Friday, March 8, 2013

Two PFOs

I received two PFO letters yesterday. The nice one came from the University of Michigan. It read as follows:


Subject: Thank You 
Thank you for applying for the positions we advertised at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. We were very impressed by the range and quality of the applications received this year. I'm not surprised to see how many of the people who applied for the positions here have landed excellent jobs, in departments that are I'm sure delighted to have hired them. 
Unfortunately, we now have offers out to other candidates, and if they are accepted that will fill our available jobs for the year. I wish we could have hired more people, and when we next have positions advertised, we will be contacting many of the people who applied this year to encourage them to apply again. 
Congratulations to everyone who already has a job this cycle, and good luck to everyone still searching. 
Yours,
Brian Weatherson
Chair, Search Committee,
Philosophy Department,  University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

I thought this was tasteful and well-done, starting with the subject line. A bunch of this stuff doesn't really apply to me--I didn't land a job, excellent or otherwise; I'm 100% positive that they won't be contacting me to encourage me to apply again--but still. I'll take a "thank you and good luck" anytime. This isn't the best PFO I've ever had, or anything, but I'd put it in the top 10. 

The other one, by contrast, went like this: 

Subject: Not Selected for Campus for Interview 
Dear Applicant:     
Thank you for your interest in the Assistant Professor of Philosophy position in the Philosophy Department department at xxxx. At this time, the search committee has selected other candidates whose skills and abilities are better suited for the department. We wish you the best in your job search endeavors.   
Sincerely,    
Search Chair  


I was genuinely appalled by this. The blunt and ungrammatical subject line; the fact that has been obvious since December that I was not selected for campus for interview; the reference to my skills and abilities; the way it's not even really signed. This is not how it's done, Search Chair. 

Why is it so hard to say "we didn't hire you, but thanks for applying and good luck" without being a total asshole? 

--Mr. Zero


82 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yesterday, I got those, too, and my impressions were exactly the same as yours... It makes you wonder whether they get some kind of sick pleasure out of rejecting people and/or our joblessness... Shame on you philosophy department at xxxxxxx!

Anonymous said...

I got the second email, too. And I responded in the same way. I realize that this is probably trying to say something to the effect of "Another candidate was a better fit for our needs," but it reads like "Your skills and abilities were inadequate for our needs." F--- you very much.

Anonymous said...

is there a reason NOT to post the name of the offending department? Calling out people for being assholes is much less effective when few people know who you are talking about.

Many people who would be in a position to chastise this department might read your post and have no idea that it is their own institution.

zombie said...

On the evidence, it is quite difficult to craft a thoughtful, compassionate, polite PFO, one that doesn't gloat or damn with faint praise or deliver a backhanded compliment that slaps on the way back. It is the rare SC that manages this feat. Perhaps SCs ought to submit their PFOs to peer review before clicking SEND.

I always liked the ones that told me how many applicants they had. It felt slightly better to be 1 of 499 rejects.

Anonymous said...

I got my TT job two years ago. That year I had three campus visits. I am still waiting on any kind of official word from the department at one of those places that I haven't been hired. The HR department there was nice enough to send me a two line email two months after the person they hired announced his hiring on the Leiter job string. The search committee chair, who personally dropped me off at the airport—with a, "We'll be in touch soon!"—couldn't be bothered, apparently.

So it was especially awkward when, that summer, I ran into the SC chair in an airport. All he could muster was, "So .... (awkward pause) ... where did you end up?"

I was half tempted to say, "Why, with your department! Oh, didn't they tell you? Huh, that must be going around."

Anonymous said...

Personally, I had the opposite reaction to Michigan's. I'd rather not be reminded that for many people, the pfo wasn't one of an endless unrelenting stream of 'no's.

I'd rather have been told "I'm surprised at how many of our applicants haven't landed good jobs".

Mr. Zero said...

Hi anon 11:33 AM,

I think that's a fair criticism of the Michigan PFO. However, I also think that the bar for PFOs is astonishingly low.

The second PFO came from Dennison University.

Anonymous said...

I get your objection to the second one, especially regarding its subject line. But it at least has this much going for it: I'd much rather a subject line made it clear that I didn't get the position than not. So "Not You" is a better subject line, in my book, than "About that position you applied for.."

Yeah, by this point in the process, there's a 99% chance any contact will be a PFO. But when you first open up your inbox and see the subject line of an e-mail, there's still enough processing time to get your hopes up before you see who sent it or its content.

Anonymous said...

I too got both of these, and found the second unusually tactless. Rejection's never great, and the softening words in the better ones are clearly not specific to the individual, but even so - among a sea of PFOs, Denison's was jarringly curt.

Anonymous said...

In fairness to the department at xxxxx University, I think that tactless PFO came from HR, not from the search chair. I had a first-round interview with them and received a very nice PFO letter from the search chair via snail mail in late February. Then I also received this rather jarring email a few days ago. It seems unlikely to me that they are from the same person (why would they send me two PFOs, after all?)

