Case study

15 PhDs and Postdocs to the MECS Cluster of Excellence

The Cluster of Excellence, “Materials for Energy Conversion and Storage” (MECS), associated with TU Wien, University of Vienna, ISTA and University of Innsbruck (Austria), addresses the global energy crisis, aiming to eliminate reliance on fossil fuels through basic research and atomic process understanding. 

Case study

Background & Objectives

MECS aimed to bolster its research team by attracting top PhD and Postdoc talent in their field. To achieve this, they engaged Academic Positions, leveraging our expertise in academic recruitment marketing.

Objective #1

Attract additional qualified candidates from across Europe to join the MECS Cluster of Excellence.

Objective #2

Utilize a targeted and efficient recruitment marketing campaign to maximize visibility and applicant quality.

Objective #3

Connect with top global academic talent through our comprehensive recruiting platform.

Case Study

Our approach

Enhancing visibility and engagement for top PhD and Postdoc talent in energy materials science.

Detailed AUDIENCE Segmentation

A detailed audience planning and segmentation analysis was conducted to clearly define our target audience: MSc and PhD graduates interested in energy-related materials science research on doctoral as well as postdoctoral level.

Candidate-centric campaign design

By incorporating clear calls-to-action and informative job descriptions, we facilitated a user-friendly experience for interested candidates to reduce friction in the application process.

multi-channel promotion

Our promotion strategy expanded to an international scale, utilizing the Academic Positions Network and various social media channels to ensure widespread visibility.

continuous optimization

We closely monitored campaign metrics to understand engagement levels and refined our approach continuously to improve the campaign performance.

Case study

The outcome

The recruitment campaign for the MECS Cluster of Excellence achieved remarkable success, reaching over 35,000 individuals and prompting more than additional 200 candidates to start the application process. This wide-reaching effort culminated in the successful hiring of additional 15 highly qualified researchers, significantly enhancing the Cluster’s research team and capabilities.


Viewed the campaign


Started their application


People were hired

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With so much of the university recruitment process pushed online, hiring departments have access to more and better data than ever before. While you may be tracking statistics like the numbers of applicants, geographic information, and interview to placement ratios, knowing how to use this data is the key to optimizing your recruitment process. 

Data provides invaluable insights that can help you understand which aspects of your recruitment are working well and where you could make some improvements

Whether you work with an outside recruitment partner or rely on internal data, learning to measure your talent attraction lead to higher quality faculty and greater retention rates. 

Why Data is Valuable

So much of university recruiting depends on marketing your brand and creating greater visibility. These vital aspects of the hiring process however, are sometimes difficult to quantify. For example, a robust social media presence may not directly translate into more applicants immediately. However, over the course of a year or two, it could pay dividends as these social media strategies often target passive job seekers. 

Finding a way to measure your talent attraction with data points, helps you quantify and evaluate your recruitment success in a more tangible way. With concrete data across your most popular recruitment channels, universities can develop more effective means to attract and retain talent. 

Although you could try to pull this information together internally, working with an external recruitment partner with established means to collect data and interpret data can save your organization both time and money in the long run by improving your hiring efficiency.

How to Measure Your Talent Attraction Success

Benchmarking Data

Perhaps the most useful data regarding academic recruitment marketing is benchmarking data. Because university jobs have become so competitive, understanding how you rank against other schools puts you at a real advantage.

Benchmarking data allows your university to gauge where they rank in comparison to similar schools with similar open positions. Simply seeing how you stack up is essential to making improvements to your practices and processes. On reports like those provided by Academic Positions, you can toggle between metrics (like job type and job field) to see how you compare to all other universities in your country. Once you identify a weakness, you can turn those weaknesses into strengths.

You might see, for example, that while you have more pageviews on your PhD adverts than the average, your conversion rate is lower. Knowing candidates can find you but aren’t convinced to click through the advert and apply, will help you focus on improving the quality of your job descriptions rather than advertising you have an open position. This kind of knowledge will allow you to make smarter recruiting decisions that will ultimately save you time and money and set you apart from the competition.

