Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Note to Search Committees

As campus-visit season gets into full swing and decision-making season is about to begin, I'd like to offer a small piece of advice to search committees.

We job candidates know when you interview us that you might not invite us to campus. We know when you invite us to campus that you might not offer us the job. That's fine. You don't have to invite us to campus if you interview us, and you don't have to offer us the job if you invite us to campus. We'd love it if you did, obviously, but we know you don't have to. We know you don't owe us a job.

But that doesn't mean you don't owe us anything. What you owe to us is a nice note that thanks us for our time and wishes us well. You owe it to us to communicate with us one last time after the interview or campus visit. You owe it to us to let us know, from you, that we didn't get the job. You owe it to us even if we already found out, or will eventually.

Because the people you interview are people. And they traveled to Washington, DC to meet with you; or else they took the time to get together with you over Skype or on the phone; they invested time and energy into preparing for the interview, researching your school, your department, and their potential colleagues; maybe they even traveled to your town to meet with you and your colleagues and your administration and attempt to win you over with a presentation or two. And they did this because you invited them to do it—because you contacted them and said you wanted to interview them. Because you expressed to them that you were interested in them. And that goes quadruple for the people you invite to campus.

That means you owe something to the people you interview. You owe them courtesy. You don't owe them a job, but you owe them thanks for doing those things, which they did at your request and invitation. And then you owe it to them to wish them well.

--Mr. Zero

47 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm still waiting to hear from 3 schools that interviewed me at the APA in 2010. Maybe I'll be getting a flyout!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this, Mr. Zero!

You are absolutely correct. And in fact, my friends in other professions are appalled at the lack of courtesy displayed by *some* philosophy search committees - it isn't acceptable behavior in other fields. It should not be acceptable in ours.

Anonymous said...

I agree. Two schools who interviewed me at the APA didn't bother notifying me of their decision (I know that they have scheduled campus visits). This shows a great lack of consideration and respect.

Anonymous said...

As others have pointed out before, SCs seldom contact candidates to let them know they're not inviting them to campus just in case the folks they are inviting don't work out. It's much more common to hear from SCs *after* someone has accepted an offer. If you never hear from an SC with whom you had a first-round interview at all after said interview, that's another story entirely.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely. And SCs should personalize the letter. None of this "Dear Applicant" BS. (This has really happened with some schools that interviewed me.)

Anonymous said...

I still haven't heard back from an on-campus interview in 2004!

Mr. Zero said...

If you never hear from an SC with whom you had a first-round interview at all after said interview, that's another story entirely.

No, that's not "another" story. That's the story I'm talking about.

Anonymous said...

I'd certainly think that an email that says that the committee has invited other people to the campus, but that you might still be considered later in the process would be reasonable if the committee did not consider the decision to not invite a candidate to campus a final removal from the pool. Really it makes sense to put candidates in three groups--"def. not" (notify that there's no interest) "not now" (may get further consideration later in the search) and invites.

I was on a committee outside of my discipline and this is how we handled it.

Anonymous said...

I had a school contact me for my availability to interview for their position and then never bothered contacting me again. True, they did not say I had an interview but why would you ask someone if they were available to interview and never even followup to schedule an interview or send a PFO? Also, why aren't schools sending out PFOs? I must have applied to 50 schools and maybe one-tenth of them sent out PFOs.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Mr. Zero. Well said.

Anonymous said...

There are reasons to refrain from contacting candidates immediately that didn't make the flyout cut. On a committee I sat in on, we flew three candidates out; one was a disaster and our first choice turned the job offer down. Since we had money in the budget, the decision was made to fly a fourth candidate out. Although she came out later than the others, we didn't need to make it clear that she was our last pick of the flyout people, especially because I don't think that had any bearing on our final offer. After the offer was extended and accepted, the candiates from the top list who hasn't been flown out were notified.

Anonymous said...

I kind of like the image of SC members having the time to personalize notes to everyone that applied.

Anonymous said...

Has anybody who's still waiting to hear back several years down the road ever tried phoning (or emailing, if that makes you too uncomfortable) the department in question to ask about it?

I mean, it would be a really awkward conversation for everyone, but I expect the department would learn its lesson.