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I don't see what's so appalling here. Yes, it's odd the DU email was about campus interviews after the position has been filled and the subject line is unfortunate, but there's no comment suggesting anything negative about the applicants. If anything there's a small attempt to say something polite and encouraging, even if it didn't come across well. The lack of a name at the bottom is a little lame but it did come from their HR. Warm and fuzzy or not, it's still a job you didn't get.

A quick plea for wiki updating! There's still a number of postings and VAPs that those of us looking for table scraps would like to get some news on.

Anonymous said...

I once received a rejection email from a university with an attached PFO letter. The title of the Word document was "Form_Rejection_For_Applicants," and the email was CC'd to everyone who was rejected.

It was so offensive I actually found it amusing. But also offensive.

Anonymous said...

Does this stuff really bother people? A "no" is a "no". I've received a lot of "no" in my inbox. A couple of "we'll take you to the next round and then decide" one of which resulted in a "yes" in my inbox.

When I see an email in my inbox from a department I've applied to, I want to be able to click the email and then be able to tell instantly what the response is: another "no", or do they wanna invite me to dance before deciding if they want to take me home? The Michigan letter meanders and the "Congratulations" is what catches my eye first, causing a "wait, what?" response in virtue of how short the email is. The letter fucks with me. I don't like it.

The other department is straight and to the point. That's all I need. Heck I probably won't even read it fully before I realise it's a "no". I like that. Just seeing it's length is sufficient for me to believe it's a "no". Then I'll read it: "Thank you blah blah" *I can see where this is going* "At this time the search committee has selected blah blah" *Ah, yep, confirmed--another "no" in the inbox*

Give me Philosophy Department department at xxxx's PFOs over Michigan Ann Abor's any day. I appreciate the effort. But I don't want tact, I just want the answer.

Anonymous said...

11:33 here. Yeah, agreed that the bar for PFOs is rather low. Just thought it was worth pointing out.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of rejections, I hate the way some grad conference do not even take pains to acknowledge reception of one's paper, let alone to notify rejection. They won't even answer your follow-up email if you're inquiring about the results. It's especially despicable as it comes from fellow grad students (but hey, they're in the best schools and you're not), and as most other highly rated schools do notify you in all cases. Those are the kind of people you don't want taking your job.

Anonymous said...

I'm presently in the midst of not hearing from a dept. for which I had an on campus, even though I'm pretty sure they've made the hire. I e-mailed them: nothing in return.

Finding out from Leiter ftw

Anonymous said...

Worst PFO line: Further to your application for the above post, I regret to inform you that on this occasion you have not been successful.

Loyola New Orleans on the other hand I must say wrote quite a fantastic PFO - it made me feel less shitty! Their courtesy is to be commended and I appreciated it tremendously.

Anonymous said...

I kind of wish that PFOs proposed alternative careers: "We really liked you, but we had to hire Barney Rubble instead. He has amazing pedigree at a Leiter ranked school, so our Dean made us hire him. However, many of us on the committee thought that you should have been hired. We also thought that you would make an excellent policy analyst if philosophy does not pan out for you. Best of luck. And do keep in touch." I do this for my students all the time. If they are going to fail out of school, I propose some alternate career plans: plumber, electrician, refrigerator repair person etc. Hell, all my plumber friends make three times what I make as a full time lecturer!

Anonymous said...

Allow me to bitch briefly about the time I had an on-campus interview (with the usual cheery "we'll be in touch soon!") followed by eight months of silence...and a form letter HR PFO. This seemed incredibly rude - and it lowered my overall impression of the department. Even if you really don't like a candidate, it's not that hard to send off a quick search update. Seriously, guys! My point? I'll take a bad PFO over none at all!

Speaking of PFOs, did anybody else notice that PFO #2 above says "Philosophy Department department"? Maybe it's because I just ate half a bag of jelly beans, but I can't stop laughing at that.



Anonymous said...

If you are bothered by a curt PFO, you are way too sensitive. As we all know, academia is full of rejections of various types, and just as a practical matter it would probably be better to develop a thicker skin. If you’re irked or offended by a curt PFO, or need it sugar-coated in order to feel OK about the letter or the rejection, I can’t imagine how upset you’d be by an uncharitable article review (with rejection), let alone a snide or nasty one.

Nor is there anything seriously objectionable about the curt letter, which stated nothing other than that the SC didn't think you were a good fit for the job. Even if there was some insinuation that you weren’t as good, in their view, as other candidates (and whether there was such an insinuation is open to debate), who cares? At best it’s extremely mildly rude.

As a matter of what’s warranted, and as a matter of what’s best for you, here is an exemplar of the kind of attitude you should take towards this stuff: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVCtkzIXYzQ

Anonymous said...

Hah, I received that terrible one too, and I wanted to send a big "Fuck You" right back. Part of me wants to say that I only applied to their position because I applied to lots of jobs I would have turned down if offered, and they were one of them, and I landed a much better job...so PFO to them too.