Talent Interview Ratio

Your interview conversion rate tracks how many candidates you interview before filling the position. This is an important point because it helps you know how long it takes to fill open positions. If you find you’re conducting more than a few interviews and taking weeks to make a decision, perhaps there are weaknesses in your screening process that need to be addressed. 

Geographic Data

Geographic data can help you improve your future marketing budgets and potentially enhance your overall diversity initiatives. Knowing from which regions you have a high number of applicants can help you focus your efforts in those markets. Because there are rich applicant pools in those countries, these are areas where you will find highly qualified candidates. Conversely, you can use this information to try to attract applicants from more underrepresented regions.

Position popularity

By measuring pageviews per applicant and applications per advert your university can parse important data regarding the types of positions that are most popular. This data shows which jobs are in high demand and which perform well on your platform. Knowing which fields are most popular on your site allows you to think about whether you want to continue to target and invest in those fields, or focus on other fields to help them become more popular.  

Overviews of Website and Advert Performance 

A broad view of your overall recruitment strategies can help you set budget goals and prioritize your recruitment needs. An overview of data like alerts sent and the number of apply button clicks gives you a snapshot of your website’s overall performance. Seeing your most popular categories and publishing overview helps you make informed choices about moving forward. 

A recruitment partner who understands the value of data can provide these types of overviews to show your university the strengths and weaknesses of your current recruitment strategies. 

Managing and interpreting data can feel like an overwhelming and time consuming task. A recruitment partner with the know-how and experience to organize and evaluate the data generated from your recruitment processes will be an investment that will pay dividends in elevating your brand and the quality of your research.

In the dynamic landscape of academic recruitment, the year 2024 marks a pivotal point of transformation and progressive approaches. Embark with us on an enlightening exploration of the cutting-edge practices that are redefining the art of attracting talent in the academic sector.


The Symphony of Artificial Intelligence

The landscape of academic recruitment is witnessing a revolutionary transformation, predominantly driven by the advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation. Tasks that were previously labor-intensive and time-consuming, like resume screening and interview scheduling, now has the capacity to be executed with unparalleled efficiency. This evolution in the recruitment process not only streamlines operations but also allows recruitment teams to focus on more strategic and creative aspects of their roles. AI, in particular, is playing a pivotal role in revolutionizing the recruitment experience, significantly enhancing the way academic institutions engage with elite talent.

The adoption of AI in academic recruitment marks a substantial departure from traditional methods, paving the way for innovative practices that are reshaping the sector. AI-powered systems are equipped to handle recruitment processes with greater efficiency, accuracy, and a heightened focus on candidate experience. As of 2024, AI has the potential of becoming the cornerstone of academic recruitment, functioning as a sophisticated talent identifier. Its capabilities extend beyond mere administrative assistance; AI algorithms are now adept at analyzing resumes, predicting candidate compatibility, and navigating the complexities of talent acquisition with remarkable precision.

This technological advancement is transforming the recruitment landscape into a more candidate-centric, efficient, and strategic process. AI’s deep learning algorithms and predictive analytics enable a more nuanced and insightful approach to identifying and attracting top-tier academic talent. The integration of AI is not just about enhancing operational efficiency; it’s about creating a more engaging, equitable, and insightful recruitment process. Academic institutions are now leveraging AI to build a workforce that is not only highly skilled but also diverse and well-aligned with their evolving academic goals and values.


Global access, local impact

The trend of remote work in academia, as seen in 2024, is set to continue and evolve further. The focus on creating a strong digital infrastructure with robust cybersecurity measures will remain a priority. This is essential for protecting sensitive academic data, including groundbreaking research and personal information.

Guide: 8 Key Factors Shaping Academic Recruitment in 2024

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Guide: 8 Key Factors Shaping Academic Recruitment in 2024

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In the competitive landscape of academia, the quality of applicants for job positions can vary significantly, often influenced by a myriad of factors. Among these, the reputation and prestige of the institution, the clarity and attractiveness of the job description, and the offered salary, benefits, and location stand out as the most impactful. This essay explores how these elements combine to either draw in or deter high-caliber candidates in the academic job market.

