Starting today, we took the first step in an expansion of the Interfolio Faculty Search module to accommodate more complex administrative workflows around academic hiring. We’re starting with “position approval,” broadly understood: what has to happen before you accept any applications.

Today’s release

Taking our cue largely from our direct market research—including interviews with people directly involved in academic hiring at institutions located in California, Washington, New York, Louisiana, Texas, and elsewhere—we are seeking to address some known, widely reported difficulties around faculty hiring and academic recruitment in higher education.

In this first release, we added a set of functionality to support “position approval” workflows. Essentially, the development work released today makes the official approval process around future academic hires (i.e. the “paperwork”) more efficient and consistent, and better documented.

But, wait. Why is position approval oversight a big deal? Aren’t we basically talking about red tape?

Bureaucracy and equity: why effective oversight of new positions makes a difference

From talking to lots of experienced people directly involved in faculty hiring in higher education—some of them with a faculty background, some without—it’s become clear that we must consider these pre-recruitment “approval” processes from the perspective of what happens when there is not enough oversight.

Clearly, having a formal review process that runs a proposed new search or hire past multiple sets of eyes is a key way that colleges and universities ensure the integrity of their faculty hiring.

There may be business and legal compliance reasons why certain offices at the institution need to at least be notified of—if not sign off on—a new hire. But more generally, when opening new faculty searches is too much of a “Wild West” in terms of decentralization, a number of pitfalls are possible:

  • Oddly enough, only white male candidates keep getting hired!
  • Actual violation of anti-discrimination law, such as inappropriate qualifiers in written description.
  • The institution or academic unit can’t really afford this particular hire at this time.
  • At a higher level, if the right people don’t have consistent view into proposed new positions, the institution may continue to make an excessive investment in certain departments or disciplines, and neglect development of others.
  • Also, fraud.

It’s considerations like these—which we’ve heard from our product research, to conversations with clients more informally, and even in new sales conversations—that provide the context for our technical investment in a more useful feature for position approval workflows.

Future investments in academic hiring workflows

In the near future, we’re going to have a lot more to say about our plans to expand the potential for shared governance and administrative workflows in the Faculty Information System’s hiring module, Interfolio Faculty Search.

One thing we can say, now, is that we’re making sure to design these “process improvement” expansions (a priority, clearly) in a way that will also serve future data reporting well. Our academic hiring workflow investments will enrich the Faculty Information System’s capacity to provide client universities with new kinds of factual insight into their academic hiring patterns—insights they have not had available before.

Today we launched several new Dossier product features in our ongoing quest to ensure our user’s time is spent on activities they choose, and so that we maintain our exclusive offering as a full-service Dossier (almost 20-years strong!).

In March, we introduced a valuable new feature to help prevent document quality issues from holding back your applications—for users with active Dossier Deliver subscriptions, we now perform a quality check on all confidential letters of recommendation.

And as of today, we have added several more features related to (1) how a Dossier user requests letters of recommendation and (2) how a letter writer receives such a request, further personalizing and streamlining the process.

As a Dossier user requesting a letter of recommendation I can:

  • Save my letter writers’ contact information
  • Attach multiple support files to my letter request via my Dossier account
  • Share my multimedia materials like video links and URLs within my request
  • Request multiple letters of recommendation at once
  • Auto-populate each letter writer’s name in bulk requests for professional appearance

To add a new contact while requesting a letter, click “Letters” in the left sidebar:

Click “Request a Letter”:

Start typing in “Recommender” box:

Click “Add New”:

And as a letter writer, when accessing supporting materials attached to a request for a letter of recommendation, now I can simply view them online within a convenient document viewer—or I can download them as always.

Click “View Documents” vs. “Download”:

Why do these changes matter to you?

First and foremost, it saves you time. It is far more convenient to simply select saved information than to type it in from scratch for every request. In addition, it helps to avoid errors in email addresses and names. We understand that receiving a stellar letter for a job application is the end goal, not requesting it.

Requesting and sending letters of recommendation is a stressful but necessary part of applying to many scholarly positions and other opportunities. Let Team Interfolio help you manage this portion of your to-do list, confidently.

