Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Rejection Rules

Telling people (by letter, e-mail, or voice) that they are not getting a position for which they applied, or are not even being considered (at all/any more), is difficult. Do I even need to bother to say that I understand that it is not as difficult as being the one getting that information? (Probably, so I just did.)

I have written about rejection letters before, and have a blog label for posts on "criticism, rejection, or failure" (22 posts, including this one). I still stand by the approach I described two years ago regarding how to go about rejecting applicants:

(1) just do it -- once a decision has been made, it's better to let an unselected applicant know where they stand than to leave them unnecessarily uninformed and wondering;

(2) be respectful and professional; the rejectee likely does not care to hear that rejecting them is painful for you;

(3) if possible, be informative with relevant data (number of applicants, where the applicant ended up in the process etc.); this is also part of being professional and respectful, even if there are a very large number of applicants to reject.

I am sure that there is a lot of variation in how and when different departments/units inform unselected applicants of their status. For much of the process in my department, I leave communication with unselected candidates to the search committee chair and/or the department administrator, depending on the situation. My personal role as the bearer of good or bad news comes near the end of the process and involves only the candidates who made it to the very-last stages of consideration.

When a search is still underway, my only contribution to the rejection process is to make sure that  someone is informing applicants of their status in a timely way.

Rejection may occur at any one of many points in the process:

First: rejection of those who reflexively submit applications for positions for which they are not qualified -- for example, those who are in a completely different field with zero experience in the research/teaching topics of the open position. I wonder why these applicants even bother. These applications typically arrive soon after an ad is posted, even if this is months before the deadline or target date for submitting applications (not a good sign if you are applying to a research university with expectations of continuing research activity).

Then: those applicants who meet the basic qualifications for the position but, owing to something about their record or field of expertise, are not selected for further consideration.

Then: those applicants who make it to the long-list but not the medium- or short/est-lists. The reasons for non-selection at these points range widely.

Then: those who interviewed but who are not offered a position -- there may be various subdivisions of these depending on how many are interviewed and what goes on in terms of discussions among faculty, administrators etc., so the timing and mode of rejection may vary.

That's a lot of rejecting. In my experience, departments are encouraged to conduct at least some very broad searches rather than narrow searches in the hopes that broader searches will increase diversity. Broader searchers result in larger numbers of applicants and therefore larger numbers of rejections. If the ultimate goal is noble, I think it is preferable to have a larger number of applicants (and therefore rejections) than to have fewer applicants/fewer rejections.

Agree or disagree?

Monday, September 08, 2014

Why Being An Administrator Is (Sometimes) Super Cool

Why can it be very great to be an administrator, at least certain kinds of administrator, such as department heads or program directors or maybe even some dean-like people?

Because, from time to time, you get to offer people excellent jobs, like tenure-track sorts of jobs. Such jobs do indeed still exist. Some people are getting them and that means that other people are making the official offers to those people. I have found that I very much enjoy being one of those other people.

That is: It is of course very thrilling to get an offer of a tenure-track position. It is also super cool to be the one making the offer/s.

I like to think about this when the relentlessly trivial and soul-destroying aspects of being an administrator start to gain on the positive aspects.

Below is a highly schematic graph that I hope I can eventually replace with a graph based on actual data (with a Time axis that has real units). This example graph is just to show in a relative sense how super cool making a job offer is compared to routine administrative tasks and the occasional unpleasant (but not catastrophic) financial or personnel crisis. 

+ = supercoolness; - = suckiness; 0 = neutral; time has no units...