The Magnetism of Institutional Prestige

At the forefront of attracting quality applicants is the reputation and prestige of the academic institution. Prestigious universities and colleges, known for their high academic standards and renowned research programs, naturally draw the attention of ambitious and accomplished academics. The lure of such institutions is multifaceted. Firstly, they provide a platform for enhanced visibility in the academic community, offering opportunities for professionals to associate their personal brand with a respected name in academia. This association can be a significant career booster, opening doors to further opportunities.

Moreover, prestigious institutions typically possess superior resources, both in terms of funding and infrastructure, which are critical for groundbreaking research and innovative teaching methods. The prospect of working with state-of-the-art facilities and ample research grants is a compelling draw for applicants who are keen to push the boundaries of their disciplines. Furthermore, these institutions are often staffed by eminent scholars, providing incoming academics with the chance to collaborate with leading minds in their fields. This environment is not only intellectually stimulating but also conducive to professional growth and networking.

The Role of a Well-Crafted Job Description

While the allure of an institution’s prestige is potent, the effectiveness of the job advertisement itself in attracting quality candidates cannot be understated. A well-written and clear job advert is instrumental in drawing applicants who are not only qualified but also a good fit for the role. Clarity in outlining the responsibilities, expectations, and qualifications required is key. It ensures that applicants have a precise understanding of what the role entails and what will be expected of them, thus aligning their skills and experience with the needs of the department.

Beyond the basic outlines of the job, the attractiveness of the role plays a significant role. Advertisements that highlight unique opportunities for career development, such as mentorship programs, collaborative projects, and professional advancement, are particularly appealing. Additionally, the presence of supportive working environments, including inclusive department cultures and resources for work-life balance, can make a position more desirable. These aspects signal to potential applicants that the institution values and invests in its staff, fostering a positive workplace environment.

Compensation, Benefits, and Location: The Practical Considerations

The practical aspects of a job offer, namely the salary, benefits, and location, are undeniably crucial in attracting high-quality applicants. Competitive salaries are a primary consideration, as they not only provide financial security but also serve as a marker of the value an institution places on its staff. In academia, where salaries can sometimes lag behind other sectors, a competitive offer can set an institution apart in the job market.

Benefits extend beyond mere financial compensation. Comprehensive benefits packages, including health insurance, retirement plans, and supportive policies for work-life balance, are increasingly important to job seekers. These benefits demonstrate an institution’s commitment to the well-being of its employees, making the job more attractive to quality candidates who are looking for a role that supports their long-term personal and professional goals.

Finally, the location of the institution plays a significant role. Universities situated in desirable locations, whether due to cultural richness, geographical beauty, or a vibrant academic community, have an advantage in attracting top talent. The location impacts the daily lives of the staff, affecting everything from commuting times to lifestyle choices and family considerations.

Attracting quality applicants in the academic job market is a complex interplay of factors, with the reputation and prestige of the institution, the clarity and attractiveness of the job description, and the compensation, benefits, and location being paramount. Prestigious institutions naturally draw high-caliber candidates due to their reputation, resources, and networking opportunities. However, a well-crafted job advertisement is essential in attracting applicants who are not only qualified but also well-suited to the role and the institutional culture. Finally, practical considerations like competitive salaries, comprehensive benefits, and a desirable location are critical in securing the interest of top-quality applicants. Together, these factors create a compelling proposition that attracts the best in the field, ensuring that academic institutions continue to thrive and evolve.

Recruiting top talent in academia is a nuanced and challenging process. The success of academic institutions largely depends on their ability to attract and retain exceptional faculty and researchers. Here are six tips for making academic recruitments more effective and successful:

1. Define Clear and Comprehensive Job Descriptions

The importance of a clear and comprehensive job description cannot be overstated. It serves as the first point of contact between the institution and potential candidates. A well-crafted description should not only outline the essential qualifications and duties but also convey the institution’s academic culture and priorities. It should detail the specific academic disciplines involved, the nature of the research expected, and the level of student engagement required. Moreover, highlighting unique aspects of the role, such as interdisciplinary collaboration opportunities or specialized research facilities available, can make the position more attractive. It’s also crucial to mention the expected contribution to departmental and institutional goals, which provides candidates with a sense of purpose and belonging.