Anonymous said...

I’ve been on a search committee, though I’ve never written the PFO letter. If I ever do, I’m going to keep in mind what I read here. Every single time someone praises one of the letters, someone else says it’s demeaning, dismissive, insincere, heartless, vacuous, or something else awful. So, as far as I can tell, no PFO letter is satisfactory (which makes perfect sense), and none is univocally better than any other. So I’m not going to spend any time or mental energy worrying about it. I’ll just write, “Sorry, you’re one of the losers, *again*."

Mr. Zero said...

The same dissent is registered every year when this topic comes up. Some people think that those of us who think it's important to treat people with courtesy are thin-skinned whiners.

But that's bullshit. How it works is, if you're on a search committee, a bunch of people send you applications. They do this because you invited them to. They were interested in the job you advertised, and they went to some trouble to put the application together and transmit it to you. But--and this is important--they did it at your request.

That means you owe them something. You owe them a fair shake, and then you owe them a courteous note letting them know what the results were. That's not controversial. It's manners.

Anonymous said...

"I’ve been on a search committee, though I’ve never written the PFO letter. If I ever do, I’m going to keep in mind what I read here. Every single time someone praises one of the letters, someone else says it’s demeaning, dismissive, insincere, heartless, vacuous, or something else awful. So, as far as I can tell, no PFO letter is satisfactory (which makes perfect sense), and none is univocally better than any other. So I’m not going to spend any time or mental energy worrying about it. I’ll just write, “Sorry, you’re one of the losers, *again*.""


That's a straw man. A PFO is satisfactory in virtue of pissing off a *minimum* of people -- not in virtue of pissing no one off.

Anonymous said...

"...none is univocally better than any other. So I’m not going to spend any time or mental energy worrying about it."

Wait. What?! Since you can't please everybody you aren't going to try to please anybody? Huh. I like it. Since I'm pretty sure that while some people like not getting kicked in the groin, others dislike it. So I'm not going to spend any time or mental energy worrying about it. I'll just kick them in the groin.

Anonymous said...

ditto to Mr. Zero!

Anonymous said...

Some people think that those of us who think it's important to treat people with courtesy are thin-skinned whiners.

But the problem is, there are pretty plainly no recognized conventions for indicating courtesy. You posted two PFO letters, thinking that the first was courteous and the second not. But some commenters have the opposite reaction. You seem to think the difference of opinion is over whether search committees should be courteous, whereas in fact it's over what counts as courteous.

No matter what we write, some are going to think it was okay and some are going to think it was discourteous and proves that we're schmucks.

Anonymous said...

Not only is the Denison letter in poor taste, it also makes false claims. They almost certainly did *not* interview people "whose skills and abilities are better suited for the department."

If there's one thing I've learned about the philosophy job market, it's that most of us have more or less indistinguishable skills and abilities. I doubt the people they interviewed were distinguishable from the 50 or 60 people who were closest to the interview list. If anything, fit/pedigree/letters/extra credentialing are the only thing that means much on the market right now.

Anonymous said...

A somewhat-related noob question: If you have a campus visit, and then the search committee offers to the job to someone else, is it more common for them to write you at the same time to let you know, or just to not say anything until the other person accepts the offer (or turns it down)?

In other, more telling words: If I'm like 4:16 and haven't heard from an SC, how likely should I think it is that it's because I did not win?

Anonymous said...

@ 3/8/13 3:15 p.m.:
"Speaking of rejections, I hate the way some grad conference do not even take pains to acknowledge reception of one's paper, let alone to notify rejection. They won't even answer your follow-up email if you're inquiring about the results. It's especially despicable as it comes from fellow grad students (but hey, they're in the best schools and you're not), and as most other highly rated schools do notify you in all cases. Those are the kind of people you don't want taking your job"

This is a spot on comment. Agreed, this is deplorable, especially coming from fellow grads--the future Profs who will be guilty of the perpetuation of the type of practices described in this post, and the predominant subject of this blog. There is the in breeding of pedigree, combined with the established status quo of the entire field of academic philosophy: the preference for a "certain type" of applicant, that unless already equipped with a sense of social candor, and proper personal conduct, will follow in the footsteps of the mentors at program X, which may or may not be shining examples of the "good blood" our beloved field so badly needs, and is suffering from a lack of, because of the perpetuation of shameful tendencies, and thoroughgoing superiority complexes exhibited in showcasing of rudeness, distasteful practices, and all around near complete disregard for basic social and professional tendencies that are commonplace for "the masses" and are somehow lost on the few who become executors of power within philosophy.

Anonymous said...

"They almost certainly did *not* interview people "whose skills and abilities are better suited for the department.""

Of course. Because, as we know, all candidates are equal.

Let's stop with applications entirely and pull names out of a hat. I'm sure it makes no difference anyway, considering how interchangeable we all are.

