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Author Topic: The issues I have seen while serving on search committees.  (Read 22698 times)
galway
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« Reply #15 on: April 11, 2012, 12:22:08 AM »

Your school has reprimanded people for what they wear?!  I mean ok if someone shows up to lecture in daisy dukes and bikini top - ok that deserves a talk with the chair but assuming we're talking more tan slacks and button down shirts then whoa I am SO glad I don't work in your dept.  I'm in STEM and we really are not known as the snappiest dressers (not that some of us can't pull it together at least occasionally).  I try and look like a grown-up (not jeans decent shirt) when I lecture but most of the folks in my dept lecture in t-shirts.   You guys sound like you might might do a lot better in hiring if pulled that stick out of your behind.
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larryc
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« Reply #16 on: April 11, 2012, 12:54:13 AM »

I don't buy this OP.  If that's her actual name, she isn't a real academic.  The rest of the post is incredibly naive and mean-spirited.

Job-seekers, ignore this entire thread.

I disagree. There are a couple of things on the OP's list that stick in my craw--particular the part about dress--most of it rings true for me. Even the parts I disagree with are things I have heard from other folks on the SC.
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totoro
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« Reply #17 on: April 11, 2012, 1:11:48 AM »

None of these are true for us. We don't even demand a large amount of research output, but we are looking for people who can get papers in some decent journals, which would be considered very much second tier at top US departments, and have the potential to get grants etc. Now many of our searches are successful but others just strike out.... Almost in inverse order to the competitiveness of the fields in the US.


OP, thanks for starting a discussion about why academic job searches can fail even during a buyer's market. Your post points to some things that search committees can really think about.

1. Has your university or department developed a horrible reputation regionally or nationally? Are job seekers coming to campus, discovering that your department is a toxic hellhole, and then sinking their own candidacies because they realize that slow and humiliating starvation would be preferable to working at your university? The low number of applicants suggests there might be reputational concerns you should discuss with a trusted senior colleague at another institution.

2. Do you have unrealistic notions of what constitutes an ideal candidate? Do your job ads describe a set of minimal qualifications that not even the love child of Jacques Derrida and Stephen Hawking could match? If your PUI can't attract the stars you dream of, perhaps you need to re-evaluate where you actually are in the academic food chain, and focus your efforts on the kind of candidates that would be a better fit for you. It sounds like many candidates are taking a close look at your school, and then opting for Plan B. Or Plan C. Or Plan D.

3. Are you approaching interviews as an elaborate, kabuki-like game of "Guess My Number," where there's one right answer to every question, and no clues for the hapless job seekers? It can be very entertaining to yank candidates around by getting offended at people who talk about teaching because they're being condescending, while those who talk about research are being snobby. And I'm sure the the Bob Barker-worthy approach to salary requirements is a source of endless entertainment! You may want to consider, however, making the salary information publicly available and then accepting applications from people who are still interested.

4. Something about your post suggests that your job ads may be giving off a slight vibe of MURDER YOUR DREAMS BEFORE YOU SET FOOT ON OUR CAMPUS. Is there a check box on the online application that asks candidates if they have renounced all hope of ever being the scholars they once wanted to be? Or maybe they sense that they would be entering an environment where research, or actually any kind of commendable achievement, would be as welcome as a high jumper in a bucket full of crabs. Job applicants might get the feeling that the incompetent HR department is symptomatic of a campus culture that will put up new road blocks at every turn, rather than help them secure the external funding that might be of benefit to them and to their students.

5. Also, be sure to do your research! I know when I go on interviews, I always ask about things where the campus website is ambiguous or self-contradictory. Are job candidates confused because basic features of the job are shrouded in impenetrable jargon, or described in three different ways on the department, college, and university level? You may want to see if a simple search for "Etruscan" on your university web site is turning up minutes from the faculty meeting last year where you agreed to hire some poor sap to fill the position just long enough to apply for tenure, at which point you plan on closing the department.

6. Perhaps your field has completely gone to hell, and every graduate program across the nation is churning out nothing but imbeciles incapable of tying their shoes, let alone teaching undergraduates. Then again, maybe the problem lies with one program in particular that can no longer attract good candidates. Maybe word has gotten out about your obsession with pinstripes?
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writingprof
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« Reply #18 on: April 11, 2012, 8:06:21 AM »

Surely we can all agree that the OP is right about mentioning both "x" and "y" if the department is looking for someone who can teach those subjects.  Pinstripes notwithstanding.
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« Reply #19 on: April 11, 2012, 8:23:44 AM »

OP, thanks for starting a discussion about why academic job searches can fail even during a buyer's market. Your post points to some things that search committees can really think about.

