Every great blog post begins with an Internet search. “How to hire a postdoc” turned up a lot of articles more than 5 years old, a very interesting blog post on “is it morally acceptable to hire postdocs?”, another interesting one on “dodging the postdoctoral bullet”, and a lot of university human resources websites. But none of these quite answer what I was after, which is how to find good candidates for a position, if you are the person doing the hiring.

To be clear, I’m talking here about the situation where an individual faculty member has grant funds to hire a postdoc, not “prize” postdoctoral fellowships offered by an institution or funding agency. If you are Jane or Jeet Professor, how do you go about finding someone to work on your project? I’m going to use my own field and experience as an example; I don’t know the situation in other fields well enough to comment. The two times I have hired postdocs, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I got some very strong applications, but also some that were a little too far-removed from astronomy (civil engineering was one, I believe).

In astronomy, the first place many people think of to advertise is the AAS Job Register. That’s a good start. But you might want to think about how to cast as wide a net as possible to maximize your chances of getting a good match: someone who has the skills you’re after and would be willing to come to your institution. The latter may be particularly important if you are located at a less glamourous university that people from far away may not have heard of.

For professional astronomy society jobs listings, here’s what I was able to find:

(I looked for similar pages for New Zealand, Korea, South Africa, Japan, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil, but didn’t find anything. If you know of more that I should add to this list, please let me know!)

Your institution probably also has a “careers” webpage where you can (or even must) advertise. And there are magazines like Physics Today, Science Careers, New Scientist, and Nature although these tend to be expensive and are more often used for faculty jobs.

Don’t underestimate personal contacts as a way to get applications. Here are some ideas:

  • use social media: tweet or post a link to your job ad and ask your contacts to pass it on
  • look at the registrant list for recent conferences in your specific field
  • let your current colleagues (grad students, postdocs, faculty) know that you’re hiring
  • talk with your collaborators at other institutions
  • contact graduate program chairs at other institutions

When talking to others about your position, ask them to suggest who you should contact (ie, don’t just assume they will pass on an email). Don’t let your contacts rule others out for reasons unrelated to the job – “he wouldn’t want to move; his wife just got a job here” – they don’t always know the details of others’ life situations. Once you have some names, contact potential candidates to let them know of the opportunity. You’re not promising to hire them or demanding that they apply, you’re just making sure they’ve heard of you.

So you’ve acquired a list of postdoc candidate, now what? I will cover this in a future post, but in case I don’t get to it for a while, one last thing: please, please follow-up with candidates. If they don’t make your shortlist, let them know as soon as you can. If they make your shortlist and you offer the position to someone else, let them know that too. Nobody wants to hear that they are second or third or fourth choice, but I think that’s preferable to thinking that you might be first choice because you haven’t heard back. I am surprised at the number of postdoc applications that I hear of which seem to just disappear into a black hole. It seems like basic human decency to me to let applicants know their status.

Surely I forgot some vital information here; please clue me in using the comments. Thanks!