2. Leverage Diverse Recruitment Channels

Diversifying recruitment channels is essential to access a wider talent pool, with academic job boards forming the core platform. Ensure that the job board’s audience aligns with the desired fields, qualifications, and geographical regions of your target candidates. Furthermore, Social platforms and even specialized academic networks, can extend the reach to passive candidates who may not be actively looking but are open to the right opportunities. Engaging with professional conferences and seminars, particularly those focusing on underrepresented groups in academia, can also be fruitful. Additionally, collaborations with industry partners can bring in professionals considering a transition to academia.

Building relationships with minority-serving institutions, women’s colleges, and international universities can diversify the applicant pool. This approach helps in reaching candidates with varied cultural and academic backgrounds, enriching the intellectual diversity of the institution.

3. Implement Structured Interview Processes

Implementing a structured interview process is key to ensuring fairness and objectivity in academic recruitments. This approach involves preparing a set list of questions that are asked of all candidates, focusing on their qualifications, research experience, teaching philosophy, and potential contributions to the department and university. Structured interviews help in systematically evaluating each candidate against the same criteria, reducing the influence of biases and personal impressions.

Additionally, it’s beneficial to train the interview panel on effective interviewing techniques and awareness of unconscious biases. Diverse panels, including members from different departments, backgrounds, and career stages, can provide a broad range of perspectives and mitigate individual biases. After interviews, panels should debrief and discuss each candidate’s strengths and weaknesses based on the predefined criteria, ensuring a balanced and comprehensive evaluation.

4. Focus on Candidate Experience

The candidate experience during the recruitment process can significantly impact an institution’s ability to attract top talent. A positive experience starts with clear communication about the recruitment process, timelines, and expectations. It’s important to keep candidates informed at every stage, from application acknowledgment to the final decision. Providing feedback, even to those not selected, can leave candidates with a positive impression of the institution.

During interviews and campus visits, it’s crucial to make candidates feel welcome and valued. This might include well-organized itineraries, opportunities to interact with future colleagues, and tours of the campus and local community. Additionally, offering insights into the institution’s culture, values, and strategic goals can help candidates assess their potential fit.

A candidate-centric approach also involves flexibility and accommodation in scheduling interviews and responding to individual needs, showing that the institution values and respects candidates’ time and commitments.

5. Emphasize Career Development Opportunities

In the competitive landscape of academic recruitment, highlighting career development opportunities can be a decisive factor for candidates. Institutions should showcase their commitment to faculty growth and advancement. This includes presenting opportunities for professional development such as access to research grants, funding for attending international conferences, and support for publishing work.

Mentoring programs are equally important, especially for early-career academics. A structured mentoring program can help new faculty navigate the complexities of academic life, balance teaching and research responsibilities, and plan for long-term career progression.

Additionally, institutions should emphasize opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration, which can be highly appealing to researchers looking to expand their horizons. Opportunities for sabbaticals and partnerships with industry and other educational institutions can also be attractive.

Clear pathways for tenure and promotion, along with supportive policies for work-life balance, can make an institution more attractive to top-tier candidates who are looking not just for a job, but for a place where they can thrive long-term.

6. Foster an Inclusive and Supportive Environment

Creating an inclusive and supportive environment is crucial for attracting and retaining diverse talent in academia. This involves actively promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in every aspect of the recruitment process and the institution’s culture. Demonstrating a commitment to DEI can be done through clear policies, diverse hiring panels, and inclusive job descriptions that encourage applications from underrepresented groups.

In addition to recruitment practices, fostering an inclusive environment also means providing support systems for underrepresented faculty, such as affinity groups, mentorship programs, and resources for work-life balance. These initiatives show that the institution values diverse perspectives and is committed to the success and well-being of all its members.

Training and workshops on cultural competency, unconscious bias, and inclusive teaching can help create a more welcoming and understanding campus environment. An institution that actively addresses issues such as discrimination and provides platforms for open dialogue and learning is more likely to attract diverse candidates who see it as a place where they can belong and succeed.

Universities and research institutes often struggle to find suitable candidates for their open positions. When you’re looking for a new colleague, your first step will most likely be to post the vacancy on your institution’s website and then on an external job board. These strategies will ensure you reach academics who are actively searching for a new job, so-called “active candidates.”

