Monday, March 21, 2011

Ask The Radical: Search Committee Smackdown, Part Eleventy

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It's that time of the year again.  You've gotten all gussied up in your glad rags.  You polished your power point and talked the talk. You perfected the technique of subtly checking your teeth with your bread knife at dinner.  You left -- well, you left that fly-back academic interview feeling good about yourself.  And then:

Nothing.  They never call, they never write.....

Dear Professor Radical,

I have appreciated your blogs about the job market.   I've tried to follow the rules-- both written and unwritten.

Could you post another one about the rules for search committees? The closer I get to a job without getting it, the more their etiquette seems to break down. I'm a big girl and I can handle rejection. But I don't like this awkward silence for weeks after the interview.  It makes me feel like a dirty one night stand. 

 If a search committee chair doesn't know to write a letter of rejection -- well, no big deal except that neither place I interviewed has had the decency to tell me they've moved on. I'm smart and figured it out. But it just seems decent to tell me before I read it on the Wiki or, God forbid, from another candidate.

 Can't we elevate the job process to a level that is more professional than bad dating ??  Thank God for basketball or I don't know what I'd do.

Well, you should also thank the Goddess that you aren't in my NCAA men's fantasy bracket, because I'm shooting a honkin' 96%!

OK, seriously.  This sucks   And you know it's wrong, but the question is, why do they do it?  I'll tell you the top five excuses for not talking to the candidates.

#5:  "We haven't finalized the deal with the candidate we did offer the job to, so don't alienate the other candidates in case we have to go to our second choice."  You know the worst of it?  They really believe that it would cause an unrepairable breach if, in this crummy market, they offered you a job as the second choice candidate.  This is what often prevents them from making a call that says, "You know, it came down to field, but we've offered the job to someone else and s/he has two weeks to respond.  We'll get back to you the week of the 21st, for sure, and let you know what is happening."  You're thinking, "Those d00ds have their heads up their a$$es!"  Not really -- they have their heads back in the 1970s, when getting the job as a second choice really was a ticket to nowhere and the people who voted against your hire also voted against your tenure case, just on principle.  And they would have been heartbroken to be a second choice, so you would too, right?  Right?  Uh -- I can't hear you, the industrial dishwasher is too loud.....

#4:  "Was that my job?  I thought the dean was supposed to be in touch with the candidates."  At many schools, some people will never run a search in their lives, and in small departments, many people may never even be on a search committee.  I know at Zenith, you have a meeting with administrators prior to commencing your search.  They cover all the parts of the process that  have to do with affirmative action diversity hiring, but there is no instruction, written or otherwise, about how to run a search in a way that is gracious or efficient.  The assumption is that you have learned this by being searched for (the same goes for tenure:  everything you need to know to decide someone else's fate for the first time, you learn by coming up for tenure.)

As an added wrinkle, in many departments, once the candidates are produced, the search committee dissolves, and it may be no one's job to be in touch with the candidates.

#3:  "When the heck are we going to get budget approval for this hire?  Can someone call the dean, fuh Chrissakes?"  Believe it or not, at many small schools, the administration approves multiple searches, but only actually has funding for X% of them.  Departments propose their candidates, and the administration decides which ones are the "best" -- and only those departments get a new hire.  This, and other budgetary shenanigans, can hold up a process for weeks.  Throw a spring break in, and it's a real clusterf**k for the candidates.

#2: "We got our first choice! We got our first choice!  Uh -- What other candidates?"  This is what you fear, and I am afraid it is often true.  Academics can be narcissistic a$$hats, and unfortunately, because you no longer have anything to do with them, it's as if you never existed.

#1:  "That's a really awkward and unpleasant call to make and I would really rather not."  Really, this is the reason that most finalists never hear from anyone.  It's gotten too personal, and they don't want to disappoint you in person.  What they don't get, because they can't cope with this, is that you already know and you would rather be treated like a person!

But seriously, guys. This is the second person I have heard from this week who was told they would hear something in a certain time frame, and they haven't even gotten a call to be told that nothing is decided yet.

WTF, search committees?  Don't you read Tenured Radical?

33 comments:

Comrade PhysioProf said...

I feel fucken bloated from all these motherfucken recruiting dinners, serving on two fucken search committees this semester.

Brian W. Ogilvie said...

I've been on the receiving end of this, so when I chaired a search, I made sure to let every applicant know, as soon as possible, where they stood. That included letting people know at least 3 weeks before AHA whether they had a first-round interview (I aimed for earlier, but late approval of the search meant a late application deadline), and letting the first-round interviewees know that they were not being invited to campus as soon as we had made our decision. At the end of every interview (first round and on campus), I let candidates know what our time frame was and asked them to be in touch if they wanted or needed to know where things stood.

