The strategic search is a key tool for delivering inclusive academic recruitment with the aim to reach the broadest possible pool of suitable candidates. It is an active process that identifies and engages candidates with the requisite experience and skills to meet the specific requirements of the role.
This section outlines the practical steps to conduct a strategic search.
- Identify a designated Search Lead
The department/faculty and college should identify a member of the Selection Panel as the
Search Lead. This will often be the Chair, but this responsibility can be delegated where appropriate, e.g. if the Chair is not a subject specialist.
- Agree a broad scope for the strategic search
For academic posts, the search should always be international, and should aim to include as many continents as feasible. The broadest search provides the greatest opportunity to identify diverse candidates. The Search Lead should also consider candidates at universities other than the usual places of interest, or those with non-traditional career histories including time outside academia.
- Consult with the selection panel and others with knowledge of the field
The Search Lead should consult with all panel members to seek suggestions and recommendations of potential candidates to approach. When requesting recommendations, emphasise the importance of considering diverse candidates. The Chair should take particular care to ensure under‑represented groups (e.g. women and/or black and minority ethnic) have been included in the search.
Additional parties outside of the Selection Panel should also be consulted. These may include the following:
- department/faculty colleagues
- external experts in the field
- academic and professional networks
(including specific networks for under-represented groups)
- interest groups/think tanks
- contacts in industry
At the end of the scoping stage, the Search Lead should provide a list of names, usually with accompanying biographical notes or links to online profiles.
Departments/faculties may wish to maintain a rolling list of potential candidates for academic posts, which should be reviewed periodically to identify any new names, taking into account the guidance above. This list can then be reviewed when a post is released, to see whether there are any candidates who meet the specific requirements of the post.
The Chair should facilitate a meeting of as many panel members as possible, to review the list of names gathered at the scoping stage and to agree which candidates should be approached and by whom (the Head of Department/Faculty Board Chair, the Search Lead, or another member of the panel who knows the potential candidate). Any panel members who cannot attend or otherwise take part in the search meeting should be invited to submit their views by other means.
The chair should take responsibility for challenging any bias in this initial review of the proposed search list. The search may be continued if that is considered desirable in the light of the number of individuals identified, their quality, or their diversity.
Approaching candidates (active search)
Messaging about the role and the department/faculty/college’s commitment to diversity should be consistent in all communication with candidates, whether through the advert and further particulars or via personalised approaches.
The assigned contact for each of the names on the search list should make the initial approach. Frame the tone of the approach to balance engagement and expectations. You can offer support and encouragement to candidates, but reinforce that the recruitment is a competitive process and there is no guarantee of progression to the interview or offer stage.
[Suggested template wording for approaching potential candidates will be added to these guidelines when available.]
- Consideration of additional candidates
It is common for names of additional potential candidates to emerge during the active search phase, e.g. when a candidate who is approached indicates that they do not wish to apply, but recommends someone else for the panel to consider. The Chair should share any additional names confidentially with the selection panel, for them to decide whether they should be added to the search list.
Reporting and analysis
- Complete the search report
The template search report (link here) should be used to record those candidates who have been approached. The Chair may wish to use this at the shortlisting meeting to monitor the success of the search, i.e. how many candidates who were approached went on to apply.
NB The Chair may decide to extend the search period if the quality and/or diversity of the applications is not deemed to be sufficient.
The search report also provides a mechanism to capture the reasons why candidates decided not to apply. Over time, this may help to identify if any particular groups are being deterred from applying, and help when defining and advertising future roles.
- Contact with unsuccessful candidates
Where an individual has applied following an approach during the searches but is unsuccessful at the shortlisting stage, it is good practice for the Search Lead (or designated contact) to include a brief personalised note with the rejection letter. These candidates may well have future contact with the department/faculty, so it is vital to ensure that they have a positive experience of the recruitment process, whatever the outcome. For unsuccessful candidates at the interview stage, it is recommended to provide feedback against the selection criteria, again accompanied by a personalised note where appropriate.
Departments/faculties may wish to pay particular attention to second-choice or lower candidates who were deemed appointable at the interview stage. It may be appropriate to ask these candidates if they might be interested in applying for other positions in the future [see ongoing searches], and/or explore ways to maintain contact with them through departmental/faculty events.