However, job candidate behavioural data suggests that these traditional recruitment strategies reach only about 30% of possible candidates. An estimated 70% of the global workforce is made up of what are called “passive candidates.” While the concept of active and passive candidates will be familiar to those in the private sector, it’s still relatively new in academic hiring.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at passive candidates and explain why you shouldn’t ignore your biggest group of potential hires.

Who are passive candidates?

The easiest way to understand who passive candidates are is to first take a look at active candidates. Active candidates are people who are currently job hunting and actively looking for a new position. For example, an active candidate could be someone who is about to finish their PhD, or a research assistant whose contract is coming to an end. These people frequently check job boards and refresh university career pages to see if there are any vacancies that match what they’re looking for.

As opposed to active candidates, passive candidates are not necessarily looking to change jobs. This group is generally satisfied with their current position, meaning that they don’t often look at job boards or other universities’ websites. For this reason, hiring managers have traditionally ignored these candidates, deeming them “unavailable” and too difficult to reach. They worry that spending time and resources on candidates who are already employed is unlikely to pan out. After all, if someone already has a job, presumably they like it and aren’t looking for another one.

However, a LinkedIn survey shows that this is a serious misconception. According to their data, only 15% of employees are completely satisfied with their current position and would not even consider changing jobs. Most passive candidates are in fact open to new professional challenges and opportunities.

Why target passive candidates?

Since passive candidates make up about 70% of potential candidates, by ignoring them you’re reaching only a fraction of your desired audience. This fact alone justifies the important place they should have in your organization’s talent acquisition strategy. But sheer numbers aren’t the only argument in favour of this particular target group.

It is likely that someone who is already employed and not actively looking for a change of position will make a more long term colleague than someone who is on the lookout for a new job. Passive job seekers aren’t under the same kind of pressure as active candidates. If they accept your job offer, it will be because of genuine enthusiasm for your position and institution. These types of candidates notice and appreciate your carefully curated employer brand, as well as the unique opportunity you can offer.

Since passive candidates are drawn to your institution’s values and goals, they are also generally expected to be more long term employees. The Change Leader, for example, sees hiring people who truly want to work at your institution as the number one action to improve employee retention in higher education. Moving institutions as an established academic (not to mention potentially relocating a family) is a big undertaking and usually only done if that person has long-term plans.

Another aspect to consider is that highly qualified active candidates will probably be interviewing with multiple organizations at the same time. They might accept another offer before you’re able to finalize your own recruitment process or slow you down and keep you waiting while they negotiate other offers. With passive candidates you’re probably only competing with the candidate’s current employer, which could accelerate the often slow academic hiring process.

Targeting passive candidates could lead to a quicker hire and a longer commitment to your institution, which would significantly lower your recruitment costs in the long run.

Don’t rule passive candidates out

When reaching out to passive candidates, you might of course worry that they’re only interested in getting your offer to leverage it for better conditions at their current institution. This concern is understandable considering the time and effort that go into an academic recruitment process. This way of thinking, however, might make you miss out on great, long-term employees.

As we’ve seen, data shows that the majority of employees are open to new challenges and want to further their careers—including the ambitious, highly-qualified academics you’re looking for.

While targeting passive candidates is not without its challenges, their potential should not be overlooked. Passive candidates make up the largest part of the workforce and are oftentimes highly-skilled, experienced candidates that identify with your institution’s values. Given these benefits, dedicating some of your recruitment efforts towards passive candidates is well worth your time.

Finding a talented postdoc candidate who ticks all the boxes can be a challenge, but the bigger challenge is making sure that top candidates know that you’re hiring and are excited to apply. 

If you’re struggling to get the right applicants for your postdoc positions, we can help. We’ve put together a Postdoc Advert Toolkit that makes it easy to attract the candidates you want so you can spend more time on your research.

The toolkit includes our top tips for writing and advertising a postdoc advert that will get potential candidates excited to apply. It will teach you how to get the word out that you’re hiring as well as measure the results of your recruitment efforts. 

Sign up below for immediate access:

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Get your free postdoc advert toolkit with our top tips for writing and sharing a postdoc advert that will make candidates excited to apply.