With the final round, it's tricky because some administrations require drawn-out scrutiny before offers can be made, and my department prefers not to let new hires know whether they were our first, second, or third choice, on the grounds that regardless of where they stood in our initial ranking, they were good enough to be hired and they don't need to start out with any baggage. But as soon as we had an accepted offer, I let the other applicants know. Sure, it wasn't pleasant, but it was the right thing to do.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

TR, you forgot #6: "Will we get sued if we say this?" Seriously, the longer I'm at my university, the more I think that this is the governing reason for anything. Faculty in my department are prohibited from having any contact whatsoever with any candidate from the time they leave campus until the time that every last person signs off on the hire, for fear that someone will say something that will trigger a lawsuit. It's a dumb way to do things.

Anonymous said...

I'm really not looking forward to this part of the academic "career." It's bad enough when someone doesn't email me back about that conference panel I really wanted to be on; how much worse is it going to be when it's a job? Oodles worse, that's how much. And yes, that's a scientific measurement.

Tenured Radical said...

How many dorks are in an oodle?

rustonite said...

the more I hear about academic hiring, the more it reminds me of sorority rush. I guess people really don't grow up.

reassignedtime said...

For what it's worth, my university's policy is that we can't contact *any* candidates rejecting them until the search is closed, which means that when we don't get in touch until March it's not because we, the search committee, are jerks, but rather because we are following the jerky policy of the place of our employment.

JoVE said...

I was going to ask wtf those people in human resources do to earn their pay but then reassignedtime's comments suggest that they make up goofy policies to prevent any chance of Notorious PhDs scenario ... Geez.

The only search committees I ever served on were for UK universities. And HR dealt with calling candidates. Usually promptly. Though we also brought all the candidates to campus on the same day and usually made a decision before we went home for supper.

scholasticamama said...

Having just finished a search, I can reiterate reassignedtime's post. We had a decision made the evening after our last candidate left. Notifying the dean, finding out we went about it the wrong way (yeah, thanks for those instructions for the search committees, they were _really_ helpful), wasting three days while our chair tangled with the administration, etc etc. We did notify all the candidates within a week, but it was not as quickly as we wanted. We had a search chair who was adamant about informing every candidate every step of the way. But even with the chair's hard work, the admin put us behind our own schedule. That said, waiting is the WORST and never hearing, that just sucks.

Historiann said...

I think expectations have changed in the past decade or so since e-mail has become the preferred (or indeed the only) means of communicating with job applicants. Back in the old days (the mid- and late 1990s) when we still used snailmail, no one expected to be informed if one was not being offered the job. A paper letter would arrive in April or May and inform us again of what we already knew.

But now with e-mail, candidates (in my view *reasonably*) expect a little more intel in a timlier fashion. But most if not all of the dinosaurs running search committees these days were hired in the years of the April or May U.S. mailogram final rejection letter. I guess my final thought is that e-mail goes both ways, so why not e-mail the search chairs who've used e-mail so far in keeping you apprised of your progress with the search? It's better (or at least faster) than just waiting around waiting for the postman. The e-mail works both ways, so let it work for you.

Anonymous said...

Have readers had similar experiences outside academia? Of the four interviews I had last year, two schools sent prompt email rejections, one sent a May snailmail rejection, and one never contacted me again. Is it too much to ask to send an email to ten people?

This year seems to be following a similar pattern. Emailing S.Cs has only led to more vagueness and frustration. It's understandable that committees won't always be able to follow the specific timelines they've laid out for candidates. But if they don't, might they be willing to share what IS going on.

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

I got a job offer this season, and I was the second choice. The search chair was very transparent about the process and said that they would contact me at various points. I still found out information beforehand by watching the wiki. I knew when she called me originally that they had made an offer to the other candidate, but she stressed that until the person accepted the position that it would remain open and they wanted me to still consider the position if it were turned down by the other candidate. She reassured me that she wished they could hire both of us and that we were both strong candidates. When I asked, she said that the thing that pushed the other candidate to the top of their list was his administrative experience, which I took to mean he had either served as an adviser or on committees. Anyway, the candidate took two weeks to turn down the offer, and I was checking the wiki every day. Finally, the wiki stated that the offer was refused on a Friday. The following Monday, I got a call from the search chair saying that the offer was declined and that they'd like to hire me, but they have to get approval from the provost first. Of course, they were on spring break, so he was out of town. Another couple of days went by before I got the official offer. And honestly, even though the search chair said I pretty much had the job, I didn't actually believe it until the provost called me himself. I'd heard plenty of horror stories, so I didn't want to get my hopes up at all.