/fantasizing

Anonymous said...

6:19: "we didn't need to make it clear that she was our last pick of the flyout people...."

Show of hands: would you be willing to endure the terrible blow to your self-esteem of learning you're #4 (out of the hundreds who applied) if, in exchange, you could ensure that the 5-15 others who didn't make the first cut would receive a prompt and polite note?

Anonymous said...

@7:23 - Here's one hand for full disclosure! I've been fortunate enough to hear from every SC that I interviewed with at the APA. And even in those cases where I had to learn that my status with them was lower than I would've hoped, I was pleased for the information. Informed candidates become better candidates. And being treated as someone worthy of being informed offers a rare "pro" to contrast with the mounting list of "cons" for continuing in the profession. Thanks for starting this conversation, Mr. Zero. I hope your post is shared far and wide.

machine for brains said...

(part I)

Mr. Zero: I think your comment at 4:46 may have missed the mark.

I could be wrong of course, but I understood 4:15's comment to be a reply to 3:33. 3:33 seemed to be complaining about not having heard from SCs who had recently made decisions about on-campus interviews. 4:15's point was that SCs sometimes wait to contact everyone they interviewed at the APA until they are sure they won't be scheduling additional on-campus interviews.

And then 4:15 finished by making it clear that this wasn't the issue you had originally addressed in your post. (That's what I took him/her to mean by 'that's another story altogether' -- that is, the 'other story' is the point you had been making in the original post.)

Perhaps I'm wrong though.

(I have a follow up question, but I'll put that in a separate comment.)

machine for brains said...

I have a question for job candidates. When my department runs searches, we actually make a point of contacting all our APA interviewees to let them know that they weren't selected for the first-round set of on-campus interviews, even though we also explain that our search is not finished and that they have not been eliminated from our pool of candidates. (When the search is over, we of course contact them again, personally.)

I'm curious to know what those on the job market think of this. Is it worthwhile/nice/morally obligatory to inform those interviewed at the APA that they have not been invited on campus for the first round, even though the possibility remains open that we could still invite them?

Mr. Zero said...

Mr. Zero: I think your comment at 4:46 may have missed the mark.

Having briefly reviewed the comments you mention, I am inclined to agree.

machine for brains said...

(Whoops. I wish I had finished reading all the comments. I believe I just asked the same question 7:23 asked. Apologies for the unnecessary repetition.)

Anonymous said...

@Anon 7:20,

I take it you were being sarcastic here.
No, SCs clearly don't have the time to personalize letters to everyone who applied. I clearly meant that they should do this with everyone they interviewed at the convention. This is generally around 10-15 people. I don't think that's too much to ask.

Anonymous said...

I interviewed with a certain religious school in California at the APA this year. Though I didn't get a flyout, they were kind enough to send an email and to follow up with a *personal phone call* to tell me I had been unsuccessful and to wish me the best.

Sure, it was a bit awkward, but the kindness was truly appreciated.

Anonymous said...

I was once offered a fly-out from a school that made it clear to me after the interview that I was not on their initial short list. They were upfront about it, and basically told me that one of their finalists was offered another job. It never occurred to me to be offended that I wasn't their first choice. After all, competition is so tough right now, many departments have a hard time deciding who to fly out. Why be offended that you were #4, or whatever?

I did, however, appreciate the transparency on the part of the committee.

Anonymous said...

This year, I got word from a SC regarding the outcome of a skype interview. They said that they selected two people to go on campus, but that my application was still considered active, as I was on their reserve list in case the on campus did not pan out. Meanwhile they notified me that one of their 2 top choices has accepted the position (informally), thanked me for my time, wished me the best, and told me they would update me if (exceptionally) the informal agreement did not go through.
This looks like good practice for everyone, and I cannot see a downside for any party. Obviously, I am disappointed I did not get an on campus, but I would not at all have held it against this SC if they had decided to get me on campus after their top 2 did not pan out (Quite to the contrary, I would be overjoyed!)
For those SC who fear that notifying people they are not the top choices will hurt their egos and maybe harm subsequent harmonious relations in the department, I think there are many excellent candidates, and so even if you end up in a department you knew you were not the top choice, how can that reflect badly on you (after all, you are still their top-5 choice in a pool of hundreds of qualified applications)

Anonymous said...

