Moneyball for Academic Hiring
The University of Oklahoma is kind of like the Oakland As. In the "major leagues" as a flagship state university, but not really in the the big time. A lot of schools or departments are in this situation and I've been on the faculty of many of them! So here are some Moneyball type strategies to find talent that's undervalued in the marketplace (our problem is not payroll, we can pay competitive starting salaries to junior faculty. It's more about getting highly talented people to come to Oklahoma):
1. Look outside the big name programs. Many schools or departments are fixated on narrow credentialism. But there are very good people working at lesser known schools and they occasionally produce very good students. Those students are automatically at a disadvantage in the overall market and their disadvantage is your opportunity.
2. Consider couples. In the new world of academics, many job candidates have academic partners. Getting two good jobs in the same city is hard, so schools or departments with the financial flexibility and vision to make joint offers can gain an advantage.
3. Take a look at the "second student" or the "orphaned student". Professors often have more than one student on the market. The top schools are often competing for the advisor's top student and often ignore the second student. But sometimes the second student is actually very good. "Orphaned" students are ones whose advisor changes jobs (or dies) before the student finishes. These students can get lost in the shuffle with no one making calls or strongly promoting them and sometimes these can be excellent candidates.
4. Sell your school or department to the candidate. Many of the people we've hired tell us, "you were the only group that actually read my paper and gave me useful feedback on it". Running a search is a big chore and a public good that frequently inspires free-riding. I always try to make sure that we can engage the prospective hire right away and show that we take their work seriously and that research is very important in our department. This is also an excellent way to uncover students who are not as good as they look on paper. If you move a job market candidate off their pre-packaged spiel and there's nothing there, that is a very bad sign.
5. Move quickly. The academic job market is a very uncertain and tense time for most candidates. Getting an offer out quickly means that a good candidate may have to decide between taking your financially competitive offer or rolling the dice to see if a better school does not hire any of its first choices and brings more people out in a second round of flyouts. Consider making offers early in the season and putting fairly tight clocks on them.