1. Has your university or department developed a horrible reputation regionally or nationally? Are job seekers coming to campus, discovering that your department is a toxic hellhole, and then sinking their own candidacies because they realize that slow and humiliating starvation would be preferable to working at your university? The low number of applicants suggests there might be reputational concerns you should discuss with a trusted senior colleague at another institution.

2. Do you have unrealistic notions of what constitutes an ideal candidate? Do your job ads describe a set of minimal qualifications that not even the love child of Jacques Derrida and Stephen Hawking could match? If your PUI can't attract the stars you dream of, perhaps you need to re-evaluate where you actually are in the academic food chain, and focus your efforts on the kind of candidates that would be a better fit for you. It sounds like many candidates are taking a close look at your school, and then opting for Plan B. Or Plan C. Or Plan D.

3. Are you approaching interviews as an elaborate, kabuki-like game of "Guess My Number," where there's one right answer to every question, and no clues for the hapless job seekers? It can be very entertaining to yank candidates around by getting offended at people who talk about teaching because they're being condescending, while those who talk about research are being snobby. And I'm sure the the Bob Barker-worthy approach to salary requirements is a source of endless entertainment! You may want to consider, however, making the salary information publicly available and then accepting applications from people who are still interested.

4. Something about your post suggests that your job ads may be giving off a slight vibe of MURDER YOUR DREAMS BEFORE YOU SET FOOT ON OUR CAMPUS. Is there a check box on the online application that asks candidates if they have renounced all hope of ever being the scholars they once wanted to be? Or maybe they sense that they would be entering an environment where research, or actually any kind of commendable achievement, would be as welcome as a high jumper in a bucket full of crabs. Job applicants might get the feeling that the incompetent HR department is symptomatic of a campus culture that will put up new road blocks at every turn, rather than help them secure the external funding that might be of benefit to them and to their students.

5. Also, be sure to do your research! I know when I go on interviews, I always ask about things where the campus website is ambiguous or self-contradictory. Are job candidates confused because basic features of the job are shrouded in impenetrable jargon, or described in three different ways on the department, college, and university level? You may want to see if a simple search for "Etruscan" on your university web site is turning up minutes from the faculty meeting last year where you agreed to hire some poor sap to fill the position just long enough to apply for tenure, at which point you plan on closing the department.

6. Perhaps your field has completely gone to hell, and every graduate program across the nation is churning out nothing but imbeciles incapable of tying their shoes, let alone teaching undergraduates. Then again, maybe the problem lies with one program in particular that can no longer attract good candidates. Maybe word has gotten out about your obsession with pinstripes?

The campus interview offer comes with a temporary tattoo: "Abandon all hope ye who enter here"

but seriously, it is certainly a two way street here. One doesn't show up at an interview in daisy dukes and a bikini top ( this image made me giggle - more-so due to the mental image of me trying to squeeze into either of those items of apparel) - but what of the SC who dress as if they have just rolled out of bed?

Yes, do your homework about any school you may be visiting...but has the SC looked at their website recently? Do they know if information is available on said website?  Speaking as a recent survivor of a round of campus interviews, the quality of 1. information and 2. organization of information on school websites can vary widely. Do the links to each of your faculty profiles go to dead links or "pages under construction"?  On some sites finding the  course catalog seems dependent solely on your desire to guess as to where it might be archived - Registrar? School?  College? Perhaps IT removed it six months ago and no one told the SC -  Who can tell?

Some websites were exactly the kabuki like guessing game to which watermarkup refers.
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zuzu_
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« Reply #20 on: April 11, 2012, 8:57:10 AM »

The OP obviously works at a teaching-focused place. It's not about murdering your dreams--it's about knowing what kind of institution you're applying to. If you want to work somewhere, you need to adjust your expectations. Sure, this kind of place isn't for everyone, but from reading the fora I think that there are plenty of people who would be happy in a job like this.