While I am sure some of us are genuinely concerned about moral obligations, professional decorum, and the like, I suspect that many would simply appreciate some evidence of human decency in the midst of a brutal, humiliating, and mostly impersonal process. For some this would provide a tiny salve to our wounded egos.

But I think we're kidding ourselves if we believe that anyone really gives a shit. Why should they? The vast majority of philosophers I have known in my life are socially dysfunctional on some level or other, and several of them are just total assholes. (Oddly, this generalization does not hold up among my friends in friends in other disciplines...) If the point is to hire a new philosopher--the best we can get!-- see no problem at all with leaving the "non-competitive" candidates in the dust with nary a "thank you for playing." Again, why should/would we?

Don't forget what Nietzsche said about monsters. Every soulless asshole on an SC was a graduate student or adjunct or VAP once.

Anonymous said...

When I accepted my current job, I was part of a second wave of interviewees, and also the second person offered the position (the first one turned it down). The department didn't tell me this, though; I found it out through the wiki, as job seekers are prone to do, and so was doubly disappointed, both in feeling like a second choice and dealing with a department whose workings were so opaque. Of course, I still accepted the job when it was offered, with no hard feelings, and have enjoyed it greatly. But what in the world was gained by failing to be open about the status of the search, given that I was going to find out about it anyway?

Anonymous said...

I agree with several others here that, as a job candidate, I would prefer to be contacted by a department and informed (for example) that I have not been chosen for a campus visit, even if there is some chance I will be invited later (in the case that the department's first choice candidates don't work out).
Honestly, I am a bit puzzled by the notion that departments refrain from doing this because they don't want to let a candidate know that she is not their first choice. Firstly, this is such a small profession that it is highly likely that candidates will hear somehow about the progress of the department's search (through the wiki, through friends, etc.). Secondly, I would feel more positively disposed to a department that was honest with me and provided me with useful *information* that I would towards one that left me to wonder what was going on. This seems especially true given the anxiety and distress involved in the job market.

Anonymous said...

Is it worthwhile/nice/morally obligatory to inform those interviewed at the APA that they have not been invited on campus for the first round, even though the possibility remains open that we could still invite them?

Absolutely. I have received such notifications in my years on the job market, and I appreciate it. The alternatives seem to be (a) sitting around for weeks not knowing anything, (b) learning anyway, but unreliably, from the Wiki, (c) finding out through the grapevine. If I'm going to hear about it, I'd rather hear about it directly from the SC (who can provide more information about your status than the Wiki and grapevine), and I'd rather know than not know.

SCs, in this market, I'm lucky to get one job offer, and if so the fact that I was your #4 instead of your #1-3 (out of, in some cases, upwards of 800) is meaningless. In the rare event that I'll be choosing between your job and another, the fact that I was #4 will be easily trumped by all other sorts of considerations. I care about the salary, location, teaching load, colleagues, tenure expectations, research and teaching support, etc. It's hard to imagine a scenario where the fact that I got asked to prom second would matter in the slightest.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with Mr. Zero. We are *people,* and we deserve to be treated as such. Only 1 (perhaps 2) of the 5 schools I have interviewed with has treated me with the sort of consideration and kindness I expect. This particular school sent me the kindest note informing me that I was not on their short list. I cannot tell you how much this meant to me. This member of the search committee seemed to actually have a measure of empathy for me and even expressed confidence that I would find a good job elsewhere. Even if I do not find a good job elsewhere, I feel far less demoralized!

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know what it's like for other (non-academic) fields? For instance, how do other professional fields handle rejections for those they have interviewed in person? I have never had such an experience, and I never really though to ask others (though I will now).

I guess what I'm wondering is, is the academic market shitty by comparison to other professional fields?

Dr. Killjoy said...

I'm curious as to whether a SC could absolve themselves of such courtesy debts by explicitly telling everyone at the interview stage:

"If you do not hear from us by such-and-such date (e.g., Feb. 15th), assume that you are no longer under consideration for the position".

The above sort of disclaimer, discourteous or not, is standard business practice outside of academia. As such, though perhaps reasonable for candidates to demand otherwise, it most certainly isn't reasonable for them to expect otherwise.

