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Author Topic: The issues I have seen while serving on search committees.  (Read 22697 times)
macaroon
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« Reply #45 on: April 16, 2012, 9:59:50 PM »

However, asking for two or three additional statements on things like diversity, the specific mission of your institution, personal religious statement (complete with a letter from the pastor of the church or equivalent was the favorite requirement that I saw), or other thing that will chew up a good half hour of my time means you are going to the bottom of the pile.  Anyone who has a centralized job application site that doesn't work (yes, I encountered those as well) is getting 10 minutes and then I'm moving on.



Ah, how quickly I forgot the POS diversity statement I cooked up!  That had to be as much of a joy to read as it was to write.  Yes, I also ran into application sites that gave uninterpretable directions or were flat out broken. 
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quasihumanist
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« Reply #46 on: April 16, 2012, 11:22:46 PM »

Also I agree that the notion often presented here on the fora that there are scores of candidates that could have gotten the job and that the process is little more than the lottery is exaggerated.  Perhaps that's true at a top-10 R1 but not at our top-30 non-coastal SLAC.  We may have gotten more than 200 applicants for a recent position I was on the SC for, but remember that more than 3/4s of them could be eliminated quite easily.    

So there were still at least 40 or so applications that could not be eliminated easily.  Given what you know on paper you would be happy to hire any of them (though undoubtedly a few of them would have been found unsuitable after interviewing).

One chance in 30 or so is appreciably better than 1 in 200, but I wouldn't call that good odds either.
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totoro
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« Reply #47 on: April 17, 2012, 12:39:29 AM »

Also I agree that the notion often presented here on the fora that there are scores of candidates that could have gotten the job and that the process is little more than the lottery is exaggerated.  Perhaps that's true at a top-10 R1 but not at our top-30 non-coastal SLAC.  We may have gotten more than 200 applicants for a recent position I was on the SC for, but remember that more than 3/4s of them could be eliminated quite easily.    

So there were still at least 40 or so applications that could not be eliminated easily.  Given what you know on paper you would be happy to hire any of them (though undoubtedly a few of them would have been found unsuitable after interviewing).

One chance in 30 or so is appreciably better than 1 in 200, but I wouldn't call that good odds either.

That's definitely not the case here and it wasn't for the searches I was involved in in the US either (though that is around 10 years ago)...
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kaysixteen
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« Reply #48 on: April 17, 2012, 4:19:53 PM »

Aside of those 'applicants' who manifestly do not meet the minimum stated required qualifications for the job, on what other bases could one immediately eliminate the bulk of those 3/4 of the applicants?
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polly_mer
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« Reply #49 on: April 17, 2012, 4:41:35 PM »

Aside of those 'applicants' who manifestly do not meet the minimum stated required qualifications for the job, on what other bases could one immediately eliminate the bulk of those 3/4 of the applicants?

Tone in letters.  Being snotty or condescending gets one bounced quickly.

Failure to use the cover letter as a sales document by giving a quick "here is my stuff.  Email me if you have questions" instead of giving a snapshot of a teacher, researcher, and committee member.

Failure to explain how someone with a background at extremely prestigious places will interact with a population who is at last-chance CC.  That institution needs someone who knows how to teach adults who have very complicated lives and will struggle with high-school-level material.

Failure to explain how someone with a background at low-level places will be able to interact with a population paying $50K+ and who have need for severe challenges as well as networking opportunities.
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fizmath
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« Reply #50 on: April 17, 2012, 5:31:59 PM »

Aside of those 'applicants' who manifestly do not meet the minimum stated required qualifications for the job, on what other bases could one immediately eliminate the bulk of those 3/4 of the applicants?

I've asked this question to a few people who have sat on a SC.   One department head told me that sometimes they know the person who wrote a recommendation letter.  Also, they might recognize the name of the applicant from attending the same conference.   Another person told me that over 90% of the applicants will talk endlessly about their research when they are looking for someone whose primary task will be teaching undergraduates.
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quasihumanist
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« Reply #51 on: April 17, 2012, 7:35:41 PM »

Aside of those 'applicants' who manifestly do not meet the minimum stated required qualifications for the job, on what other bases could one immediately eliminate the bulk of those 3/4 of the applicants?

