Flavia, of Ferule and Fescue, reports that her department has successfully concluded its search. Congrats to her and her department.
It's this time of the year when the search process turns, when search committees have interviewed, brought candidates to campus, and had yet more meetings. On my campus, everyone in the department community is welcome to give feedback, and then the search committee makes a recommendation to the chair, who makes a recommendation on up the line. (I think it's theoretically possible for a chair to recommend a different candidate than the committee recommended, but I don't think that's happened while I've been here.) Then, if all's well, the nod comes back down to the chair, and the chair makes a phone call and starts negotiations.
At this point, the search committee pretty much waits. We don't get to hear much about the communications or negotiations, and that makes sense, but it's also anxiety producing. Will our chosen candidate accept our offer? Sometimes candidates ask for a week or two to decide because they've got other campus visits lined up. So we wait. Once the chair knows, then we know.
And if not, what do we do? Is there another candidate who has visited that we'd like to make an offer to? Or do we need to go further into our pool?
We may have had an easy time deciding which candidates to invite to campus, but if we have to choose one more candidate, we may have less agreement.
Flavia mentioned that in past searches her department has had candidates turn them down and has hired a second candidate, but that once the new candidate is hired, the department members are pretty happy and think about the person they have, rather than worrying about the person who didn't accept the offer. That's also been my experience. I know we've hired candidates after some offers were turned down, and the people are excellent colleagues.
One time, we had someone sign the contract and then back out, so we had several weeks before we had to go back to the candidate pool and try again, by which time some other folks already had jobs. (No one here had a bad word to say about the person who backed out; we totally understood that we're not the most desireable job.) We ended up hiring a superb colleague.
If we need to go back into the pool, we're still bringing in excellent candidates, but we and our colleagues are feeling search fatigue. In an average hiring year (we aren't allowed to hire every year, but when we are, we often have 2-3 searches), for example, I'm likely to have gone to 5 or 6 job talks, meals with candidates, maybe additional receptions. If I'm on a search committee, I've probably done more. So when I see the call go out weeks later for another job talk and meals, I know we'll have trouble with attendance. I'm not trying to excuse faculty members for not wanting to attend more candidate events, but to acknowledge how tired we are. Not so long ago, I was at one of these events, tired and grumpy (and very much wishing I had never gone to grad school), and trying not to show it, and the candidate asked about living in the community, and one of my colleagues said, "Oh, Bardiac, you love living here. Why don't you talk about it?"
Let's imagine a search for a brackish water basketweaving theorist. There are, say, 150 candidates who are applying for, say, 10 searches in the field. Of these, 25 stand out on paper as strong candidates. Of this number, we select maybe 10 for initial interviews. Maybe 6 or those really stand out as stellar.
The thing is, I have a feeling that if there are 10 job searches in the field, we're all looking at about 15 or so candidates in common, and maybe 8 who impress greatly in interviews and campus visits. Those 8 will likely get several offers, with two others getting a secondary or tertiary offer.
From the candidates' points of view, there's massive competition for very few slots.
For the search committees, there are relatively few really qualified candidates who give stellar interviews, so we feel like we're also experiencing serious competition for those candidates. (Yes, it's still way better to be on the search committee than in the candidate pool.)