Monday, May 19, 2014

Early Thirsty: I thought we liked each other. Why haven't you called?

Frenna asked us for advice about her campus interview a few months ago.   Here's a follow-up.

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I had an excellent on campus interview way back on March 28th. If they do not pick me it is because
another candidate's strengths/research better met their needs. I left there feeling quite hopeful for a positive outcome and that I would be leaving the adjunct grind.

Well it has been over six weeks without a peep from the search committee chair (SCC). I sent a thank you card via snail mail the week after my visit and I emailed the SCC after four weeks asking about the status of the search and offering to provide any more necessary information, etc. Still just crickets chirping...

Recently there was a thirsty about search committees and I am wondering how common is it to just not tell the candidate that "person A fit our needs better." Then today in the weekly-briefing from the Chronicle there was a link to a blog about silent search committees and how someone made Academic Rejection Letter Generator.

How common is it really to NOT inform a candidate, that visited campus, that they were not the chosen one? 

All I know if I feel greatly disrespected if they are just truly ignoring me...




  1. Six could mean they interviewed five or more people, are going down their ranked list of offers and giving each candidate a week to ten days to decide. It means you're not near the top of the list, but they want to keep their options open. I remember a search in which we were gradually turned down by five people on the primary list, and eventually hired the second person on the secondary list, more than six weeks after the last campus interview. (We really wanted someone in that research area.)

    At my department this interaction with candidates is handled by the department head. It is that person's responsibility to keep all candidates who were interviewed (and any others who ask) updated on the current status of the search. If this isn't happening, they're not doing their job. If you send them an email asking for a status report and they don't respond, I'd call that unprofessional (but it happens). If they treat job candidates this way, I wouldn't expect them to treat junior faculty much better. Or maybe they just don't have their act together, and wouldn't be a good place to work anyway.

    1. Another idea I have been wondering about is taking a job when you are not the first choice. Does it seem second or in the case you mentioned Peter K, the seventh, do colleagues treat them differently? I certainly don't want to end up somewhere I am not "really" wanted. I certainly hope departments would do their best to fight against this!

    2. At least where I work they're not treated differently at all; once they're in, it is in the department's best interests to have them succeed. Of course, in general departments are happier when they get their first choice. But people are also aware that it is impossible to predict a long-term career arc from the information available at the hiring stage; also, there is so much young talent out there (we get over 200 applications for each area-targeted TT slot) anyone in the top 10 percent is likely to at least have a strong early career. For example, the colleague I mentioned in my comment did very well over time, and is respected enough to be our current department head (I don't know if he is aware of what his ranking was when he was hired.)

  2. I've never been on the inside of an academic search,but I believe others here (who may now be happily ignoring their computers, having turned in grades) have mentioned being forbidden by HR, on supposed legal grounds, from engaging in all but the most minimal communication with candidates. Or it may be HR's job to communicate, and HR isn't doing its job.

    Or they may be cowards about delivering bad news, or lazy, or exhausted from fighting with each other over the position. There are lot of explanations, most of which probably reflect somewhat badly on some part of the hiring institution, and few to none of which have anything to do with you (except for the keeping-you-on-tenterhooks part).

    Sadly, I think it's pretty common, but that doesn't make it right.