Anonymous said...

10:41: Some search committees have the dumb idea that people who end up getting offered the job don't want to think of themselves as the second choice. So instead of saying to the second-choice candidate "You're still alive in the search, but we've offered it someone else, we'll be in touch one way or the other ASAP," they maintain silence until the offer is accepted or they can make the back-up candidate an offer.

It is mysterious to me why there can't be more transparency in job searches. If there is an official fact of the matter about where a candidate stands, the candidate should be told what it is.

Anonymous said...

Since I'm pretty sure that while some people like not getting kicked in the groin, others dislike it. So I'm not going to spend any time or mental energy worrying about it. I'll just kick them in the groin.

Right, because, when someone posts on his blog that he hates being kicked in the groin, a bunch of commenters disagree with him and wish more people would kick them in the groin. Apt analogy.

Anonymous said...

If there's one thing I've learned about the philosophy job market, it's that most of us have more or less indistinguishable skills and abilities.

How, pray tell, did you come up with the evidence for that? My evidence from serving on lots of search committees is quite to the contrary.

Anonymous said...

Holy shit, 11:03, your writing sample must be a fucking nightmare.

Anonymous said...

Barring rare and outlandish exception, I am skeptical that there are, or could be, objectively "good" and "bad" ways to tell someone to fuck off. At best one can judge a particular PFO better or worse than another PFO pursuant to certain criteria, but reasonable people can surely disagree about which kinds of criteria are relevant or appropriate.

What I find absolutely inscrutable, however, is the tendency of SCs to refuse to communicate with candidates who have not been chosen for on-campus interviews, or who are not the first choice for a job after the conclusion of on-campus interviews. I don't bother sending follow up letters to SCs any more because I just assume they won't respond. But really, is it so hard to respond to an e-mail from someone you made the effort to interview? In cases where my candidacy is still a live option, why can't the SC simply say (something like) "we have elected at this time not to invite you for an on-campus interview, but your candidacy will remain in consideration until such a time as the position is filled"? The refusal to respond to simple follow up questions in any way, shape, or form is incredibly rude and unprofessional.

Anonymous said...

I got a PFO (from a school that did not interview me) the other day that read "Although your application was one of the most competitive, we regret that we are unable to pursue it further, as we have now filled the position."

I find it hard to believe that they sent a different PFO to the 'most competitive' non-interviewed applicants than to the not-so competitive ones. But if every application was 'among the most competitive,' then it isn't much of a compliment.

zombie said...

@10:41 -- what will typically happen is that the SC will wait until the position is filled, and the contracts are signed. Until then, some of the finalists are still potentially live candidates, just in case the first choice turns them down. So, if someone else takes the job, you will be notified after the ink dries.

That's if you're notified at all. It is not unheard of for the finalists to be left hanging. Forever.

Anonymous said...

@ 11:52, 11:03 here. Yeah, that comment was a royal turd of run on jumble, and painful grammar. Thanks for noticing.... However, I stand by the substance of it. Principally the following endemic problem: complaints of bad etiquette and practice by search committees, journal editors, conference organizers, etc., (the list can go on) that are so lamented as the frequent topics of this blog, are carried out by our peers who, for some reason, conduct themselves in such lamentable fashion. Why? Just because? Sure why not. They can? Apparently. Does it affect them? Most likely not. I could go on. The sad truth is, that at some point such individuals were probably treated similarly, and instead of behaving differently, they follow suit in the deplorable fashion, and perpetuate negative standards, rather than change them.

Anonymous said...

Is it polite or annoying to write a SC you haven't heard from and tell them you have an offer open elsewhere?

Either (a) they give you the info. you've been waiting to hear (for better or worse), or (b) they can't or don't tell you anything and your contact annoys them --

Is it worth the risk? Is it the appropriate thing to do?

Anonymous said...

11:03/1:43 You did it AGAIN!

" Principally the following endemic problem: complaints of bad etiquette and practice by search committees, journal editors, conference organizers, etc., (the list can go on) that are so lamented as the frequent topics of this blog, are carried out by our peers who, for some reason, conduct themselves in such lamentable fashion."

Wow, I totally needed that laugh. Well played 11:52, well played.

zombie said...

@2:00 -- if you have an offer, and you are a finalist (with a fly-out) elsewhere, then it is appropriate to contact those other schools and let them know that you have an offer, and that you are still interested in their job. This tells them that if they might want to make you an offer, they need to move on it quickly. And they will. If they're not interested, they'll demur.

Having an offer might also have the effect of making you appear to be a more desirable candidate to an SC on the fence. Nothing succeeds like success.

Anonymous said...

