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In scientific conferences, there are usually many headhunters who come to offer newly graduated scholars jobs in the industry sector. As a matter of fact, the recruitment in industry mostly works with the headhunting system.

However, academic recruitment is mainly application-based, and they are stuck with Equal Employment Opportunity, in which even when planning to appoint a Vice President to a vacant President position, they need to follow public call for application.

Why doesn't a department chair offer faculty position to exceptional scholars to attract extraordinary people?

In an application-based system, only those who are looking for new jobs will apply, but in a headhunting system, headhunters tempts satisfied employees with attractive offers.

In general, when someone is averagely satisfied by his/her job will not check current job ads.

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    This does not mean that head-hunting does not occur. It does, but the applicant is generally obliged to apply through the regular channels. – Dave Clarke Sep 27 '13 at 8:05
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    In general, when someone is averagely satisfied by his/her job will not check current job ads. — [citation needed] – JeffE Sep 27 '13 at 11:53
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    @JeffE myself :) I just meant normally people who seriously look for jobs are looking at job ads. Someone might be open to special offers, but one cannot find special offers in job ads! – Googlebot Sep 27 '13 at 12:03
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    I'm just going to reiterate as what I said before: don't take this as an insult, but you've now asked a very large number of questions that indicate you are totally clueless about how academic job searches work. That's fine if you just want to satisfy your curiosity, but if you are actually trying to get a job you really need to sit down and have a serious conversation with a senior person in your field who can give you specific advice about your situation. – Ben Webster Sep 27 '13 at 14:49
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    "Equal employment opportunity" means something a little different. It refers to the US law that forbids employers from discriminating on the basis of race, sex, religion, etc. The law applies to nearly every US employer (academic or not), and you can comply with these laws whether you recruit via open application, or headhunters, or some other means. – Nate Eldredge Sep 27 '13 at 15:12
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Why doesn't a department chair offer faculty positions to exceptional scholars to attract extraordinary people?

Ah, but they do. For high profile academics, there are many behind-the-scenes discussions between department chairs, deans, and other faculty members. If a department really wants a particular academic for a particular chair, they'll have discussions about it with the candidate. I imagine that certain faculty get calls rather frequently asking if they want to move universities. Some professors can pretty much move at will; see, for instance, Cornell West's move between Harvard and Princeton -- West got in a tiff with Harvard President Lawrence Summers, and then he up and moved to Princeton, where they were happy to have him.

The networking system within academia is broad enough and the number of open positions small enough that hiring headhunters is not really necessary, although for really high profile positions -- presidents of universities and the like -- a headhunting firm may be hired to make sure certain protocols are met.

For run-of-the-mill assistant professor and associate professor positions, and for other candidate-search positions such as department chairs, the application process works well. But don't think that there still isn't any wrangling between various faculty members and possible candidates -- if you're an excellent researcher that has been making a name for yourself as a graduate student or as a junior faculty member, you may be asked directly to apply for positions that are open.

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    Good young people are very often invited to apply for assistant professor jobs. And they're usually the ones who get them. – David Ketcheson Sep 27 '13 at 20:27
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However, academic recruitment is mainly application-based, and they are stuck to Equal Employment Opportunity, in which even when planning to appoint a Vice President to a vacant President position, they need to follow public call for application.

Why a department chair does not offer faculty position to exceptional scholars to attract extraordinary people?

At least for public universities in the US, you've answered your own question. Public universities cannot directly offer jobs to anyone; they must follow Equal Employment Opportunity laws, which require open applications. Even with an open search, department chairs often don't have unilateral power to offer a job to anyone. At my university, all faculty appointments must be approved by the dean of the department's college, who among other things, is supposed to verify that all EEO procedures have been followed.

But as Chris writes, less direct headhunting does still happen. For senior positions, especially endowed chairs and department heads, most applications submitted in response to the public ad are hopeless; the only strong applications come from candidates that faculty identify, contact directly, and convince to apply. (That's the explicit reason my department has a faculty recruiting committee, and not just a faculty search committee.) But even for assistant professor positions, faculty do contact promising PhD students—by email, by phone, or in person at conferences—and strongly encourage them to apply.

For even higher-level positions like deans and university presidents, universities often work with professional search firms to identify and contact promising candidates, but my impression (having worked with such a firm in one search) is that those firms are mostly good at identifying people who aren't interested. Strong candidates for those positions—the ones that are actually invited for public interviews—are almost always people that the university faculty and administration has been courting for months.