Interfolio’s Dossier enables scholars to collect, curate, polish, and send out their materials at all stages throughout their academic professional path. Learn more about Dossier here.

The Interfolio team is off to a racing start this year. We have been hard at work, listening to our clients’ direct feedback and keeping a pulse on the needs of faculty members and academic staff all across the world. 

And now, as a result of continual conversation with our clients, filled with honest input and thoughtful suggestions, I’m proud to say Interfolio has reached a milestone that we’ve been working towards for some time—the first comprehensive technological approach to supporting scholars and their institutions.

In light of some pivotal technical developments recently rolled out to link our separate faculty technology modules, we now feel confident in saying that we offer what the higher education sector as a whole has long been saying (to industry, and to each other) that they need: the Interfolio Faculty Information System. 

The role and value of the Faculty Information System

For some time now, it has been clear that colleges and universities are deeply in need of a practical, modern set of transformative capabilities to address a variety of widely felt tensions between the institution’s academic mission and its existential necessities.

This is a refrain we hear in our frequent conversations with a wide variety of institutional stakeholders, including chief academic officers, deans, academic technology leaders, institutional research directors, diversity and inclusion officers, university human resources management, and others on the administrative side of academic institutions.

In the absence of a widely adopted faculty-centric workflow and information system, critical transformative questions are left unanswered or can be answered only with much isolated, manual effort. These questions include:

  • How does the number, type, and productivity of faculty in our various departments compare to those of peer institutions?
  • Where are our measurable research strengths? Which approaches have been most successful in securing funded research?
  • What is the likely impact of the upcoming cycle of P&T cases on budget requirements?
  • At what points in the employment lifecycle are we experiencing the greatest losses of faculty from underrepresented groups? In what areas would additional or new efforts prove most impactful?

But perhaps even more poignantly, we have taken note of the abundant complaints from hundreds of thousands of active scholars and students about the technological status quo, indicating that the practical tasks required of them when pursuing their own academic careers seem perpetually to present logistical headaches and inconsistencies.

Virtually always, such complaints lead back to reveal an ill fit between universities’ chosen technology and the actual administrative processes being undertaken. Professional academics are fatigued from technical exercises in data and document management that they see as jumping through hoops, with only disparate and isolated benefits to them. And on the far end of the spectrum, some scholars have begun to express hostility and skepticism about the legitimacy of the data collection and use by the institutions that employ them.

Evolving into the Faculty Information System

The historic modular development method

Until recently, when an institution worked with Interfolio, they adopted one or more separate modules that focused on certain key clusters of need: running faculty searches, conducting tenure reviews, storing confidential letters for past graduates, formatting faculty activity data into reports (or CVs), and so on.

That was intentional, and the modular approach is not going away.

With the development of the separate modules, we were addressing the known, agreed-upon sources of pain we were hearing about from academic officers, departments, and staff. Even knowing the wider implications of what we were onto, we deliberately sought to help client institutions move off of paper, improve process efficiency, clarify and record communication, knit together reporting, and unify data into a central hub—because those were clear “wins.”

But for the reasons I’ve touched on above, all of these somewhat mechanical considerations fall under a shared vision that could transform how scholars and universities interact: strategic ways to pair the actions that the scholar takes throughout their career with the actions that academic leaders take to study the institution’s activity.

From product line to platform

Last month, we rolled out a unified platform interface that unites all of our modules within a single, consistent Interfolio environment:

And at the same time, we released some new functional connections to allow data and documents to flow between the modules (including, for example, between our faculty activity reporting module and the individual’s Dossier). These product developments lay the first brick on the road in a new direction for Interfolio—towards an integrated platform focused on the full scholarly and career lifecycle of faculty members.

Now an academic institution can account for the full path or trajectory of all its scholars, from graduate school through retirement, within an increasingly mature online environment that has been built in collaboration with higher education from day one.

Situating Interfolio within the higher education technology landscape

By focusing on the scholar and supporting their lifecycle events (e.g., reviews, promotions) and professional moments (e.g., biosketches, profiles, service work) in a central system, Interfolio can ease the individual and institutional burdens with transparency, equity, diversity, data collection and insight.