This might be an urban legend, but I heard a story at the APA Central a few years ago that would make me reluctant to mistreat a candidate during an interview or write a nasty PFO: A job candidate does a fly-out to XYZ university. The SC chair treats the candidate poorly. He even insults teh candidate during his job talk. After months of waiting, the candidate gets a nasty personalized PFO e-mail from teh SC chair. The candidate decides to pursue another career...in human resources. Two years later, he gets a job at the department he was rejected by. Three years after that he is promoted to Director of HR. A year after that the SC chair loses his job for insubordination. Supposedly the candidate-turned-HR-Director had some trash on the Liberal Arts Dean and was able to pressure the Dean to trick the SC chair into doing something he was not supposed to, leading to his ouster. Moral of the story: revenge is a dish best served cold.

Anonymous said...

4:55:

No, the moral is "there's a sucker born ever minute."

Anonymous said...

There's no question that many PFOs are unnecessarily blunt, poorly phrased, and thoughtless. This is problem not limited to philosophy or even to academia in general. Job markets don't bring out the best in people.

While this is all true (or so I believe), many of the reactions registered here seem to me overly sensitive. The Dennison letter is not awful. It isn't worth letting PFOs, of all things, get under your skin.

So I think Zero frames the discussion poorly at 7:58: "The same dissent is registered every year when this topic comes up. Some people think that those of us who think it's important to treat people with courtesy are thin-skinned whiners." Some of use think that whining about insufficiently polite PFOs are indeed being excessively thin-skinned. But it's perfectly consistent with this position to hold also that it's a shame that good manners are in such short supply.

PFOs are hard to write and, as noted above, it's hard to please everyone. Lots of academics (lots of people) lack good social skills. At some point, one really needs to let this sort of stuff roll off your back.

4:55: If that isn't a ridiculous urban myth, then it's pathetic that the candidate cared enough to exact revenge. What a terrible waste of time.

Anonymous said...

But perhaps the lack of social skills is correlated with some other attribute, such as Leiterific pedigree. Or the best pedigreed don't think its worth their time to acknowledge the lower pedigreed "masses" who apply for jobs in their department and have little to no chance of getting hired. Or is it the Amistad phenomenon, i.e. the mistreated turning the tables and mistreating others? Whichever it is, the rude and missing PFOs are a serious concern. I don't think it's oversensitivity on the part of applicants, except from the perspective of well pedigreed job holders and/or vindictive search committee members. I hope that the story above is not an urban myth. If so, perhaps it will scare some civility into search committee members.

Anonymous said...

12:19 : No objective criteria?

Sure there are. The first PFO attempts to repudiate any implied judgment about the quality of the candidate that may otherwise be inferred from the rejection. The second PFO explicitly makes such a judgment: your skills and abilities aren’t good enough for us.

Of course, both departments have judged the candidate unworthy, to the extent they didn’t hire her. But both should also know that this is consistent with the possibility of error, and with the candidate’s being better than their limited evidence could have revealed. It is therefore good (objectively) to reflect these possibilities in a letter, and shitty to deny or ignore them.

Think, “It’s not you, it’s me.” Or, “We think it’s you, but we’re not sure, and it may be us and not you at all.”

Anonymous said...

@10:41 - I've been offered a TT position that the first candidate turned down. Long negotiations that eventually fell through. After my on campus, there was total radio silence for about a month. So, figuring they must've picked someone else, I e-mailed the chair, asking them if a decision had been reached. The person said "We offered the position to someone else, but since you're still a live candidate we waited to contact you until they accepted".
Apparently, chairs just wait to contact you because they don't want the second (and third etc) choice candidates know they had another first choice. So I don't think it harms your chances to send a polite e-mail after a few weeks of silence, telling them you are still very interested in the position, and asking whether they've reached a decision.
On a related note: I've known several other occasions (indirectly) when the top choice turned down the position. People who land on top places often do so for several positions. So if you have been on campus, your chances are often better than the baseline 1/3 or 1/4.

Anonymous said...

If we know that the hiring process is imperfect in many ways and to a large extent random, then we should try not to be offended by curt or otherwise insufficiently flattering PFOs. If the process were perfect, then those "you aren't qualified enough" letters might hurt. But it seems a bit odd to me to be offended by a shitty PFO that one knows boiled out a shitty pot of soup.

I want to know whether it's a "yes" or a "no." There are so many variables to take into account that more substantive comments are almost guaranteed to be either inaccurate or, if accurate, only accidentally so. A flattering PFO might feel better than one that's neutral or mildly derogatory, but it's not going to be any more helpful in the long run, because in either case it's largely bullshit.

Anonymous said...

@9:31/12:19 here. You may be right about this. Unfortunately I am beyond caring any more. As I mentioned previously, I have come to expect general shittiness as the rule rather than the exception in professional philosophy.

Anonymous said...

8:35, I don't know why you're turning this into a pedigree issue. Some of the nicest PFOs I've gotten have been from top schools (Michigan, Pitt, MIT, for instance).

Anonymous said...

I think it's safe to assume that many departments use shitty PFO letters. I think it's also safe to assume that some people commenting on this blog belong to departments that send out shitty PFO letters.