Anonymous said...

I interviewed with a certain different religious school in the northeast (not at the APA), and I also got a personal phone call explaining exactly why I was not given a campus interview (it partly had to do with a change in what they were looking for because of a faculty departure). The certain religious schools seem to be doing well on this score.

Anonymous said...

It is worth emphasizing to 7:20PM and others who apparently missed the point that asking candidates to interview involves asking them to arrange potentially a large amount of their schedule and money to make this possible.

Consider that some of your interviewees had maybe one or two APA interviews. They flew all that way, and spent their own money on this trip, to be there for that interview. So they don't get a campus visit - you can MINIMALLY acknowledge that they did this by responding personally. Sending a personal email to 10-12 candidates takes you five minutes if you just sit down to do it.

I'm also skeptical of some SC members who claim that they are not allowed to contact candidates until a search is completed concluded - someone's name is signed on the dotted line. Usually, I've found out that people surmised on behalf of human resources, or just went along with the assumption that they shouldn't contact people, mostly because it made their own lives a bit easier.

Zarathustra said...

British SCs sometimes act as Killjoy suggests. It seems to me a humane way of handling things, and one that might be advisable for SCs that dread the awkwardness of emailing/calling with news of rejection.

Anonymous said...

The department didn't tell me this, though; I found it out through the wiki, as job seekers are prone to do,

That's the thing I don't get. In the proverbial "old days," SCs could reasonably expect to get away with 1) inviting candidates on campus or making an offer and 2) not keeping the second and third choice candidates informed. But times have changed, and the opportunities for a candidate to learn indirectly that s/he didn't get an invite or an offer have increased substantially. So, why not just be up front with the candidates about what's going on?

Anonymous said...

As for outside of Academia, I can only speak for software jobs. If you go through a recruiter, the recruiter will tell you after they talk to the employer. If you interview directly, then you might not hear anything if you don't get the job. Typically, after an onsite, you will get an email. But not necessarily after a phone interview. The bigger places are generally good about notification. Google notifies for both. So does Amazon. We had HR that would take care of sending PFO's. The rejection rates at these places are as high as they are for philosophy jobs and they interview all year. (btw. The applicant pool is not as qualified. I used to spend at about 6 hours a week doing phone interviews. It was a big part of the job. You don't have anything akin to a writing sample to sort out the wheat. It was hard to find people worth bringing onsite. . . .)

Anonymous said...

I've been wondering about the opposite question: when an SC contacts you after the interview (typically over email) that they won't invite you for a campus visit, or they made an offer that was accepted, or you are not being considered any more for whatever reason, should you reply to the email?

Anonymous said...

to 8:31 PM:

My (probably idiosyncratic) rule of thumb has been this: if the rejection e-mail comes from a person's account (joe.blow@school.edu), I reply with a "thanks for letting me know" e-mail. If the rejection comes from a group account (postdoc.committee@school.edu), I don't.

verification word: pestusla. Rejections are such a pain in the pestusla.

TSS

machine for brains said...

I've been wondering about the opposite question: when an SC contacts you after the interview (typically over email) that they won't invite you for a campus visit, or they made an offer that was accepted, or you are not being considered any more for whatever reason, should you reply to the email?

Personally, I appreciate a short, polite reply; something that acknowledges that you've received my email. After emailing bad news to candidates (specifically, emailing those we interviewed at the APA, but are not inviting to campus), I've generally received replies. Notes saying something like the following are welcome: "Thank you very much for keeping me in the loop." When I hear nothing from the candidate, I understand of course; this sort of news is disappointing. However, my concern is that the candidate did not receive my original email.

(Once a candidate replied to tell me that she didn't care because she'd been offered a better job. (A better job in her estimation of course; I love where I teach.) I thought that was a little tacky. But again, I understand. Rejection is difficult, even when we're being rejected by someone we didn't really want in the first place.)

Anonymous said...

What's the story with a job that keeps getting bumped up to the top of some category on the wiki (e.g., Worcester Polytechnic in the first-round interview category)? Does this mean that someone is deleting the original post, and then someone (else, presumably) is reposting it? I've noticed this with a few jobs.