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If you’re looking to improve a specific part of your postdoc advertising process or just learn more about hiring postdocs, we’ve collected our most popular articles about postdoc recruitment here for you to browse through. Discover how to write a great advert, where to advertise, and what to do if you’re not getting any applicants.

How to write a great postdoc advert 

Finding a great postdoc starts with writing a compelling advert. Here are our best tips for writing an advert that will make candidates excited to apply–even if you’re a new PI. 

What Are Candidates Looking for When Reading Your Postdoc Ad?
How to Attract Postdocs as a New PI
Hiring Your First Postdoc? Read This First.
How to Write an Academic Job Advert that Gets Applications

What to do before you post your advert

Once you’ve written an informative advert, there are a few additional steps to complete before posting the job. 

5 Tips to Optimize Your Postdoc Adverts for Digital Recruitment
Have You Updated Your Lab Website Recently?

Where to advertise your postdoc positions

Next, you need to advertise your vacancy somewhere candidates can easily find it. Different advertising methods have different levels of efficacy, so here are the best places to advertise your postdoc.

Yes, You Should Pay to Advertise Your Postdoc Position
Why Word of Mouth Marketing Isn’t the Way to Find Excellent Postdocs
Why SEO Matters for Academic Job Advertising
5 Compelling Reasons to Advertise Your Postdoc on Academic Positions
Choosing the Right Social Media Channels for Social Recruitment

You’ve published your advert and haven’t received any applications

Don’t despair! If you haven’t gotten a lot of applications yet, there are still a few things you can do before the application deadline to increase the size of your applicant pool. 

Why Didn’t Anyone Apply? How to Avoid Reposting Your Vacancy
5 Reasons You’re Not Getting Any Postdoc Applications
Why Is It Challenging to Recruit Postdocs?
5 Common SEO Mistakes That Will Sink Your Job Ad
6 Tips for More Successful Recruitments

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There is no shortage of candidates looking for postdoc positions and of professors looking for postdocs. And yet, it is somewhat difficult for the right candidate to find the right university and vice versa. Part of the reason for this discrepancy is that many professors still rely too heavily on their network instead of adopting more modern recruitment marketing strategies.

Here are four reasons why you shouldn’t just rely on your network to find postdocs. 

Your reach will be small when you rely on your network

The single most important factor when trying to fill open positions is ensuring candidates know about them. When you rely on word of mouth marketing, you are likely missing out on excellent candidates, simply because they aren’t aware of the vacancy. This can happen for a number of reasons. 

First, you might not know which of your connections are open to opportunities. Therefore, you might neglect to pass an advert on to someone who would be interested in the position and would apply if they came across the ad themselves. 

Second, you simply might not have a large network yet. For example, you might be a new PI or new to your field of research. Because your network is limited, your reach for potential job applicants will be limited. 

Lastly, you are still tied to other people driving your marketing strategy. Others simply might not share opportunities. 

In an article about word of mouth marketing for business, Nathan Vogele writes, “… you can only serve people who know and hear from people who have already discovered your business…if you are relying on this alone, you limit the amount of business you are doing.” This is just as true for universities and professors. Word of mouth relies solely on the networks of researchers and academics. These networks can vary in size and vastly limit your potential reach. 

You aren’t in control of word of mouth advertising

When you rely on your network to help you find potential employees, you are relying on other people to do the important work of defining who you are and articulating your needs. This is a passive approach to recruitment and may work in some cases, but may not work in others. 

In some cases, people in your network will not actively promote your position or your work to their colleagues. Researchers, professors, postdocs, and other university employees are incredibly busy. When you’re working grueling hours, word of mouth marketing is not generally a priority. 

In other cases, even if people are talking about your university and your research, they may not have all their facts correct. Carrie Dagenhard, a content strategist in the private sector writes, “Word-of-mouth marketing can trigger a release of inaccurate information that’s misleading at best and reputation-damaging at worst.”

When you rely on word of mouth marketing, you are not in control of your own narrative. While this could prove to offer a genuine and unbiased look at your research group, it could backfire. 

It will be hard to reach diverse applicants

It’s natural to form networks with people who are demographically similar to us. We all tend to gravitate towards those who are like us. However, this inherently limits your network and neglects all the rich benefits of a more diverse network.

