Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Hiring a Colleague: The Job Search Calendar

This is part 2 of my attempts to demystify the job market a bit. The first part is here.

As a reminder, I work in a regional comprehensive university and am only talking about my experiences. I'm happy to hear from other folks about how their experiences differ, or to entertain questions.

One of the things that's so frustrating for applicants (along with the generally poor odds of actually getting a tt job in English) is that the job search takes forever. Why can't academics be efficient and just get things done?

Here's how timing looks from this side of the search.

Spring: My department meets (sometimes starting in different committees and eventually in whole department meetings) to discuss whether we think we have curricular needs that require hiring a new colleague. After prioritizing our needs, we put in a request for a tt line, complete with an argument about how and why we need a colleague in a fairly specific area. We compete for tenure lines with every other department at the university; given budget cuts in recent years, it's a rare department that doesn't seriously need a line or two.

In late August (when our contracts start), if we're lucky, we get a provisional okay to do a search from several higher ups. The department chair (DC) and personnel committee chair (PCC) get together to decide who to ask to be on a search committee; then the PCC goes to individual members of the department and asks for their help to form a committee.

Serving on a search committee is a serious time commitment in addition to our other work. When you look at the search committee members interviewing you, remember that they've put a lot of time into getting to the point of the interview, too.

September: The search committee members talk to our campus legal eagles who handle equal opportunity, affirmative action, and hiring legalities, and they teach us about legal issues. We work on an ad, vetting it with different offices to make sure it's legal and appropriate. We identify places we want to place the ad so that we'll reach potential candidates.

We know we're not an Ivy or in the most coveted location, so we're trying to entice candidates with our ad while being honest and up front. When we interview you, we want you to like us, too!

For MLA, we're under a huge rush to get our ad in the mid-Sept JIL. We set our priority date for applications (usually October/November); we have to word that dating explicitly to be legal.

Meanwhile, we meet again as a committee and decide on rubrics for how we'll decide who doesn't fit our criteria (we have to justify every decision for our legal folks). The rubric also has to set out ways of ranking candidates.

Priority Date: Each person on the committee has to read every application and fill out a rubric form. Then we start getting together and sorting through our application pool. We cut applications that don't meet our criteria. (Based on our rubric: appropriate degree qualifications, field of study, requisite experience if appropriate.) We check in with the legal folks as necessary.

The DC sends out early rejection letters.

Then we start ranking. (See my previous post about what we look for.) For some fields, we may literally receive hundreds of applications. (At my MA institution, I heard about an Americanist search that netted 800 applications. I was told at my first job that they'd received 500 applications for a job.) In other fields, the applicant pool may include 20 candidates.

IF we asked in our ad for only a letter and CV, we now have to contact potential candidates to get a writing sample and a dossier. If we've already got those, then we begin ranking after reading full application materials. The upside of getting everything up front is that we read most application materials only once before we start working on rankings. The downside is that it's more expensive for our candidates AND we'll end up reading writing samples/letters for people from whom we wouldn't have asked for materials. The downsides to asking for materials later are that some won't reach us in a timely manner and we'll have to reread letters/CVs for those folks. I don't know a right answer for this problem.

By late November/early December, we've ranked our top candidates. We check back in with the legal folks. Our chair starts arranging interviews at MLA.

The committee meets to set up a basic interview template. Legally, we have to go through the same basic interview process with every candidate, though we're allowed to ask different follow up questions and such. We care about doing the search ethically AND legally, so this stuff is important to us.

December 27... MLA. If you think it's hell to go to MLA as a candidate, you're right. It's somewhat less hellish to go on an interview committee. We can only afford to send part of our committee. That's less than ideal. (Keep that in mind as you look at interview committees. If you have a choice, all else being equal, a rich school is better than a poor one.)

The DC and committee member(s) interview our top 10 or so candidates, taking notes so they can report back.

Mid-January: Classes start! Committee meetings! The interview subcommittee reports back, and the search committee narrows its pool to the top two or three candidates. We clear these folks with the legal office and with appropriate administrators.

The committee sets up a feedback form so that everyone who wants to can give us feedback on a candidate's visit.

The chair calls to set up campus visits. We usually do a two day interview process, which is absolutely packed for the candidate. There may be a week or more between candidate visits for a given search.

January/February: Campus visits!

Each member of the department has an opportunity to give feedback on each candidate using the form. Taking those forms into consideration (and also verbal feedback), we decide if one or both of the candidates is a good fit for us. If so, we put through a ranked list to the dean's office. Usually, the dean's office approves our rankings, and our DC makes a call to our top ranked candidate to offer the job.

If we're turned down, we already know whether we want to offer the job to the second ranked candidate. If not, then we may ask to bring two more candidates to campus. Rinse and repeat. At some point, if we haven't successfully hired a candidate, the administration or committee may decide that we've failed the search.

Once we've hired someone, our chair sends the final rejection letters; in the past, our chair has called each candidate brought to campus for an interview to speak to them.

If we're successful, our new colleague comes under contract in late August. If s/he comes to town before then, then there are opportunities to get to meet people, learn some ropes, borrow from a syllabus here or there, and so forth.


I've talked a fair bit here about checking in with the legal folks. I think my department colleagues really want to do a search as ethically and legally as possible. But we know diddly about legalities, so we turn to the legal eagles for advice. The legal folks help us think about things we might not even think about. For example, how do we set a due date for applications? If we say, "applications must be received by X date," then we cannot look at any applications received even a day later. Period. So if we're not finding what we're looking for in a pool, we can't look later, not even if we're failing to hire someone. If we set a priority date, then we have to prioritize applications received by that date, but if none of those are acceptable, we're allowed to look at applications received later. None of us wants to be sued for not knowing a legality.

And those little EO/AA cards? They go to a completely different building. The EO/AA folks use those to help make sure that we're getting an appropriately diverse applicant pool and treating everyone fairly. (There may be other uses, but those uses don't come to our department.)


  1. I don't have anything terribly profound to say, but once again, thanks for posting this.

  2. This is fantastic demystification. Thanks for the insight. One question: that "can't look at anything received after the deadline" thing? Does that hold for partial applications as well? The use of dossier services makes me more than a little concerned about how I'm going to get everything in the right place at the right time. I know I can get the materials I'm producing in, but the letters from elsewhere... who knows.

  3. I wrote a little follow-up of my own to your excellent series--the more public regional university perspectives out there, the better.

  4. Anonymous5:16 AM

    Not a very optimistic article.