So just out of curiosity, how many people reading this blog have worked to change their department's shitty PFO letters? And if you haven't, why isn't it important to you to do so?

zombie said...

"Of course, both departments have judged the candidate unworthy, to the extent they didn’t hire her."

This is inaccurate. I've often heard it said by SCs (including in my own dept) that they would be happy to have any one of the top two or three candidates. But, since they must choose only one, they do so. That does not at all mean that the other candidates were "unworthy." They were worthy, and indeed, worthy enough that, should the first choice decline the job, the second choice would do just as well. The differences between the top contenders for a job can be so slight that none of them can be considered "unworthy." That one must inevitably rise to the top for some reason doesn't make the others bottom feeders.

Anonymous said...

And if you haven't, why isn't it important to you to do so?

For the reason someone mentioned earlier: you think the letter is shitty, but if I changed it to be exactly the way you want it to be, someone else would think that was shitty.

I'm like 8:13AM, anyway. I barely looked at my PFOs, except to see that they were, indeed, PFOs.

Anonymous said...

I'm 10:36 from above, the one who made the comments that many of you quite uncharitably interpreted as saying that job candidates are all the same.

This, of course, is neither what I said nor what I meant.

What I said is that if you take a look at skills and abilities (what Denison explicitly mentioned in the letter), it simply isn't the case that they interviewed the people with the best skills and abilities. The reason is that far more than 12-15 people are going to be sitting at the top, based on those criteria.

Look, say you post a job ad and 300 people respond. Yeah, some of those people are going to be unqualified (Ph.D. in wrong field, ABD with no defense date in sight, 5 years out of grad school with no publications, etc.). Some of those people are going to have bad letters of recommendation. Some don't have enough teaching experience. Some are going to have other basic deal-breakers that deal with skill and ability.

Okay. Toss 'em out. What have you got left? In my experience, you've still got at least 70-80 applicants. Those folks are indistinguishable in terms of skill and ability. They've got the credential. They've got teaching experience. They can do the job.

Anything beyond that is gravy. We're picking nits in the writing sample. We're figuring out who was educated at the kind of program we like. We're comparing number and type of publication.

Those are 'fit' issues. All of those 70-80 can do the job. Skill and ability? They're indistinguishable relative to the job for which they're being hired. Let's face it. Most job candidates are overqualified for most jobs. It doesn't take all that much to do the job at my college. You teach 3-4 classes, you publish a handful of articles, and you do your service time. Most fucks with a Ph.D. can do that.

Where Denison erred is that they used "skill and ability" where they should have used "fit."

Anonymous said...

Here's two simple questions for the readers of this blog here commenting.

1) Who of you, when presented with the responsibility of issuing PFO's, conference denials, and journal denials, would/do make the effort to hold yourself to better standards than the regrettable instances referred to above?

2) Is the sheer lack of inconsistency owed to a general lack of acceptable standards (plain to all), or is it just the simple case by case scenario of the folks issuing the PFO's, conference denials, and journal denials, being too busy, and/or being unconcerned with time frames, pleasantness, etc.?

Anonymous said...

"Okay. Toss 'em out. What have you got left? In my experience, you've still got at least 70-80 applicants. Those folks are indistinguishable in terms of skill and ability. They've got the credential. They've got teaching experience. They can do the job."

You have just described a group that I would define as :minimally qualified." And I'll concede that you are right; we might get 80 or so applications that are "minimally qualified."

I'm now off to change my PFO letter to reflect that fact that the people we didn't hire are minimally qualified, but given the number of applicants who are clearly more than minimally qualified, we are not pursuing applications that only reflect minimum qualifications.

Anonymous said...

8:42 - while my department hasn't had a reason to write PFO letters since I've been hired, I read this blog in part to see how those on the market might react to things that we might do in future hires (fingers crossed that we might be hiring in the near future), with an eye to making things better for everyone involved. I suspect many others do the same. Of course, it's probably not possible to make everyone happy unless you have jobs for everyone, but I think there are many things that SCs can do to make the process less painful. The SC that hired me, and many others that I interviewed with, were wonderful. Others were much less than wonderful.

Anonymous said...

10:15,

I suspect the reason is more that once someone gets a job, that person stops caring about PFOs.

Anonymous said...

If you are really complaining over the fact that a PFO letter uses the term 'skill and ability' rather than 'fit', then you are too thin skinned. Go use your sensitivity to delicate distinctions to solve a hard philosophy problem instead, then all this will become a moot concern.

Anonymous said...

"We're figuring out who was educated at the kind of program we like." Proof that pedigree matters. If you weren't educated at a program we like, then we have no obligation to send you a nice PFO....so F off! Next...

Rodolfo said...

Anyone who says 'at this time' or 'at that time' rather than saying 'now' or 'then' (or, as in the case of the Denison letter, nothing at all) is a rube.

Anonymous said...