1) At places that care significantly about research (which do not have to be top R1s), having less than half the publications of the top applicants, without the compensating factor of some of the publications being high profile.  (High profile means either in a very top journal, or a letter saying that the publication is field-changing.)

2) At places that care less about research but still care, not having any publications half of the many applicants have a publication.  Having a publication is not a minimum required qualification, but having looked at the applicant pool, the SC could decide there are so many candidates with a publication to choose from that they can just automatically eliminate those without one.

3) At places that care about teaching, not having sufficient teaching experience (depending on field and type of school.)  Again, the amount of teaching experience needed to make the first cut might not be a minimum required qualification, but, given a sense of the applicant pool, anything below a certain amount won't be competitive.
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eddyman
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« Reply #52 on: April 17, 2012, 11:52:08 PM »

In answer to the issues raised about my earlier comment. 

I said that 3/4 could easily be eliminated in that particular search.  This was for a combination of factors (in decreasing level of importance):

1. Not meeting the qualifications of the job ad.  Admittedly the position was in an interdisciplinary field which everyone thinks they can teach in but few have much training in.     
2. Not impressive credentials.  Usually lack of publications and/or lack of teaching (we are an SLAC) but also place of degree can be a consideration here. 
3. Showing little interest in or understanding of the position in their application materials.
4. Lukewarm letters of recommendation.

I would also say that there was still some variance in quality of the final 1/4 of the candidates that could not be eliminated easily but this was not apparent from the first read through. 

Undoubtedly though--and this is inevitable in almost any search--some people did not get first-round interviews that could have probably done the job.  But this was not scores of people in our search, more like 20 solid people that the SC felt really confident about.  And 12 got interviews which eliminated a few of those as options. 

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bcohlan1
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« Reply #53 on: April 18, 2012, 12:34:09 AM »

I've always understood that part of what is meant by describing the job search process as a crap shoot is that it's a matter of luck whether or not any jobs in your specific subfield will be advertised in a given year.
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totoro
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« Reply #54 on: April 18, 2012, 5:10:34 AM »

I've always understood that part of what is meant by describing the job search process as a crap shoot is that it's a matter of luck whether or not any jobs in your specific subfield will be advertised in a given year.

Sounds like you are too specialized then. Something must be advertised somewhere in the world.
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totoro
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« Reply #55 on: April 18, 2012, 5:27:59 AM »

Aside of those 'applicants' who manifestly do not meet the minimum stated required qualifications for the job, on what other bases could one immediately eliminate the bulk of those 3/4 of the applicants?

I've asked this question to a few people who have sat on a SC.   One department head told me that sometimes they know the person who wrote a recommendation letter.  Also, they might recognize the name of the applicant from attending the same conference.   Another person told me that over 90% of the applicants will talk endlessly about their research when they are looking for someone whose primary task will be teaching undergraduates.

I would say about 1/2 usually can be immediately eliminated. And I only look at CVs on the first round and we don't actually have letters here until we reach finalists. It's all down to research productivity relative to what would be a reasonable performance here for someone at that career stage for me. Many just don't have anywhere near the research performance we'd look for in a plausible candidate.  And of course, just not really the field we are looking for.
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seniorscholar
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« Reply #56 on: April 18, 2012, 7:44:06 AM »

Another quick trip to the "no" file, from a field that does read the cover letter carefully and a person that sometimes dumps 'em after the first paragraph:

No sign that the writer knows anything at all about the university -- assuming (for example) that religion will be important (we're a state school with a religious foundation: but that link was entirely cut more than 100 years ago) and spending a fulsome sentence on the writer's religious background. Or writing about preference for a "small college" (we have 35,000+ students). I can stand entirely bland and "wasted" first sentences, as in "I am very interested in applying for the position in ----- which you advertised in the MLA joblist" though they certainly do not help at all, and even letters addressed to the other nearby R-1 which is also advertising in the same field are merely worth a smile, but paragraphs evidently tailored to some other school are a significant loser.