In most ways, my experience was much more transparent than other stories I've heard. It was still nerve wracking nonetheless. It's great that all that stress ended in landing a job, though. Now, I just have the stress of moving 2000+ miles with my hubby and two kids. It's a nice problem to have.

I must admit, though, that being 2nd choice was a bit of a bruise to my ego. It makes me wonder how weird it will be with the other department members when I start in the fall. Maybe it will only be as weird as I let it be. After all, I don't know who voted for me and who didn't. I'll just assume that I'm among friendly people for now and go about my business. (Maybe this is naive, but I don't want to start a new job completely paranoid either.)

Anonymous said...

I really WISH that SCs were obliged to the following rule:
Expedite Reimbursement Process, especially for the candidate/s you don't hire.

I was just out on the job market, briefly, after years away. And, once again, I experienced the especial humiliation of having to chase down promised reimbursement/s after not getting the job offer. This time it wasn't that much money, and it only took about 8 weeks, and I have an actual job now. But a few years back when I was juggling part-time work while hunting for my first job, I routinely had to nag to get the promised reimbursement. The worst was one SLC, which insisted that I purchase my own plane ticket as per their Uni policy (not uncommon these days) and then dragged out the reimbursement for more than six months.

If you promise to reimburse for actual or incidental expenses, DO IT IN A TIMELY MANNER. Not doing so is like pouring salt in the wound.

Janice said...

When we used to hire people, back in the old days, we were stymied by policies that put the administration firmly in charge. Send up your ranked list, secure that offer for the first candidate after whatever wait, wait some more weeks for an actual contract to be drawn up and dickered over, wait more for the paperwork to be processed through the administrator's office.

Add in weeks more of delays if we move down the list to the equally wonderful second or third-ranked candidate.

Only then could we tell the rest of the short-listed candidates the outcome.

Anonymous said...

The best committee-communication experience I had on the job market this year was with a major private R1, centrally located in the middle of nowhere. After the fly-out visit, the chair asked me what I would be doing on [specific day, several weeks ahead] at [2-hour time range] and told me to expect a call then.

The chair called exactly as predicted. I didn't get the job, but that department really knows how to run a search. Competitor institutions, take note.

Anne West said...

It is a very crappy system. I've been on the market twice and had to call & email SC's to find out that I didn't get the job. For those jobs that applied to, but did not interview for, many didn't even bother with a rejection letter/email. I mean come on, I'm spending lots of money using interfolio to get my stuff their on time and professional looking and they can't even lick a stamp to tell me that I was rejected? A form email would do.

Thanks for the post.

Spanish prof said...

In my current TT job, I was the 4th choice. In fact, I actually received a rejection letter from them. Too bad I threw it away. Otherwise, it would have made for a good souvenir.

Sarabeth said...

For people whose administrative policies won't let them contact candidates, an anonymous wiki post would accomplish the same goal. I think this happened with the job I accepted this year - *someone* posted that an offer had been made, before I had a chance to tell anyone the news. It didn't bother me - it's not like they used my name. Seems like a good solution, albeit substantially less elegant than direct emails or phone calls to the other candidates.

Also, if you know up front that administrative procedures will preclude contacting candidates until after a contract is signed, this might be useful information to include in the generic first-round "we've received your application, here's an EEO form" letter or email.

As a personal preference, I prefer to get rejections my email anyway. Not having to pretend to be cheerful about it for the duration of a phone call is by far the better option for me. And I know the person on the other end of the phone isn't enjoying the process either. So if you don't want to make the phone call, you have my (probably irrelevant) blessing to do it all by email.

Finally, I was the second choice for another job this year. If I hadn't gotten a better (for me) offer, I would have taken it and not looked back. Based on the timeline, it was obvious that I was their second choice, but search chair was very gracious about making clear that they thought I was still a great candidate and would be a good fit. And honestly? These are my friends and colleagues I'm competing with. They ARE fantastic candidates, and I don't feel bad about coming in second to someone else. As long as the SC are not assholes about it, I don't think that's a reason not to be transparent.

Sisyphus said...

Yes to the email rejections. I was second choice --- gosh, I guess it is two years ago now?--- and the chair of the department called to let me know the first choice had accepted the offer, which sounds polite and thoughtful, except I was driving somewhere, half expecting the call, and had to pull over at the side of the freeway to take the call and get the bad news. I'd rather be home and able to let out my disappointment in private, without having to say thank you to someone on the other end of the line.

anothergradstudentcliche said...

@Anonymous asking if those outside academia have had this experience, yes, emphatically yes. I don't know if it's just my experience or if it's a sign of the times or endemic in my field (law), but I've had the extremely unpleasant experience of going for an interview and not hearing anything back, even after sending a follow-up thank you note and a "Letter of Continuing Interest." (My interview was in August, I don't think its unreasonable for me to have expected to hear something by now.)