  3. It's sad and funny that even though automated responses have become so easy, rejection letters or even notifications that job material arrived is skipped. I've applied for industry jobs where I never even knew if they got everything -- not even a "you've completed the application" confirmation. In jobs outside of academe, it's become pretty standard for candidates to hear nothing, even after multiple interviews, and I'm afraid that has spread to academe. Perhaps it's a reflection of HR having more say than departments/hiring managers; it's certainly something that's spread as the job market has become more crowded and the "just another business" model comes into play. No one on the committee is thinking about you; they don't look at the candidate's side; if they do, they see it as a demanding annoyance. Check the online discussions from the hiring side that complain it's embarrassing and uncomfortable for those doing hiring to have to send rejection letters, so consider the poor person who might feel bad sending that rejection letter (sarcasm, but check out an HR forum some day to take a trip down the rabbit hole). Now, if a candidate has come for interview(s), no one wants to send the rejection because (1) the top choices might not pan out; (2) HR wants one thing, departments want another; (3) there is already a candidate on the inside track, but interviews have to happen; (4) putting words on page = possible lawsuits (in which case, no one is going to relay that candidate A was a better fit); (5) someone important on the hiring committee hasn't responded (out of town, very busy, medical emergency); (6) they really are taking forever to look at every possible candidate. I've seen industry job searches for drone-level work that took upwards of a year.

  4. I can confirm what SelfOfSteamRoller wrote about applications for jobs in industry. I remember when I was out of work 30 years ago and, back then, maybe 20% of the places I contacted made any effort to respond, even if it was the standard "thank you for your application" form letter. Nowadays, though, it's probably closer to 5%, if even that high.

    Several years ago, I had interviews at 3 post-secondary institutions within a few months of each other. One gave me the usual "jump in the lake" rejection letter within the normal time span, partly because it owed me an expense cheque. Another called me back very quickly (less than a week, as I recall), and claimed there wasn't a "fit" (industrial biz-babble had finally spread to the hiring process). The promptness of the response indicated to me that the preferred candidate had already been selected before I had my interview.

    The third went into complete silence--not even crickets--so that aspect of the business model of doing things in academe had taken hold. Again, I suspect that the interview committee knew who they wanted and that my presence there was merely to satisfy the requirement of its hiring process.

    While I would have liked the paycheque that each institution would have given me, I'm glad I didn't get any offers. None of those places appealed to me and I dreaded the prospect of working at any of them.

  5. Thanks for the input. I have been on a search committee at the token Graduate Student, but I have not had much experience on the "making the offer" end of it. I was also forgetting HR's role on this end or the hiring process. I know they have rules when posting a position and that some of these "openings" are "ghost positions.

    It is sad that I have no issue whatsoever when I get nothing in response to an application or phone interview. I guess I am shocked that this is what the world has come to in industry and academia. I figured there would be some communication after a the campus visit, even just a "we are still in the process" would be fine. This was my first campus interview and I liked (maybe even loved?) the place and the people. My significant other and I were ready to pack our bags and move. I got the impression my research needs and teaching skills matched what they were looking for in the new hire.

    I just assumed (dangerous) that communication happened and I was shocked that sometimes (common?) there is no communication after an on campus interview!!! I am not a fan of firing people or declining to hire sucks. I would hate being the SCC and have to tell people, "No," but I could not leave them hanging. That is just wrong, in my mind.

  6. I've been on several search committees. We can't say a damn thing about anything until the search is declared 'over' (either someone has been offered the job AND accepted the offer after various negotiations, or no one is to be offered the job), even when receiving an inquiry from a low-ranked person who will never be offered the job.

    1. One thing I learned about getting a job is that HR never tells an unsuccessful applicant the truth. Every response must appear to be positive, such as the fake promise to hold one's application "on file for the next 6 months", or something like that. (I guess that the dustbin gets emptied twice a year.) A negative response might lead to lawsuits, so some semblance of a positive reply not only avoids such hassles, it gives the applicant a degree of false hope and gets that person off the employer's back. What it amounts to is telling a person to go to hell in such a way that he or she is expected to look forward to the trip.

      I've got lots of personal stories I can tell about the malarkey that HR tells applicants who don't get the job by giving a reply without really saying anything. Some of the responses were so absurd that even Ripley's "Believe It or Not" wouldn't touch them.