Anonymous said...

Hell Yea!

Anonymous said...

I reply to everything that comes into my inbox (unless it definitely does not need a reply), especially emails that originate with someone else.

If I get an obvious form letter, however, I like to respond in kind.

Kris McDaniel said...

When I last served on a search committee, we told the ones we interviewed where they stood by sending them each an email after the first round of decisions were made.

At most, 15-20 emails will need to be written, and they don't take long to write. (maybe 15 minutes in total.)

I have zero evidence that sending these emails after the APA interviews in any way compromised the search process, and everyone who we contacted provided testimonial evidence that they appreciated knowing where they stood.

Contacting the people that you've interviewed face to face with is the right thing to do.

Here are the templates I used, with minor tweaks:

Dear Candidate X,

I am writing to you in order to update you on the ____ search
at ____ University. We are currently making arrangements to fly
three candidates out for campus visits. Although you are not one of the three candidates, the search committee has a very positive view of your application and would like you to know that you are still being
considered for the position. We had a very strong pool of applicants
and had to make some hard decisions.

best wishes,

The person who sends this email on behalf of the search committee.

Dear Candidate X,

I am writing to you in order to update you on the _____
search at ____ University. Although your application file was very
strong, I regret to inform you that we will not be pursuing your
application further. We had a very strong pool of applicants and had to
make some very hard decisions. We wish you luck and success, and thank
you for applying for our position.

best wishes,

me

-------

Anonymous said...

Inspired by Kris McDaniel's monady status, I recommend sending the bad news in an mp3. Something like this, set to the tune of Old MacDonald:

Guess who's not on-campusing?
P-F-O-F-O.
Guess who's not on-campusing?
P-F-O-F-O.
With an F-O here, and F-O there,
Etc.

Anonymous said...

Slightly tangential, but related:

Dear search committees, please do your best to make sure that reimbursements for travel arrive in a timely fashion. Or, better yet, pay for (almost) everything yourselves up front. Candidates, as we all know, typically don't have much of a financial cushion. If they have to wait over a month to be reimbursed for flight + hotel + food, it can put them into the red. This didn't happen to me last year, but at this point I'm owed nearly $3k by various departments, some of which have had my receipts for over a month.

Anonymous said...

10:06:

We'd like to, but the finances are completely out of the SC's hands. Completely. That's university administration, and it's a crapshoot. Some schools are faster than others. But I can assure you, there is nothing SCs can do about reimbursements (other than harass the appropriate offices, which many of us do).

I'd love it if, at my university, the department could cover those costs up front and get reimbursed by the university later. However, our hands are tied by the state. When we can convince the state to change certain fiscal policies, then perhaps we can do that. (I know that some schools already have such a policy, which hopefully will help start changes.)

Anonymous said...

I was interviewed by 3 Departments at the Eastern and have heard absolutely nothing since. Is it out of line to contact the Chairs of these SCs and ask them where I stand? Specifically, what I'd like to know is if I am in their "no" piles. I expect people would advise against such a thing...which is why I have yet to do it, but much planning needs to take place if any one of these are viable options. What I think this whole process ignores is that many of us have households that are dual income and the complexities that arise from planning accordingly. I have an interview at the Central as well--and actually plan to ask the questions prospective employees would ask in any other interview situation: What are next steps? When should I expect to hear from you? etc. Who knows what kind of information it'll bring, but at the very least I think I will feel like I've done my best to make clear that I am a human being who is interested in x job and would like to know what the interview process actually entails. Oh and that I expected to be treated as such.

Any thoughts or advice would be helpful, as this is my first time on the market.

Anonymous said...

4:07:

It's unfortunate you posted your question to a "dead" thread. There really wasn't much chance of getting any replies, despite the fact that I thought your question was interesting and worthy of some discussion.

I would have replied myself, when I first saw it, but I couldn't think of anything particularly sage. My inclination would have been to suggest that you wait. SCs often feel a bit harassed by candidates prying for information. And yet, I think your reasons for wanting information are entirely natural and sensible. None of this was sufficiently revelatory to bother posting. (I'm only saying something now because I think it unfortunate your question garnered no replies.)

I hope things worked out. Best of luck.