Back to the original problem for a moment:

"I was genuinely appalled by this. The blunt and ungrammatical subject line; the fact that has been obvious since December that I was not selected for campus for interview; the reference to my skills and abilities; the way it's not even really signed. This is not how it's done, Search Chair.
Why is it so hard to say "we didn't hire you, but thanks for applying and good luck" without being a total asshole?
--Mr. Zero"

To be honest, what strikes me most with this situation is not the degree of "asshole-ness" (since, sadly, this is often the case with professional settings--some folks show candor, others simply don't) that is exhibited in the PFO. It is the extreme showcase of the "who gives a f@#$ really about the people we need to tell to f@#$ off" mentality regarding the time-frame insensitivity.

Where do many of the folks holding the "thrones of power" within philosophy get the gall to showcase such clear and blatant lack of professionalism?

This is the sad case at issue with the whole PFO business, not the lack of "thick" skin possessed by some individuals.

You can tell me to "get lost" in whatever half-baked, passive voice drivel you can dream up search chair, but show some class when it comes to professionalism, and conduct the whole process with a level of time-sensitive procedural action that even the USPS can muster.

Anonymous said...

"You have just described a group that I would define as 'minimally qualified.' And I'll concede that you are right; we might get 80 or so applications that are 'minimally qualified.'"

Doesn't the word "qualified" imply "minimally qualified"? I think the worry being discussed here is that many PFO's treat "preferable" as synonymous with "qualified"--minimally or not. Most of us have no problem with a PFO that says that there were better candidates. We tend to balk when they suggest--or we perceive them to suggest--that we weren't qualified--minimally or not.

"I'm now off to change my PFO letter to reflect that fact that the people we didn't hire are minimally qualified, but given the number of applicants who are clearly more than minimally qualified, we are not pursuing applications that only reflect minimum qualifications."

Despite the sarcasm here, I think this is exactly the right move.

Anonymous said...

3:36 -

10:36/11:47 here.

Of course pedigree matters. But probably not in the way most people think. For the most part, I doubt folks are looking for Leiter top whatever. I'd venture to say that most folks are looking for a certain profile. Folks hiring for 4/4 gigs at Regional State U are probably looking for people with Ph.Ds from large public universities. Liberal arts folks are pretty notorious for hiring only people with a liberal arts BA.

Again, we're talking 'fit' here.

I'm not saying it's justified. In fact, it probably isn't. I'm just saying that it's not a matter of Leiter top 5 or Leiter top 10. I doubt more than a few people care about that.

Anonymous said...

4:37, and others:

I have pointed this out before, but it bears repeating.

In many cases, SCs have No Control over the timeline or how/when rejections can go out. At my state school, we are bound by the state to not officially reject anyone until the person we hired has signed the contract. This pisses off *everyone* in the process. We want to let people know earlier. People want to know earlier. Even some in administration wish things could be different. But short of marching on the state capital and demanding that the rules be changed, there's nothing we can do. (Similarly, we don't write the PFOs. HR does. We have offered revisions, but were told that we had to comply with state guidelines regarding the language.)

So when you complain about how programs are doing a shitty job about how and by what means you are notified, keep in mind that in some (many?) cases, the SCs are not at all involved in the composition of the letters or when they are mailed out.

Now, when SC members promise to notify you and don't, that's on them. Those who know they are not in control of such things should make no promises. When we hire, we give candidates a rough sense of our timeline, and note that the details are out of our hands. (We explicitly tell finalists that if they are not offered the job, they will only hear from us after a job offer has been accepted.)

Anonymous said...

@ 5:31, 4:37 here:

Thanks for your thoughtful weighing-in. Your clarification really sheds light on the further unfortunate red-tape that the state uses to restrict the whole hiring process with. It seems the whole hiring process is tainted with bureaucratic nightmares, not just individual carelessness, and "asshole-ness". Good to know.

Take the following from you as a shining example of the sad lamentable reality you so pointedly note:

"(Similarly, we don't write the PFOs. HR does. We have offered revisions, but were told that we had to comply with state guidelines regarding the language.)

So when you complain about how programs are doing a shitty job about how and by what means you are notified, keep in mind that in some (many?) cases, the SCs are not at all involved in the composition of the letters or when they are mailed out."

So, note to all: in many cases Search Chairs are blameless, and we owe our complaints to the faceless void of state bureaucracy. Now you can rest assured it's not your lack of skills, or qualifications at issue, just the simple workings of the machine. Good times.

Anonymous said...

Zombie, 9:31 here: good catch. Not hired doesn't mean judged unworthy. That, as you no doubt can see, only strengthens the comment's main point, though: PFO's should avoid and repudiate judgments of the candidate's worth that might be inferred from the rejection.

This isn't too much to ask.

Anonymous said...

What ever happened to "Rocking the Passive Voice?", i.e., the series of posts that mocked the language of poorly written PFOs?