    2. I have no doubt HR worries about lawsuits. I am enjoying reading these "insider" bits.

  7. I haven't been on a job search for 8 years now (thankfully)! I noticed that the "cattle call" interviews done at community colleges typically led to my getting a rejection letter anywhere from 1 year to 5 years later. Some places never let me know I didn't get the job... The state system of schools and the SLACs typically let me know within 3 weeks, but those were chairs organizing the searches and had more at stake and more personal interaction with me, as well.

    Good luck on your job search! :)

    1. And as for being on a search committee here on campus, we were allowed to notify candidates of "rejection" only after the person we wanted had accepted the position AND signed a contract.

    2. I suspect their number one choice is using the offer from the SLAC in question to bargain at their current position. Which is a better than the administration is inept. The department seemed quite capable, but they kept alluding to the slowness of the adminflakes.

    3. TCC:

      I remember applying to one privately-run university several years ago. I got my application in well before the deadline and, a matter of days after that date had passed, I was told to get lost. At roughly the same time, though, it announced who got the job.

      I would have thought that all applications would have been given equal consideration and that it would have taken much longer than that to reach a decision on each one. I strongly suspected that its preferred candidate was not only chosen well before that deadline, but that he or she had already been signed. The deadline, therefore, was completely meaningless and my time and effort wasted.

      I wasn't unhappy about it because I really wasn't interested in the job itself--only its paycheque.

  8. Maybe not relevant if it's a SLAC, but there could also be budget issues holding up the final confirmation of a line for which they got permission to search even though it was somewhat tentative. The fad of shutting down government by failing to pass a budget has apparently spread from the federal to the state level this year, so that's especially a possibility at state schools. SLACs might be waiting to see how enrollment numbers work out (though they should know by now; however, the news isn't good in many places).

    But your guess that the first choice is bargaining is also a good one (depending on the individual and the local culture, the question of some sort of spousal accommodation might also be on the table).

    If they do come back to you, and seem to be behaving like decent human beings, I'd find the adminiflake explanation quite plausible, and an indication that things are about as good or as bad as anywhere. Adminiflakes are ubiquitous, and therefore hard to avoid; a functional department, on the other hand, is a definitely a thing to join if you have the chance.

  9. We are also terrible. Interestingly, the pressure to be so miserly with information comes from the level of the administration, not from the department: we would happily inform candidates that they we've made an offer to another candidate, but we aren't allowed. God knows why.

  10. So enough time has elapsed that it is quite possible that the position has been offered to at least one other candidate. If you are offered the position, perhaps you'll be concerned that you were not their "first choice" and what that might entail. I am here to tell you that if you liked the place and the people in it, you may tamp down those concerns.

    In support of my position, I offer a synopsis of what recently transpired at my school. I was not on the search committee, but because I'd be working with the new hire, I interviewed several of the candidates on the very short list. The committee asked all faculty who interviewed candidates and/or attended their seminars to fill out rubrics and provide comments, which we dutifully did. In hushed hallway conversations, our consensus was that based on hir stellar seminar and "fit", Candidate A would be offered the job. Thus were my colleagues and I quite surprised when it was announced that the school was in negotiations with Candidate B.

    Now, Dr B was a hot mess whose seminar was so disorganized and audience-unaware that I had left it feeling stupider for having attended, a major shortcoming for a teaching-intensive institution that I was sure to point out on my scoresheet. As it turned out, a Ranking Ex-Officio on the search committee had noted that B's research topic was "sexier" (read: more fundable) than A's, so with dollar signs in his eyes the REO told HR to extend the offer to B. Weeks later we faculty were relieved to learn that B had turned down our final counter-offer, and that A was still interested in us.

    You don't want to work at a place that does not want you, but the simple fact is that if they offer you the job, they want you. Of the tens to hundreds of candidates whose CVs they've read, whose talks they've sat through, etc., you are their top choice. If someone else had been offered the spot before, it's not a big deal; manifold are the reasons why such an "accident" could have occurred. By the time you arrive on campus, your new colleagues will believe that you were their #1 pick all along, and they'll be thanking the stars that they are your #1 pick too.