Unlike yesterday’s discrete technical tunnel vision, the Faculty Information System:

  • Is more faculty-focused than an applicant tracking system (ATS), supporting deep artifact review, referee letter support and complicated shared governance work-flows.
  • Is more committee-minded than a human resources information system (HRIS), allowing for deep understanding of the divots resulting from disparate inequitable processes emerging from differing departmental approaches.
  • Is more action- and impact-focused than just faculty activity reporting (FAR), allowing for data to support the numerous faculty lifecycle events and professional moments of an individual, while supporting the insight and governance needs of the modern institution.
  • Is more comprehensive than research information management (RIM) or current research information systems (CRIS), as it supports profile, teaching, service and professional data sets that comprehensively tell the whole story of the scholar, as well as the department, school, and institution.
  • Is focused on the lifelong compilation of the scholar’s story by providing an enduring, transferable Dossier.

This most recent development in Interfolio’s mission in higher education, the announcement of the Faculty Information System, is just the next step in a story with a lot of history already, and even more to come. Every day I’m inspired to see our seasoned team find new successes in offering the drivers of higher education—namely, scholars—a smart new category of technology worthy of their role.

Since 1999, Interfolio has helped hundreds of thousands of scholars:

  • Navigate stressful application processes
  • Request, store, and send confidential letters
  • Collect, curate, and prepare materials
  • Send materials or collections for feedback and mentorship (NEW in January 2018)
  • Guaranteed multi-faceted quality checks on all letters of recommendation (NEW in March 2018)

In July of 2017 we restructured our Dossier pricing model, introducing a free version, with the intent of enabling early-career scholars (as well as those seeking alternative academic professions) to prepare for grad school, a fellowship or their next career opportunity.

We have continued to evolve in 2018.

  • In January we added a new feature for Dossier Deliver users, sharing – the ability to share your collections or materials with anyone, anywhere.
  • Earlier this month, we guaranteed quality checks on all letters of recommendation after entering a Dossier Deliver user’s account.  

So, what’s new in the Dossier user experience?

There’s a new “home” page that serves as a dashboard for your Dossier.

We reimagined the Dossier homepage to now include several features and sections to better address your immediate needs and to display helpful and thoughtful content, relevant to you and your career development.

  • There’s a section at the top of your homepage dedicated to your Dossier activities.
  • A curated content area of your dashboard exists and includes four “cards” that feature help articles, announcements, and blog posts.
  • A new profile “card” in the upper right corner displays your name and the Dossier product you use.
  • We also created a new prompt when you first log into your Dossier. The purpose is to create a more personalized user experience – you’ll select which Interfolio account to access:
    • Your personal Dossier 
    • Your institutional account affiliated with a particular enterprise client institution (i.e. for Faculty Search, Faculty180, or Review, Promotion & Tenure)

As our users and the broader academic market have confirmed, an online Dossier must be personal, confidential, easy-to-use and encompass the entire scholarly lifecycle. Team Interfolio is committed to providing the best Dossier experience and welcome your thoughts on features and enhancements you’d like to see. Share your thoughts with us on Facebook or Twitter.

Interfolio’s Dossier enables scholars to collect, curate, polish and send out their materials at all stages throughout their academic professional path. Learn more about Dossier here.

[This post was updated August 2019]

Interfolio has been providing a platform for requesting, storing, and sending confidential letters of recommendation since 1999. In the past 20 years, we’ve learned a lot about our worldwide user base, including what they expect from us and what we could add on to our service to improve their experience.

That’s why we have dramatically reimagined one of our main features: for users with active Dossier Deliver subscriptions, we now perform a quality check on all confidential letters of recommendation as soon as they enter your account.  Literally, we have a team of humans that take a look at the document quality of your letter, and then notify you AND your letter writer of any issues. That’s part of what you get with your Deliver subscription: not just the cost of delivery, but a group of folks who are making sure that your materials aren’t going to hold you back from that opportunity because of a letter error.

There are a variety of things we look for and flag as inconsistent with what a user expects within their letter, such as:

  • We check for a signature.
  • We make sure there’s an official letterhead.
  • We ensure the file uploaded is in fact a letter.
  • We verify the letter bears both your name and the letter writer’s name.
  • We establish the letter is legible.

Why is this important to you?