I could be wrong, but it seems to me like this behavior is even more frustrating outside of academia, because at least in academia there is somewhat of a timeline, based on the academic calendar. Limbo sucks, especially if you're at the point where you have to figure out whether it's time to cast that proverbial wider net, which in my case means selling out.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

I went away for a couple of days over break with a friend who had just finished a successful search. She got back to the other candidates very quickly -- once the offer was accepted, pretty much. It helps that Superdean hardly ever allows a candidate more than a week to make a decision.

Historiann said...

Fie Upon This Quiet Life--congratulations and don't give your "second choice" status a second thought. Remember, if they didn't want to hire you, they wouldn't have offered you the job. Your new department is no doubt thrilled that you accepted their offer and relieved that they don't have to worry about searching that line again, if they'd even get permission to do that.

I was first choice at my first job, and second or third ranked for my current job. My first job was a nightmare abusive hellhole, and in this job I have always been treated well and respected, and they've always semeed happy to have me around. So, you just can't tell. People who were first-choice candidates sometimes have perfectly mediocre careers, and some of my colleagues who were hired in April and MAY even (and so know they were 4th, 5th or 6th down the list) are the superstars of my department.

Anyway, thanks for all of the comments from those of you on the market this year. I can say that in the event my department is ever permitted to hire again, I will urge the search committee chairs to stay in touch with folks and keep everyone apprised, especially if they've been an on-campus finalist.

GlassPen said...

way worse for many job seekers: dealing with the federal government, especially if the job requires a security clearance...this goes not only for jobs directly with govt, but also with govt contractors. even if you are told you "have the job" it isn't official until the background checks are completed. I have known instances where this took longer than a year...you can imagine the implications. good luck to anyone in the current job market.

Anonymous said...

Fie Upon This Quiet Life, here. Historiann, thanks for your words of encouragement. I really hope that going into this job with a gracious and positive attitude will be helpful. It's funny -- you never quite know what you're getting into with a job like this. The one-on-one interactions I had with everyone on my campus visit were great. But then the faculty dinner was kind of awkward. I took that as a sign that either they had already decided not to hire me, or there was unspoken tension in the department. I guess I'll find out about the latter in the fall.

Anonymous said...

I once had a chair call me and say "we intend to make you an offer; we just need official permission from the dean." Then nothing for four weeks. I call and they say that instead of two positions they now had one, and it was going to the other guy.

Anonymous said...

Candidate behavior: As a chair I once concluded a search in which our offer was accepted by a talented and slightly (we thought) odd woman who was just what we needed. Months go by and in the summer I see an announcement that she has been hired by a school on the other coast. I call and say "WTF?" and she says she was conflicted because her current school would take away a fellowship if she went to us but not if she went to the other school. I ask her what she wants and she asks for a couple of days to make her final decision. She calls and she's chosen the other school. OK, move on. Two days later she writes and says that day she made the decision was very traumatic one because of some personal family history, and could she reconsider. I say, no, I'm going on vacation. In the next couple of years I heard the phrase "dodged a bullet" a lot.

LouMac said...

at the risk of outing myself as the most out-of-touch academic In The World .... what is "watching the wiki"?

Brian W. Ogilvie said...

@LouMac: the Academic Jobs Wiki allows users to anonymously update the status of various searches. It's at http://academicjobs.wikia.com/wiki/Academic_Jobs_Wiki

Anonymous said...

I did contact the search chair (who had been so kind when scheduling my skype and on-campus interviews) about my travel reimbursement and didn't get a reply back about that. The check finally arrived, though, so I wrote him to let him know and thank him. And no "Good to know" reply. So if he won't write me back about money, why bother with an email about the status of the job?

It is really all too bad because now I'm at a nearby institution with a great partnership opportunity for them and I'm thinking I'll go to another institution with it first. If they'd let me down respectfully, then I would have gone there first, despite the job rejection.

Think about it Search Committees. I'm not going to be a piddly candidate forever! One day, you'll be wanting me to speak on your campus! One day, you might even be waiting for a letter from me.

Anonymous said...

I don't read the academic wiki because it makes me throw up AND one of my friends drove off an interstate ramp due to some news on the wiki...not sure how that happened exactly, but it's true. Perhaps we are delicate flowers.

Thanks for sharing this...it caused me special delight because my department has been rejected twice by its first-choice candidate in the recent past...and that first-choice candidate was a nepotism hire...s/he came from the same institution that 2/3 of our faculty came from...Transparency, my ass.

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Searching said...

At least have the decency to send a rejection letter to those who would have never made it and don't wait until the end. I think many people are rewarding procrastination, when they can be losing a lot of valuable candidates in the meantime.