I serve on CC search committees, and most of what s/he says rings true, except for the following:

A man in a flashy suit is not my preference, but it's not a dealbreaker
A woman in slacks and a blouse is A-OK with me

ETA: It certainly doesn't seem to me like the OP is trying to be snobby. S/he's offering a blunt perspective that would be helpful to many applicants for teaching-focused positions.
« Last Edit: April 11, 2012, 8:58:38 AM by zuzu_ » Logged
spork
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« Reply #21 on: April 11, 2012, 9:10:06 AM »

Every day on here I hear about how bad the market is right now, but over the past 4 years I have been part of 3 tt searches.  In one we got a mediocre person who was our 4th or 5th choice, in another we had a failed search, and in the current one, I'm thinking it will be another failed search.  I have asked colleagues at other schools and they are seeing the same.  The people applying out there aren't knocking any socks off, and I'll tell you why so you don't do it too:

[ . . .]

That is all.  That is my rant.  I'm so tired of reading through dozens of applicants who didn't even seem to read the job description and then interviewing the least bad of the bunch, only to find out you are just as unqualified as the people I already threw out.

Your premise flawed.  Your data indicate one or more of the following possibilities:

1) Your institution, department, and/or open positions attract applications from low quality candidates.
2) Your advertising and screening process is faulty.
3) Academic careers in your field now primarily attract the mediocre.
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fizmath
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« Reply #22 on: April 11, 2012, 12:00:05 PM »


When we call for a phone interview:
1. Do your research first.  You should know as much about the department and school as the websites do.  This means the school website, the chronicle, and even google.  
2. Speak clearly.  If we can't understand you, we will assume our students will not be able to.  
3. Don't ask us questions that you can look up online.  Ask questions that show you did your research.
4.  Don't tell us you only want to move in the area to be closer to your spouse.



I appreciate hearing perspectives from the other side.  However, in a recent phone interview I violated # 1, 3 and 4.    On Monday they called my back for a campus interview.  In my case it was not a spouse but extended family who live in the area.  Doesn't this show that I am likely to stick around and not leave within a few years?  I knew I screwed up by not preparing some questions ahead of time.  It just did not occur to me to do this. 
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glowdart
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« Reply #23 on: April 11, 2012, 6:37:55 PM »

Clothes?  Whatever.  Just bathe & wear more clothing than our students, please.

Many of the other elements of the original post ring true... some I have seen sink candidacies, but then I also know that there are often campus issues that cause failed searches, too. 

For example:
What's in the ad? Yes.  Please have the degree/experience/ subfields that are in the ad.  I find it charming that you've decided after 15 years in aerospace engineering that you want to teach my totally unrelated discipline, but you're out.  Got a related degree and lots of relevant experience?  Show me.  I'm open-minded.  But, don't make me try to figure it out.  I've got 200 or more applications here, and I'm not going to spend more time figuring out why you think you're a good fit than you do. 

What's in the ad?  I know we'd love to replace our retiring jack of all trades, but please listen to your younger colleagues when they tell you that practically no one is going to have all of those skills because the training in the profession has radically changed since 1960.  Or, administrator, thank you for giving us this line, but get your tangential pet projects out of our job description please.  If you write a confusing ad, then expect a confused pool. 

Spelling, cover letter format, CV formats... these are all standardized in most disciplines.  Are there variations?  Of course, but there's variations and then there's "what did you smoke before you wrote that CV and how did your advisor let you mail it?" 

Knowing your audience -- of course.  Don't tell us you want to teach grad students, for example.  You had best tell my colleagues who are running a search right now how you plan to teach a graduate seminar and how you would advise a dissertation. 



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voxprincipalis
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« Reply #24 on: April 11, 2012, 6:51:39 PM »

Every day on here I hear about how bad the market is right now, but over the past 4 years I have been part of 3 tt searches.  In one we got a mediocre person who was our 4th or 5th choice, in another we had a failed search, and in the current one, I'm thinking it will be another failed search.  I have asked colleagues at other schools and they are seeing the same.  The people applying out there aren't knocking any socks off, and I'll tell you why so you don't do it too:

Each sc member has a method of evaluating application packets.  I read the cover letter first.  I throw away about 80% of the applicants (35-60 applicants usually for my discipline) based on the following:
1.  We ask for someone who can teach x and y.  You have a background in x.  You don't mention y anywhere in your cover letter.  It's like you didn't even read the job description.  
2.  I'm fairly sure you have a functional college literacy level, but your writing is horrible.  This should be a professional business letter and should be written as one.  If you don't know what it should look like, do some research online.  I haven't seen many typos, but I see so many that are poorly constructed.
3.  I think you have no idea what our school is about.  Put in the extra time to look at our courses, they are on the website.  It is easy to find.  Tell me why I should bother looking at the rest of the stuff you sent me.  Can you teach other classes for us?
4.  Speaking of teaching... we're a PUI with a focus on teaching, not research.  Mention your teaching experience.  If I think you are only interested in academics as a back-up, I throw it out.

