Thursday, May 19, 2016

Job Well Done and a Help Request

I've been blogging about a search I'm on, which I've characterized as interdisciplinary basketweaving.

Looking for Dr. Right - introduces the search
Dr. Desperate - applicants who aren't really qualified, or who don't convince us they are
Finding My Biases in the Job Search - Thinking about some biases I have when I read applications
Schedule This - The difficulty of scheduling interviews at this point in the semester, and calling references.

We've now finished our interviews.

What I wish from job candidates:  imagine if we list an interdisciplinary basketweaving job, and say we're interested in people who can teach basket aesthetics and economics of basketweaving at intro and advanced levels.

Our first question was about the intro to interdisciplinary basketweaving.  An ideal answer would have started by recognizing that we think aesthetics and economics issues are important, and would talk about focusing the class through one or both of those issues, or would talk about some of the important themes or areas to introduce, and include those two areas.

Then we asked a question about the basketweaving aesthetics course.  A really good answer talks about what's important to introduce in basketweaving aesthetics, and how the person introduces those.  A brilliant answer also ties in the economics of aesthetic issues, because the candidate knows from our job ad that we see a relationship between those things as being important and think one person should be able to do both areas.

Then we asked about the economics of basketweaving in our lower division and upper division courses, both required for some majors.  A really good answer explains the differences between the two courses in some way, and then talks about each, and thinks about how the second builds on the first.  A brilliant answer includes something about the economics of aesthetic issues as a theme in one of the courses.

I'm grateful for the people I worked with on the search committee.  They're smart and good colleagues to work with.  We reached a strong consensus at each step along the way, focused on what we'd decided was important and were able to write up a short statement about each of the candidates we ranked for the next level up in the process.

And now it's out of my hands except for one thing:  I'm going to have to write letters to the folks we didn't hire (after we've hired someone).

That's where I need your help.  What graceful, kind, and decent thing can I say having interviewed (or not interviewed) people who've worked hard to get where they've gotten and really need a job, and aren't getting our job?


  1. My "favorite" rejections always included two things:

    1) an actual rejection (I HATE the letters that said, "Dear Candidate, We've concluded our search! Sincerely, Chair"--and never acknowledged my candidacy/rejection); and

    2) some human empathy--e.g., "I know that the job search is difficult at best," or something--basically, a bit of compassion and recognition that the rejection does not mean that the candidate is unworthy. I've received a few letters like this, and they felt so much better to me than the absolutely cold letters--the ones that seemed to be trying to avoid the unpleasantness of rejection altogether--that I tried to incorporate words to this effect in the rejection letters that *I've* sent. In a few cases, I actually received appreciative words from the rejected candidates.

    I can imagine that some people would disagree with me about #2, but somehow the overt recognition of the suckiness of the market always made me feel better.

  2. I think Heu Mihi is right. You are writing to people who were good enough to get to your short list. You could only choose one, so you chose the one who met your job description and campus needs. But they were all able scholars and teachers, and in this difficult time for higher education, you wish them the best of luck.

  3. I agree with Heu Mihi. Also, I appreciated letters (though they were rare, and I certainly didn't expect this level of personalization) that said something briefly about my own work. E.g., "we really enjoyed hearing about the work you're doing on X, and look forward to reading it when it's in print." Or if there's a graceful way to connect the person's work, in a non-judgemental way, to the rejection, that's also nice. I once got a rejection (post-MLA, not even post-campus visit! so definitely from a thoughtful search chair) that added something like, "upon a deeper consideration of the department's strengths and needs, we have decided that what we're really lacking is a specialist in sixteenth-century literature, so we've limited the finalists to candidates working in that area."

  4. Agree with Heu Mihi, Susan, and Flavia. Gracious, short, and timely is the way to go, too.

  5. I agree with much of the above. If you can find something specific to praise in their application or interview, please do. It helps candidates to know that their teaching portfolio was really top notch, for instance.

    Flavia's comment on how you explain the outcome is also spot-on. Sometimes it really is that simple if heartbreaking.

  6. I wish all of you had been writing the correspondence for every position I ever applied for! The field could use the sort of direct and kind communication everyone is suggesting here.

    The last search I chaired was for an associate professor, and the finalists were in my field, and they were people I know, which complicated the situation for me still more than usual. I just pulled out one of the emails I sent. As I recall, I varied the middle sentence in paragraph 2 to suit the particulars of the person's visit.

    Thanks very much for your patience with our search process. I’m very sorry to be writing with the news that the department has decided to extend an offer to another candidate.

    It really was a pleasure to have you on our campus—your visit and presentations left me with tons of ideas, and the people who met you appreciated your intellectual energy. Our candidate pool contained an embarrassment of riches, and the department’s final analysis moved in a different direction.

    I’ve debated whether sending an email vs. a phone call would be the better course of action, and settled on email because I’d rather receive a (presumably) disappointing piece of news without having to talk at the same time. I don’t know whether you’d make the same choice, but I hope my genre choice doesn’t seem impersonal. Thank you for all the effort you brought to the campus visit. I know I’ll be taking some of your perspectives on KEY IDEA IN RESEARCH into my work next year.

  7. I recently found the rejection email (I'd printed it out) from my last academic-job interview ever . I saved it because it was a) kind, b) referred specifically to my research/teaching interests, and c) actually said that they wished they could get me out from under the extremely heavy teaching load I was under. :O The personal touch meant an enormous amount to me (enough that I saved it, obviously).

    Also, second adding anything about the specifics of the decision. I recently was told that I didn't get a job not for the reasons I assumed (I thought it was because I lacked management experience) but for a reason that was completely out of my control: was told I was a strong candidate, but another candidate happened to have a background that they realized they actually really needed. I've been dealing with a LOT of discouragement job-searching-wise, and knowing that it wasn't something I'd done wrong or lacked has been helpful to me.

    For that same job, they notified me by email (much preferred) but the search chair asked to call me because zie wanted to let me know that I'd been a strong candidate. So the phone call was not the rejection, but an opportunity for a useful conversation.