Strategic academic recruitment research: Increasing diversity

academic recruitment

Here, HR Director at the University of Eastern Finland, Dr Jouni Kekäle follows on from their previous piece in Open Access Government by discussing how to increase diversity with the help of proactive recruitment

Studies have shown that workplace diversity contributes positively to an ability to innovate.1 Proactive recruitment emphasises networking before the actual recruitment decision. This outlook highlights the observation that without prior networking it is difficult to attract good researchers from abroad. The main obstacle for not applying for a job is that the candidate does not know what it is like to work in the organisation2, nor does the organisation know the candidates’ skills, ambition and drive very well on the basis of interviews and application.

Traditional recruitments based on vacancy advertisements and interviews cannot ensure sufficient recruitment pool (since people do not apply without prior knowledge on the group and organisation) nor deep knowledge on candidates’ skills, motivation, and persona. Prior networking and cooperation help to bridge this gap: by ensuring sufficient mutual commitment, understanding and knowledge on working environment, cooperation, and skills when the need for recruitment arises.3

The following main actors are involved in recruitment: the department head (who proposes a candidate), HR (Human Resources services, checking legal and policy aspects) and the actual decision maker (who, in most cases, needs to trust preliminary work if nothing alarming appears in the process). In addition to these basic operators, collegial bodies and external consultants may affect the outcome, but the basic operators are always in play and influence the outcome the most since they are directly involved in the decision-making.

When we analyse the process further, we note the following. The recruitment decision – especially the proposal concerning the candidate to be recruited – are highly influential actions.4

Recruitments affect:

  • The long-term competence, orientation, and drive in the group.
  • Manner of social cooperation and the culture in the group.
  • Equity and diversity of the personnel structure (including potential discrimination).
  • Temporary vs. permanent nature of the job (in some countries, temporary contracts may cumulate and become illegal, resulting in penalties).

Institutional HR needs to deal with salary levels, and work titles, etc. in line with the institutional policy. If this fails, (suspicion on) discrimination may result.

We also note that the proposal concerning the candidate to be recruited affects the outcomes the most. In academic recruitments, the proposal rests on academic leaders, the departmental head and the professor(s) recruiting candidates.

Talent pool

Diversity is connected to this. Due to equal treatment requirements one cannot announce that the organisation is going to recruit a person from a certain nationality or sex. One needs to recruit the best candidates among the potential pool of applicants.

Thus, candidate/talent/recruitment pool affects diversity fundamentally. Diversity can be fostered only by broadening the pool.

A talent pool is a group of highly qualified candidates who are interested in working for your department and university.1 Several studies have shown that workplace diversity contributes to creativity, productivity, and innovation.5 To simplify: people with similar backgrounds tend to share a common culture, a mindset, and general ways of thinking. Hence, a narrow candidate- and recruitment pool tends to result in narrow competence window and narrow potential for diversity. A broad, international, and diverse candidate pool provides best grounds for successful recruitments.

In practice, personal contacts, networking, and proactive approach are valuable in broadening the pool, as people are not usually willing to move into unknown organisations. In networking, strengthening diversity and seeking best, most suitable candidates who you can work with proactively to find out their cooperation, skills, and abilities, would be an ideal way forward.

There are many ways to broaden the pool. It may be worthwhile to use all contacts available. Different scholars in a department may be active in international cooperation and may have different networks. Currently, there are algorithms helping to identify suitable candidates to contact. Some institutions arrange site visits for top candidates. Tenure tracks provide a platform for mutual learning and test the cooperation. International cooperation will help to broaden the talent pool and increase diversity, as may any cooperation with industry. Employer branding is part of the picture: what impact you would like to have, the statement you would like to make about the culture and values of your organisation.2 Facilities or surrounding cities may have strengths.

If your group, work and research are relevant enough, this will attract scholars with similar orientation. You need to reach out or have a strong reputation to attract through your work. Successful recruitments will heighten the level of the research and increase reputation.6 Recruiters will be better off if they have experience on prior cooperation with large pool of scholars. Usually, this transforms to quality of your work and displays skills and motivation. Not all diversity is fruitful, but the cooperation that adds value. It is difficult to predict the outcomes without proactive work prior the actual recruitment decision.


Please note: This is a commercial profile


1 Kekäle, J (2017): Proactive strategic recruitment in research groups, Tertiary Education and Management, DOI: 10.1080/13583883.2017.1407439

2 LinkedIn (2015) Survey. Why & How People Change Jobs. Showing global average.

3 Kekäle, J. (2020) Strategic academic recruitment research: A proactive recruitment model. Open Access Government. June 5, 2020.

4 Shattock, M. (2010) Managing Successful Universities. SHRE & Open University Press, New York.

5 McIntosh, K., Pomerantz, J., Rodrigues, H. Smith, G. & Woo, M. (2017) Expanding Your Recruitment Pool through Increasing

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Educausereview.

6 Martic, K. (2018) How to Build an Effective Talent Pool: 5 Easy Ways. TalentLyft Blog.

7 Tierney and Lanford (2016) Conceptualizing Innovation in Higher Education. in Paulsen, M.B. (Ed.) Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research 31. Basel: Springer.

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Human Resources Director
University of Eastern Finland
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