Departments do sometimes identify people they'd like to hire even before they've advertised a position. In that case, the university may create a position specifically for that person, with a very narrowly tailored job description. But then sometimes the department gets an even stronger application in response to their narrowly tailored ad, so they don't end up hiring their original target after all.

  • good at identifying people who aren't interested, you mean encouraging people who normally do not apply, OR just attracting noncompetitive candidates to choose the candidate selected before the search? – Googlebot Sep 27 '13 at 12:31
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    @All I believe JeffE means that the firms find a lot of people who don't want the job. I.e., they aren't worth the money. – Chris Gregg Sep 27 '13 at 14:36
  • @ChrisGregg I always wonder why such search firms are very popular, as their job is not very special. They just collect the applications and deliver it to the search committee. A secretary (probably from HR) can fairly do this. – Googlebot Sep 27 '13 at 14:38
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    <i>Even with an open search, department chairs often don't have unilateral power to offer a job to anyone. At my university, all faculty appointments must be approved by the dean of the department's college, who among other things, is supposed to verify that all EEO procedures have been followed.</i> Not to mention that the other members of the department might have thoughts. The exact structure of different departments varies, but in my experience overwhelming support from the department would be needed for such an appointment as well. – Ben Webster Sep 27 '13 at 14:56
  • My understanding is that probably a half of senior, tenured openings are actually written up after the potential candidate has been identified, approached, and broadly agreed to move. Then the department moves with EEO, public release of the job ad, and just keeps their fingers crossed that a stronger applicant won't show up, to the mutual embarrassment of the two parties, as JeffE said is entirely possible. So for positions at the senior level, it often makes sense to privately talk to the chair to see if they really have an open search, or their target candidate has already been identified. – StasK Sep 27 '13 at 16:05
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In order to answer this question it is important to understand what a head hunting firm does. For a substantial fee (potentially in excess of 25% of the annual salary) head hunters use their networks to identify (and convince) people to apply for a job. They talk to the contacts they have, plus individuals identified by the hiring department, and try and get names of not only potential applicants, but also people who might know potential applicants. They may also use web resources, but in general I believe they like to use named introductions instead of cold calls.

In industry where HR firms often do not have networks in the area of expertise of the job, outside consultation is necessary. Industry jobs tend to also be less worried about costs. Additionally, it is harder for potential applicants to find out about job openings at smaller companies and figure out if they are interested in working for the company.

For academic position networks in the required area of expertise already exist. Search committees and most faculty in the department will email their colleagues when a search opens and try and attract candidates to apply. Additionally, even small colleges would qualify as a large company and are much better advertised and described. This means departments don't really need head hunters to reach potential applicants.

The second issue with head hunters is that the candidates they identify didn't respond to the open call and are therefore either less interested or feel the are less qualified. In general academic searches do not have a problem with attracting qualified candidates to apply.

Which brings us to the final issue. It is often difficult to make an attractive enough offer to candidates to get them to accept. Adding 25% of the annual salary onto the search costs means less money for recruiting and start up package. This makes it less likely to get the candidate of choice.

Head hunters do have a role in academic job searches. Sometimes a department is trying to expand in an area they do not have expertise/networks or are looking to make an unusual interdisciplinary appointment.

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    There's another serious issue, which is finding a headhunter who's knows enough about an academic area to helpfully find candidates the department can't. I certainly have no idea if such exist, but it seems unlikely in mathematics. – Ben Webster Sep 27 '13 at 14:58
  • very subtle perspective to make an informative answer! – Googlebot Sep 27 '13 at 14:59
  • @BenWebster I think it depends on how specialized the search is and how big the field is. The field of Math is pretty big so reaching out to everyone is difficult. Finding a situation where the existing networks don't exist is harder, but maybe something like the university wants to support a large grant bib by the Medical School and therefore wants a theoretically oriented Math Department to add an applied medical statistics person. – StrongBad Sep 27 '13 at 15:20
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    Have you ever seen such a thing happen? My sense is that in a situation like this you would form an interdisciplinary search committee that would use the usual routes for advertising jobs, not a headhunter. I think the typical attitude of a department is that if someone's work is so far from what they do that they can't run the search (perhaps jointly with other departments), then they don't want to be responsible for tenuring the person. Applied math is in a tricky gray area, but generally if the medical schools wants someone for a big grant, we let them worry about it. – Ben Webster Sep 27 '13 at 18:07
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    @BenWebster Yes academia.stackexchange.com/a/2723/929 one of the reasons we had difficulty was we didn't have a good network in the fields we were looking to appoint. – StrongBad Sep 27 '13 at 18:23

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