Rahdiah Barnes, President of the National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications (NAMIC) in New York notes, “One of the most important things you should do for yourself personally and professionally is to have a diverse network, a robust network that’s full of different people with various backgrounds at varying levels with assorted life and career experiences.”

If you want to get applications from underrepresented groups, you need to be sure those people are in your network. Too often, they are not. 

Additionally, members of underrepresented groups in academia often don’t have as wide of networks. This means your word of mouth marketing will not reach a diverse group of applicants. 

This is not only true for underrepresented groups but also international candidates. Our networks tend to be local and geographically limited. This means the vast pool of talented international candidates could miss out on your open positions. 

It could damage your relationships

Even if your word of mouth marketing helps you fill an open position, there is always the risk that the placement might not work out. If the person referred doesn’t live up to expectations, you could potentially damage important relationships within your network. 

Word of mouth marketing can be effective when used in conjunction with other marketing strategies. But relying on others to spread the word about your university will not only limit your talent pool, it will deny you potentially exceptional candidates who would be a great fit, if only they knew about you and your work. 

Whether you’re looking to buy a new couch, for a place to stay on your next vacation, or for a new and challenging job opportunity, the first thing you’ll do is head to Google. 

Consumers are used to having access to any and all information. They want information from a variety of sources—direct from companies, unbiased testimonials, and other news about the product or service.  

Job seekers are no different. The more information they can find, the better. When active job seekers find open positions, one of the first things they’ll do is Google you.

You want to be sure the information on your website is current and reflects your most compelling work. Spending time on this type of recruitment marketing may feel unnecessary or secondary to continuing important research. However, without a talented team of academics, your research (and reputation) will suffer. The best way to attract top talent? A thoughtful approach to recruitment.

The importance of updating your website—regularly 

Potential job candidates will likely visit your website for three reasons: 

  1. They are actively looking for a job, found a relevant open position at your university, and want to find out more information about the kind of work you do. 
  2. They heard about your work through an academic journal, colleague, or news article, and want to learn more about it.
  3. They are passively looking for new opportunities and heard enough about you to compel them to look up your group. 

In each of these cases, candidates already have a basic awareness of you and your work. When they visit your website, they’re looking to deepen their knowledge and decide if your lab could be a good place for them to take the next step in their career. If the first thing they see on your site is outdated information, it might also be the last thing they see. Why should they bother reading more when the information might no longer be accurate?

Website visitors form their opinions about a website in less than one second. Mike McDermott, President of the digital marketing firm Bash Foo, writes, “50 milliseconds is all you have to convince visitors to stay on and explore your website.” If the first thing they see is announcements from several years prior, job seekers will assume everything on your site is out of date—including current vacancies. 

Keeping your website up to date will also help more potential job seekers find you by improving your search engine optimization (SEO). SEO is the process of improving how your website ranks in the list of search engine results in order to bring you more traffic. There are a lot of things Google takes into account when ranking search results, but one of them is how often the site is updated.

Statics sites run the risk of being deemed “dead” or “inactive” by search engines. With millions of websites, why feature an outdated or inactive website on the first or second page of search results? If you regularly update your lab website, not only will you leave users with a good impression, you’ll also improve your rankings in search engines, making your group more visible to potential new members.

What to include on your website 

In addition to a clean interface and intuitive design, your website should include as much relevant and engaging information as possible. At a baseline, this should include the group’s publications, current group members, and any vacancies you have. It is very important that these three sections are always kept up to date so that potential job seekers can easily find your latest research, see who’s in your group, and know if you’re currently hiring.

In addition to current lab members, you should also include a section of lab alumni and a brief note about what they went on to do after leaving your lab. Potential PhD and postdoc applicants are very interested in their potential supervisor’s placement record. Providing this information is a way to demonstrate your mentorship skills and helps potential applicants understand if your group will put them on track to achieve their career goals. 

You should also look for vibrant, compelling pictures to add to your website. Make sure that there’s a picture of each current lab member, as well as other group pictures from around the lab, conferences, or lab social events. You can even include pictures of the campus to give potential applicants the full picture of what it’s like to work in your lab. In addition to helping people see themselves in your group, having quality pictures also help improve your search engine ranking.