As someone who has been rejected from a lot of jobs, I understand the frustration that comes when you receive the dreaded email that tells you, "there's no hope; you're not getting the job." But I really don't understand the point of reading PFOs other than with the intent of mocking them later. You can generally tell it's a PFO from the subject line or first few words of the first sentence of the letter. When I recognize it's a a PFO, I delete it and move on with my life. I don't mean to be a jerk, but is there a reason why many here read the letters?

Anonymous said...

How about a Philosophy Smoker's Best Practices in Hiring thread?

I'm about to advertise a position (VAP or TT depending upon meeting with administration today), and I'd really like some insight into what works best for folks on the applicant side. I've followed the skype/APA debates and have read this blog inconsistently for years, but I was on the market 10+ years ago and this is the first philosophy search at my school (well not counting a cancelled search).

So, questions that I have: preferable advertisement venues these days? (JFP--but where else?)

Application materials (best practices, in my day it was letter, reference letters x 3, teaching excellence (evidence of), writing sample, C.V.)

Application media? What is best? I'm assuming electronic applications via email?

How about advertisement--what do you want to know that isn't always included? (I've been on senior admin searches where a fairly extensive "position profile) *8-10 pages) is produced describing the institution and the position desiderata), it always seems strange that we limit advertisements to 1 paragraph half of which is identical to all the ads in the JFP.

Skype vs phone for preliminaries?

Obviously attention to negative notification is important :)

Campus visits--what works, what frustrates?

VAP's vs TT-- differences in applications?

Anyway, much of this info is probably somewhere on the site, but developing a set of best practices from the perspective of job seekers could have a very beneficial effect on the profession.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have any news for Emerson College? Where are they in their process?

Anonymous said...

What ever happened to "Rocking the Passive Voice?", i.e., the series of posts that mocked the language of poorly written PFOs?

A lot of the PFOs are, as far as I know, primarily written by department staffers who probably have a billion other things going on in the day and make less money than a graduate student. (For example, Brian Weatherson largely credited a Michigan staff for the letter on Facebook.) Making fun of their language on this public forum? Don't be a fucking asshole.

Anonymous said...

7:26,

Prince Geoffrey: My you chivalric fool... as if the way one fell down mattered.
Prince Richard: When the fall is all there is, it matters.

Anonymous said...

For anyone not yet bitter about this process, not all departments are awful to unsuccessful candidates. Not all departments leave you hanging.

I had two first round interviews this year and both SCs were incredibly professional throughout the process. For one, I had an APA interview and was told by the department when they would make their decisions about second-round interviews. On that day, they sent me an email thanking me for my interview and informing me that they could unfortunately not offer me a fly-out at this point, but would I like to continue to be considered should their current fly-outs not work out?

For the second interview (skype this time), I was again told when I would hear about fly-outs, and actually recieved an email offering me a fly-out two days earlier than they had suggested. After the fly-out, I was again told when I should expect to hear from someone. On that date, I recieved a very professional email telling me that the faculty had voted to offer the job to someone else, and had voted to offer it to me in the event that the first-choice candidate turned it down. He or she did, and I recieved a call a week later offering me the job. So don't lose heart, either about getting a job or about being treated respectfully by search committees!

Anonymous said...

I was a search committee chair this year. Taking these discussions to heart, I worked hard to draft a respectful PFO. I saved it in a file called 'PFO.' I then had a dream that I emailed rejected applicants the letter as an attachment.

Anonymous said...

I wish they'd stop bloody sending me these things! It's bloody late March and if I haven't heard from a job yet it's bloody obvious I didn't get it. Why do they insist on rubbing it in? I just got another one today for a job I applied for four months ago. I'm trying to forget the whole bloody job market ordeal and they keep reminding me of it!

Rejection letters are nice when they are timely. But sending an email to tell someone they didn't make the first cut (something you decided months ago) only after you've offered the job to someone else is just cruel. It would be better to remain silent.

Popkin said...

I just got a PFO that thanked me "taking the time to meet with the Philosophy Department" and explained how "our discussions" indicated that I have much to offer my next employer.

I thought that was rather nice. It would have been particularly nice to hear if I had actually been interviewed by the relevant department.

Anonymous said...

@4:15

Thanks. I know the feeling and feel the pain. It's awful, but hilarious, no?

Anonymous said...

Unrelatedly: did NYU place no one this year? (From the Leiter thread, they've only placed one, at UW, but he already had a position in Australia before it.) Are they're just waiting to post them all in one chunk? Or did they get shut out?

Anonymous said...

Unrelated question: apart from jfp and philjobs, is there anywhere else smokers would suggest for advertising a late job (starting this sept)? We want to make sure a wide group of people see the ad despite the fact that it's out of normal job-hunting season.

Anonymous said...

607

Make sure to include insidehighered jobs section and the chronicle of higher ed jobs section (I think they charge).

Anonymous said...

6:07, there's also the Chronicle of Higher Ed, there's Inside Higher Ed, and of course there's the announcement board at the local soup kitchens.