Out of the 53,555+ documents we quality checked from March until December 2017, there were 834 documents with errors. That means roughly 2% of the total documents we checked had an issue that the letter writer and the requestor would not have been aware of had we not reviewed them and notified them.

Prior to this feature release, when you had an issue with a letter (as a requestor), we would notify you upon requested delivery of the letter. Now, we will perform a thorough quality check promptly when a letter is received in your account, guaranteed.

This allows for:

  • More time to fix/address errors
  • Assistance from Team Interfolio in communicating errors to your/a letter writer
  • Reassurance and confidence when your letters are ready to deliver
  • Exposure to positive and negative quality check results

How do we tell you what’s wrong? (or right)

  • If you are a Dossier Deliver user, we will send you an email if we discover any gaps in document quality (such as when a signature or letterhead is missing, or if the document uploaded is not really a letter).
  • If you are a letter writer that has mistakenly submitted an incorrect letter or a letter with issues, we will send you an email.
  • When you are logged into your Dossier Deliver account, and a letter has received our quality check, you will be able to see a bulleted list of what is right and what is wrong (if there are issues) with your letter.
  • If you are a Dossier Deliver user and your letter is error-free, you will receive an email letting you know it’s good to go.

What are the nitty-gritty details?

  • If you are a  Dossier Deliver user, we will quality-check letters for you within 4 business days of their arrival in your account. 
  • Interfolio DOES NOT restrict you from using letters still “pending” a quality check.
  • Letters are also checked before being submitted for delivery.
  • Every time you request new letters Interfolio checks those letters for quality.
  • We will provide assistance communicating errors to Letter Writers.

Requesting and sending letters of recommendation is a stressful but necessary part of applying to many scholarly positions and other opportunities. Let Team Interfolio help you manage this portion of your to-do list, confidently.

Interfolio’s Dossier enables scholars to collect, curate, polish and send out their materials at all stages throughout their academic professional path. Learn more about Dossier here.

Looking for technical instructions on how to use your Dossier? See these help articles.

Among vendors of higher education technology that address faculty data challenges—like faculty activity reporting, academic workflow, and academic portfolios—the Dossier is perhaps Interfolio’s most distinctive asset. It’s a private, lifelong online space for career development that belongs to each individual scholar.

Throughout 2017, having done much research across higher education to understand how individual faculty interact with their schools’ faculty personnel processes, we steadily added a series of special features to connect Dossier with our enterprise faculty technology suite for institutions of higher education.

Today, we call that bundle of special features Dossier Institution—the faculty member’s dedicated space to organize their materials and faculty data, with useful integrations into Interfolio at their school.

Here, we’ll:

  1. Summarize the origins and growth of Dossier Institution to date.
  2. Look at today’s feature release, the first of 2018: the ability for a scholar to share their materials and get line-by-line comments for feedback and mentoring purposes.
  3. Muse about the Dossier’s increasingly central role in faculty information management.

If you are seeking technical instructions for using your Dossier, you might want to take a look at these articles.

Origins: the value of academic portfolio software at the enterprise level

First introduced in 1999, the consumer version of Dossier is Interfolio’s widely adopted academic portfolio product for scholars on the job market, most commonly used to manage confidential letters.

When we launched Interfolio Faculty Search in 2012, Dossier served as the point of entry for job applicants, and in 2014, it was an obvious companion for those going up for faculty reviews through Interfolio Review, Promotion & Tenure. And (sneak peek!) Dossier Institution may just be the natural solution to a fundamental obstacle in faculty activity reporting: giving professors a compelling reason to maintain current faculty data.

To begin with, Interfolio focused primarily on the problem of faculty candidate preparation for academic reviews—such as tenure, promotion, annual review, or reappointment. As many in higher education had already mused, how could smart technology simplify and shorten the process of compiling your accomplishments?

Introducing institutional guidelines

Our first major product development in this direction (about a year ago) was the institutional guidelines feature. With institutional guidelines via Dossier Institution:

  • Institutions using Interfolio Review, Promotion & Tenure gained a way to more clearly communicate to their faculty the official requirements for what candidates must submit for certain kinds of reviews (an important consideration).
  • Faculty members anticipating future reviews gained a new sign of transparency and consistency from their employer about expectations for success.

