class scholars to become part of the Penn State mathematics community.  Our goals are

  • With every hire, to improve the overall quality of the department.
  • In the long term, to recruit a faculty that will place our department securely among the top twenty research departments in the nation
  • With every search, to represent our department to all candidates, whether successful or not, as an attractive, welcoming and vibrant mathematical community.

Prospective faculty colleagues should be viewed as prospects who we are courting. In addition to learning about their strengths and accomplishments, we also need to tell them about Penn State and the values that we prize. We should not assume that they know everything about Penn State that might be important to them, and we should take pains to ferret out and dispel any misconceptions they may harbor about Penn State. This handbook is intended to help us to make sure that all prospects emerge from the search process holding Penn State in higher regard than they did before the contact was initiated, and to increase the likelihood that the person to whom an offer is extended will accept that offer.




The mechanics of the search process involve:

  • defining the search
  • appointing the search committee
  • advertising the position
  • outreach
  • reviewing applications
  • interviewing a short list of candidates
  • recommending a final candidate to the department head and the dean
  • oversight/review

The following sections describe appropriate search practices for each aspect of the search.




  • Develop specific hiring goals. Get consensus on the areas of specialty and other specific requirements. Develop a clear position description.
  • Write advertisements to conform with HR and AA requirements.  Note:  See HR11 for Penn State affirmative action policies.  Advertisements should be developed by July in order to appear at an early date in Notices AMS.
  • Develop a realistic timeline for recruiting applicants and interviewing candidates, working backwards from a target completion date.
  • Establish a system for managing records, including nominations, applications, letters to candidates, affirmative action forms, and search committee notes.  (Much of this is handled by MathJobs)
  • Document how the committee will actively recruit women and minorities. At least one member of the committee should be assigned the specific responsibility to see that an active search for minorities and women candidates is carried out.
  • Discuss confidentiality issues with committee members and faculty members in the department.




The search committee for a position consists of the members of the standing Personnel Committee afforced by other faculty members who bring specialist expertise in the area of the hire.  These additional members of the search committee will be appointed by the department head, having regard to the advice of the Personnel Committee.  All search committees will be chaired by the department head.


  • Include individuals with different perspectives and expertise
  • Identify at least one member who will serve as an advocate for women and minorities.
  • Identify at least one member who will serve as an advocate for the instructional mission of the department.
  • Determine how the committee will communicate with each other, the campus community, and with candidates.
  • Identify departmental staff member(s) who will support the committee in its work and manage the MathJobs process.  Note.  All committee members will be issued individual MathJobs user accounts.  Any tenure-line faculty member may request such an account in order to contribute to the reviewing process.




  • Advertise the position for at least 30 days in an appropriate print medium.
  • Include language required by law.
  • Advertise in appropriate online media (newsgroups, math websites, departmental website, academic job sites)
  • Consider advertisements specifically targeted at a more diverse audience


Conventional advertising methods are valuable but can never be as effective as personal contact. Search committee members and department faculty should take every possible opportunity to make personal contact with potential candidates at professional meetings/conferences.


We will develop a database of promising potential candidates who we may recruit when the time is ripe.  These could be PhD students within a year or so of graduation, postdoctoral fellows, researchers in industry or academia, or untenured faculty at other institutions.




  • Develop selection criteria: e.g., research ability; references; performance in seminar; pedigree; ability to interact with colleagues at Penn State. Note that neither age nor personal circumstances are appropriate criteria.
  • Ensure the criteria are applied consistently for all candidates.
  • Guard against the “moving target” syndrome: changing the requirements as the search proceeds in order to include or exclude particular candidates.
  • Our advertisement normally states that “outstanding candidates from all areas of mathematics will be considered.”  The search committee will set a high standard in considering applicants from outside the search area.  In order to reach the shortlist, an out-of-area candidate should be prima facie manifestly superior to all shortlisted in-area candidates.
  • Obtain references before selecting the short list.  (These will have been provided automatically through MathJobs)
  • Develop a consistent process for checking references.  
  • Include all search committee members in the evaluation process.
  • Select a short list of candidates.  We have done this in a two-stage process; first, obtaining a short-list of ten or so candidates for a particular position; then, reducing this to an “interview list” of three or four.
  • (ADDED 2012) The "short list" and the "interview list" are to be forwarded to the Dean's office where they will be personally reviewed by Dean Larson.  The purpose of this review is to ensure that female and minority candidates have had every opportunity to be included in the interview process.  No interview invitations may be issued until this review is completed.
  • The Committee may solicit additional references for shortlisted candidates, including references from reviewers not named by the candidate.


Each candidate on the interview list is assigned a “faculty advocate” or “host”.  (It is permissible that the same person be “advocate” for more than one candidate.)  The faculty advocate will usually be a member of the search committee, but can be any faculty member. The key criterion is that the advocate must be able to explain clearly and convincingly to a department meeting the depth and significance of the candidate’s work and the reasons why s/he would make a positive difference to our department.  If no faculty member is willing to advocate for a candidate in this way, then the candidate is inappropriate for interview.


The following are some of the duties of the faculty advocate/host:

  • Bring the candidate to the attention of other relevant departments or researchers in the college of science or elsewhere, and make sure that interested parties are aware of the schedule of the candidate’s visit and have an opportunity to meet with him/her.
  • Act as a point of contact for the candidate while scheduling the interview visit.  (Department staff will assist in arranging accommodations, etc)
  • Present the candidate’s work to a department meeting (prior to the interview) and be willing to discuss it and answer technical questions.  The presentation should explain the specific positive contribution that this candidate would make to our department.
  • Host a dinner or social event for the candidate during his/her visit; arrange other opportunities for department members to meet with the candidate as required.
  • Provide a candid expert assessment of the candidate’s performance at interview.




Components of our interview visit will include

  • Seminar presentation
  • Lunch/dinner (hosted by the “faculty host” for the candidate, see above)
  • Meeting with Department Head
  • Meeting with the Dean or his/her representative
  • Meeting with administrative assistant (Mary Anne) to provide Penn State employment information
  • Formal committee interview (by the entire search committee)
  • Opportunities to meet with individual search committee members and other faculty members
  • Other opportunities can be offered as appropriate: e.g. opportunity to discuss AA/climate issues with appropriate representatives, real estate tour, social/cultural activities, etc.




  • Educate faculty on fair pre-employment enquiries
  • Arrange the visit carefully in order to make a good impression
  • All faculty are encouraged to send comments on the candidate to the search committee.  A brief rating form can be developed for this purpose.




  • After all candidates for a given position have been interviewed the search committee will meet and make a recommendation.  The recommendation should be in the form of an ordering of the candidates interviewed together with an indication (yes/no) of whether the committee feels that each one meets the criteria of excellence for our department.
  • The department head and the dean will make the final decision and extend the formal offer.  Salary and conditions of employment are negotiated by the department head and do not fall within the purview of the search committee.
  • If no candidate is found to meet the required standard of excellence, an offer will not be extended.
  • If the first choice candidate declines an offer, an offer may be made to another candidate but the search committee will be reconvened to discuss this.  We will not automatically “go down the list”.
  • The department head will personally call all applicants who were interviewed but not selected as soon as the candidate selected has accepted the offer or the search is terminated. Follow up with a formal letter.




A formal report on the search will be prepared as soon as it has been concluded.

The search report should include a serious written discussion of the relative merits of the candidates, especially the women and minority candidates. Searches that do not identify women and minority candidates may be viewed skeptically by the Dean.


Mary Anne prepares data on the search for Affirmative Action purposes.  Such data should be prepared as soon as possible after the conclusion of the search, and included in the written report.


JR 8/28/08