We require applications to be filled out and they have a salary requirement.  I throw out about 15% based off people asking for an obscene amount of money more than what we can offer.  Do your homework and write a reasonable range, or write negotiable.
 
When we call for a phone interview:
1. Do your research first.  You should know as much about the department and school as the websites do.  This means the school website, the chronicle, and even google.  
2. Speak clearly.  If we can't understand you, we will assume our students will not be able to.  
3. Don't ask us questions that you can look up online.  Ask questions that show you did your research.
4.  Don't tell us you only want to move in the area to be closer to your spouse.

When you show up to an interview:
1.  Do some research about interview attire.  Dudes, don't wear pinstripe suits and flashy shirt/tie combos.  Even my students know better than to do that.  Ladies, slacks and a blouse isn't dressy enough.  You have a doctorate, dress like it.
2.  Don't stand like a deer in headlights the entire day.  I hate it when you are so quiet that you seem to have nothing to contribute to anything we say.  Also, as above, stop asking questions that you should have found the answers to online before you ever interviewed (ideally, before you applied).
3.  I judge you exclusively based on your ability to teach.  This means you don't need to focus on your research/scholarly work the entire day.  Also, if you talk about your research, it had better be something we can do on our campus.  If it requires a $500,000 piece of machinery, or expensive travel overseas, we're going to look elsewhere.  Also, this info can be found usually online.  DO YOUR RESEARCH.  

That is all.  That is my rant.  I'm so tired of reading through dozens of applicants who didn't even seem to read the job description and then interviewing the least bad of the bunch, only to find out you are just as unqualified as the people I already threw out.

You know, I am one of the most outspoken proponents of job-seekers being proactive and uber-responsible and  doing all their research, and while I think you have a couple of points here, the main impression I'm left with is how glad I am that I am not in your department.

VP
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merinoblue
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« Reply #25 on: April 11, 2012, 7:05:40 PM »

The OP's list of dos and don'ts, and general rant, sound fine to me.  It's valuable information, as are previous rants from SC members.  I welcome all of it, and I'm capable of sifting through it to decide what is and isn't relevant to me.
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totoro
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« Reply #26 on: April 11, 2012, 7:14:37 PM »

4.  Don't tell us you only want to move in the area to be closer to your spouse.

We are perfectly happy with that. We will actively recruit people we know who could live closer to their spouse if they came here. One of the top people in their discipline told me - I want to come here because my spouse doesn't like the country we are living in and I don't like our home country. We made them and offer and they are coming... All we care about are that these people are top people.
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tinyzombie
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« Reply #27 on: April 11, 2012, 9:00:48 PM »

The OP's list of dos and don'ts, and general rant, sound fine to me.  It's valuable information, as are previous rants from SC members.  I welcome all of it, and I'm capable of sifting through it to decide what is and isn't relevant to me.

My first thought when I started reading the OP was that much of it has already been written in many places on the fora, several times, and so I turned to threads with new information.

Also, I bristle at broad, unsupported generalizations. There certainly are "people applying out there" who ARE "knocking socks off." just because you haven't happened to see any, OP, doesn't mean they don't exist. Again, I refer you to The Rest of the Fora for anecdata in support of that.

Finally, the air must be rather thin from that high horse of yours. 
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pennyj
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« Reply #28 on: April 11, 2012, 9:14:21 PM »

I know that some people reading the OP objected to some of the items listed that would allow the OP to discard the applicant (type of dress, cover letter style, etc) but since hiring is often a very subjective process, fair or not, people will and can be overlooked as top candidates for a position if those on the SC don't feel the person "fits."  As an example, if you are interviewing at what may be considered a conservative institution, it might be a good move to wear a suit (jacket and skirt) as opposed to a pair of pants and a sweater.   Geographical area is often a a factor in dress codes.  You might not expect to see a female candidate wearing panty hose in Arizona in June, but it might be expected of a candidate in Iowa. 
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leobloom
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« Reply #29 on: April 11, 2012, 10:43:20 PM »

OP describes a department from a school in a very red place. That said, it can be useful for those who apply to such places, especially for candidates who think New England or West Coast is representative for the US.
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