But more significantly, for an English department, whether the application is for a TT lit position or a NTT full-time comp position, a REALLY badly-written letter, usually one that's full of bland generalizations with no evidence provided, as in "I am an innovative teacher" -- really? Teaching awards? Student ratings? And, even without that, what the he-- is "innovative" about your teaching? (I hope you aren't the adjunct I fired at another university long ago who had freshman comp students do interpretive dance instead of writing essays . . .)

These are the two examples I have time this morning -- but the number of dreadful letters people with a PhD in English can write are truly astonishing.
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polly_mer
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« Reply #57 on: April 18, 2012, 8:07:14 AM »

I've always understood that part of what is meant by describing the job search process as a crap shoot is that it's a matter of luck whether or not any jobs in your specific subfield will be advertised in a given year.

Sounds like you are too specialized then. Something must be advertised somewhere in the world.

Well, maybe yes and maybe no.  

How many polymer engineering jobs are advertised every year?  I usually see about 3, perhaps as many as 10 if I were willing to work in the Middle East.  Almost none of those 10 jobs would be willing to consider a simulationist.

How many materials engineering jobs are advertised every year?  Perhaps 20 in the entire world and again I'd have to be willing to live somewhere that I don't speak the language and where I would be at a severe disadvantage as a foreign woman to get close to the 20.

Or, I can do as I've done and apply for jobs where I have zero degrees in the desired field and hope that people really mean "related fields considered" and don't pitch my materials immediately upon reading, "My graduate degrees are in materials engineering with undergraduate concentrations in chemistry and engineering science.  My research interests can be broadly defined as computational materials science", in my cover letter or seeing the same information by looking at my CV.

After probably more than 200 applications spread over 8 years, I've landed a TT job, but I believe people who state that only a handful of jobs are open in their fields every year.
« Last Edit: April 18, 2012, 8:08:54 AM by polly_mer » Logged

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macadamia
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« Reply #58 on: April 18, 2012, 8:35:04 AM »

about the university -- assuming (for example) that religion will be important (we're a state school with a religious foundation: but that link was entirely cut more than 100 years ago) and spending a fulsome sentence on the writer's religious background.

And how easy is this to find out? Or how easy is it to make that mistake?

By all means, throw away any application that reveals some ignorance on your university in the first paragraph of the cover letter, but then do not complain that there are no good candidates out there.

In a bad market, people have to apply to much more places than in a good market which means that they *won't* be able to research every place they apply to in the manner they would in a better market.
If you get enough excellent candidates who did their research on your school, then that's fine to throw out the rest, but if you don't, then maybe you should think twice on this criterium.
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seniorscholar
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« Reply #59 on: April 18, 2012, 11:39:45 AM »


And how easy is this to find out? Or how easy is it to make that mistake?
[/quote]

Step one in ANY job application (even if you know everything about academia) is to spend five minutes on the university and department websites. If the first sentence on the main page that pops up when you Google "university name" is "xxxx university is a public research university located in . . ." one would be avoid assuming it is a religious school even if, for example, it has a saint's name in its own name.

And if applicants look at the department's page (as all of my PhD candidates surely do with all 60 of the schools they usually apply to) it should be fairly easy not to "look forward to teaching graduate courses in . . ." if the department has no graduate program, and also to "have workplace experience that helps prepare me to teach xxxxx in your new MA program in . . ." if the school is a traditional liberal arts (undergraduate) college that has, however, recently started a few masters' level courses.

Deeper research, of course, is important when invited for an interview. But ten minutes on the web will provide a number of useful facts about programs, student body, etc. etc. etc. to guide the initial cover letter. And people who make large errors, or who write a "one size fits all" letter to each school, are destined at once for the round file in a department/field that gets 400+ applications for every TT job.
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