Reuse past packet materials

Continuing to think about the experience of faculty candidates going up for review, our next development choice was to eliminate redundant work for faculty around repeated, routine reviews from year to year. We added the ability for faculty to freely import materials from any of their past Interfolio Review, Promotion & Tenure packets when assembling a new packet for a current or upcoming review.

Whether you think of this as an addition to the enterprise module or an investment in the capacity of the Dossier, the ability to reuse past packets served two known goals that institutions had clearly, repeatedly voiced to Interfolio:

  • It’s an efficiency and preparation tool for the faculty candidate, helping them put their best foot forward by eliminating hours of redundant re-assembly work from year to year.
  • It’s a transparency mechanism for the institution, facilitating a fair consideration of the candidate’s progress because they can attach the exact correspondence they received in past academic reviews.

Linking institutional guidelines with collections

Some time after we’d rolled out the institutional guidelines feature, we took advantage of the existing collections feature to provide another boon to faculty candidates: the ability to directly create a collection in their Dossier based on a particular set of institutional guidelines (for example, based on the tenure guidelines for the College of Arts & Sciences). It helps faculty make effective use of their Dossier as a staging ground to assemble or curate their materials in advance of known future reviews.

For example, if I’ve just started in a tenure-track history position, I can pull up the history department’s tenure guidelines in my online Dossier and, with a click, create a new collection in my Dossier that maps directly onto the stated requirements for my tenure packet—several years from now. And then, when the time comes to initiate my official case through Interfolio, I can import that collection straight over to my Interfolio tenure packet.

Sharing for feedback and mentoring (NEW)

And just today, we expanded Dossier Institution in another major way: by introducing sharing of materials and collections in Dossier.

Starting today, any faculty member with Dossier Institution can share individual files and collections of materials stored in their Dossier with other individuals at their school, and can enable those individuals to make line-by-line comments on documents. (We have also included a version of this feature in Dossier Deliver, the premium consumer package for scholars on the job market.)

The new Dossier sharing feature gives faculty a way to collect feedback on academic materials from others at their institution—including documentation of research, creative production, teaching, or service—without leaving the Interfolio environment where their work is stored. And it accommodates ongoing input on academic case materials, whether outside of an formal institutional workflow or as part of one, such as in the case of a mentoring letter.

The sharing feature is a significant step forward for Dossier, and we are interested to learn about its use among our client institutions. As usual, our product team has already conducted extensive research to understand a variety of real-world scenarios where scholars seek feedback on their work. The result is a flexible feature that accommodates a variety of collaborative needs.

Do you have Dossier Institution, and want to see what sharing looks like? Go ahead: sign into your Dossier, open up any document, and select “Share.”

Further developments for Dossier Institution in 2018

As mentioned earlier, we foresee Dossier Institution playing an increasingly central role in the long-term success of the Interfolio faculty information system at colleges and universities. When faculty benefit from new technologies and services, their institution benefits as well.

One major avenue of exploration is how the Dossier could serve, in a responsible way, as the avenue for ordinary faculty data collection at client institutions. This is a major hurdle in faculty activity reporting—so finding smooth ways to build routine data management into moments when faculty access their academic portfolio should be a win-win. 

Dossier Institution User Help Articles:

Tenure is, surely, the most visible and consequential formal academic review that a college or university faculty member encounters. But academic institutions certainly have in place many other types of formal faculty review processes—so it’s critical that Interfolio be able to accommodate those as well. And we do. Continue reading “Beyond P&T: Using Interfolio for Annual and Periodic Faculty Reviews”

One key reason that colleges and universities find Interfolio’s faculty review software so valuable is that it accommodates virtually every practical action involved in an academic committee decision. This month’s product release—arising from an array of thoughtful client input—serves equity and transparency with a new tool to enforce committee accountability. Continue reading “Following the process: committee-facing requirements in Interfolio’s Promotion & Tenure”

We want to highlight a recent development in Interfolio’s Dossier product, the academic portfolio software we’ve offered since 1999, that will support career development for scholars at institutions using our shared governance platform: institutional guidelines for review, promotion, and tenure. Continue reading “The scholar’s career online: Interfolio’s Dossier, and the benefits of educational portfolio software re-envisioned”