Ensure your website is comprehensive with plenty of links to useful university resources. This can include links to your social media channels, resources for international students, or links to information about your location.

By investing in your lab website and keeping it up-to-date, you make it easier for candidates to learn about your work and resources. The more excited and engaged candidates become, the more likely they’ll submit a quality application. 

Now go update your website!

Stellenbosch University in South Africa is climbing the rankings to cement its reputation as a world-class institution. The university is committed to meeting the needs of Africa’s growing population and attracting diverse staff and faculty. We spoke to Johan Loubser, Head of Personnel Provision and Planning, to learn about some of the strategies they are using and how they are changing the national perception of the university. 

One of your core strategic themes is to be an employer of choice. Can you tell us about what that means at Stellenbosch? 

Our vision is to be Africa’s leading research-intensive university. In order for us to achieve our vision, it is important that we can attract outstanding students and employ talented staff and researchers. One of our focus areas for the next five years is to become an employer of choice and to do that we have to support the health and wellbeing of our people. We’re working on our talent acquisition and talent management plan, but also on encouraging life-long learning and creating an inclusive campus culture so our employees can maximize their potential. 

How do you gauge your progress towards these goals? Are there KPIs that you monitor?

When it comes to ensuring equity and promotion, we monitor the share of our permanent staff who are from the designated groups, as well as the share of doctorate-holders from designated groups who are in permanent academic positions. Year over year we continue to increase in these areas. We also look at the percentage of our staff that participate in training and development programs each year because we want to be an organization that encourages staff development and responds to individual needs. Since we want to encourage staff wellbeing, we conduct staff surveys about wellbeing and work culture to identify areas for improvement and monitor how many staff members use our employee services.

When you go about recruiting international staff, what is your process for that? 

First of all, when it comes to recruitment, there is a huge difference between recruiting for administrative positions and more strategic, academic positions. And then, of course, there’s another component for our recruitment locally in South Africa, which is the diversity targets that we have to adhere to. These targets are about race and gender and we have to comply with the targets that the government set up for us. So our talent acquisition on the higher level is more focused on the national side of things and getting the right local people in. 

When we go international, for talent that is not in South Africa, it is when we can not source someone from here. Then we rely on job boards and websites such as Academic Positions. We’ve also got an external company that handles strategic recruitment for us. They will map the market and provide us with a list of names. We do this for senior positions, like associate or full professors, as well as Deans, Vice Deans, rectorate positions, and Deputy Vice Chancellor positions.

Students on campus (image courtesy of Stellenbosch University)

Can you talk a little bit about some of the strategies that you use to attract diverse staff and faculty? 

If you look at the legacy of our university, there was very little diversity in the higher level positions while the lower level positions were held by a very diverse spectrum of people. So, for now, we have to concentrate on diversifying the higher level positions. We’ve set targets and the Deans must provide us with personnel plans which will include specific diversity figures. Performance can be measured against what is achieved in terms of diversity. It is a topic that is very high up in all of our agendas. We have a medium term, five year plan with regard to diversity targets.

It is not always easy to find the right talent, especially within South Africa where we have to compete with the corporate environment within a diversified economy of a developing country with an abundance of goods and natural resources and being recognised as one of the largest industrialized countries in Africa. We are in a situation where we really have to concentrate on finding those diamonds to attract them to our university, and that’s where we have to sell Stellenbosch and the culture of the university. We have to concentrate on the inclusive culture we have at the university now and how things have changed since 1994, because there are still perceptions out there. There is still a perception that this is not a multi-lingual university which means that some people can be excluded, which is not the case.

Language is actually a big focus area for us. We are currently revising our language policy which dates back to 2016. This policy covers everything: internal communication within the university, communication outside the university, the language of teaching, running parallel classes in different languages etc. Within the Western Cape, where we are situated, the three languages that are prominent here are English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa. Those are the languages we focus on, but in total we’ve got 11 official languages in South Africa and we try to cater to all of them. English and Afrikaans are our languages of learning and teaching, while we contribute to the advancement of isiXhosa as an academic language, and also continue to expand it as an internal language of communication.