WTH hiring committees?

Aug 19 2015 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Interviewing people for tenure track positions is hard work. There's a lot of time spent weeding through applications, checking references (for the short list, dammit!) and coordinating visits. During the interviews it's even more work, with considerable time spent both with the candidates and discussing them after the fact. But no matter how exhausted the committee is by the process, this is criminal:

The list of on campus interviews is usually about 4 candidates. Presumably the committee ends up hiring one of those candidates, leaving three flapping in the wind. Three people, who made your list after an intense winnowing process and two day interviews.... and you never contact them again?

That's just not how you treat people. Generally. But in this specific case, the committee is doing an even greater disservice by putting a very bad taste in the mouth of someone who might end up being a colleague! If they were good enough for you search, chances are they have other interviews. If they get hired somewhere else, do you think they will have anything good to say about your dept/university or committee members, personally?

There is just NO REASON for hiring committees to be so cavalier with candidates and treat them like they are just another folder in the pile. It's dehumanizing and just further pushes the narrative of the cold elitist ivory tower. If you can't remember what it was like to go through the interview process as a postdoc and wait those excruciating weeks as they dragged on, sometimes into months, then you need to at least try to put yourself in those shoes.

Treat people like you would want to be treated in their situation. Don't be an asshole.

29 responses so far

  • It is funny that you bring that up. But I think this is kind of a norm now (atleast in my experience).

    I interviewed 15 something places. Out of those more than half never got back to me; despite asking and communicating with them multiple times. I only knew that I didn't get the position because they offered someone (who accepted) and his/her profile shows up in the department webpage. It was brutal and to be honest, quite disrespectful.

    I thought this is the way it is done in the ivory tower. Now that I am inside, I feel that a email or (better) phone call letting me know that I didn't made it was not too hard for anyone.

  • DJMH says:

    I also interviewed at 3 places that never got back to me.

    I had figured this meant I did so badly in the interview that no one even wanted to email me, but later found out that at one of the places, I was their B choice and might have gotten an offer had their first choice declined them.

    I think of those search chairs with some disgust, now.

  • Zen Faulkes says:

    I think part of this is the protracted hiring process in academia. It takes about a year to hire someone, going through multiple levels of committees and administration. And it might not be successful. If a negotiation fails, you might want to go back into the applicant pool. So by the time the ink is finally dry and the search is closed, you might not want to go back to tell everyone who didn't make the shortlist, because it's been so long they might have forgotten the job even exists.

    When I was a search committee chair, I tried to let people know the status of their applications by telling them they were not getting invited to campus for an interview. It actually wound up causing problems later. No offer was made, and applicant insisted ze was qualified and should have been considered, arguing we should exhaust the search pool before closing the search.

  • A says:

    This happened to me too, and there is no excuse. In this case, it was a top-tier department in a private research U... they could have had one of their many administrative staff send a letter or an email with almost no effort. It really just comes down to one committee chair being thoughtless, though. When I reached out to a colleague in that department (who was not the committee chair), he was shocked and apologized profusely on behalf of the committee.

    IMO the same courtesy applies to applications pre-interview. Postdocs apply in Aug-Nov and then kindle hope of an interview for months and months. The search committee could resolve a lot of anxiety by a polite rejection email as candidates are eliminated from the pool in Dec or Jan. I submitted 10 or 11 applications and got 3 interviews. Of the 7 rejections, only 2 bothered to let me know.

  • Established PI says:

    This is really appalling. There is no excuse for not getting back to candidates with the decision, especially after an interview.

  • Noncoding Arenay says:

    @Funny Researcher - the very thought that this is the norm is the problem. It means that more and more places are doing this and that is not how it should be. There is absolutely no excuse for not notifying the campus interviewees with at least a brief email informing them of the outcome of the search and wishing them the best of luck moving forward.

  • Rheophile says:

    Maybe this happens more often when there is a failed hire? In that case, there isn't necessarily a clear decision point, making notification a lot harder. In one case I know of, I didn't receive an rejection from a position with a failed hire. (This was less egregious because I wasn't on the short list.)

  • I don't care what the result of the search is, you freakin let people know. I understand that short list candidates who don't make the campus interview stage have longer to wait, but at some point a candidate signs (or the search fails) and they deserve to know. ESPECIALLY if people had an on campus interview, it's ridiculous that there would be no follow up contact. Interviewees put a lot of time and effort into those two days, it's appalling that they would never receive feedback of any kind.

  • potnia theron says:

    It's not just that its bad manners. Rude. Unpleasant. Not the way you want to be treated.

    It also reflects on the institution. Maybe 99 of 100 people you fail to thank, acknowledge or inform are either powerless or Good Human Beings. But that one will become a BSD or even just a Regular Jane Scientist of some note. They will not forget. They will not send students to be grad students at your institution. They will (subconsciously of course) trash papers from that department (especially from the person who did get hired). They will (even more deeply buried in their subconscious) review grants from that institution poorly.

  • BB says:

    I agree it is terrible, and I think several good points about keeping the pool "clean" and open are valid. Negotiations are much longer and more stochastic than they were 15 years ago, in my experience. (I'm a tenured prof who's been on a bunch of search committees and was, for a while, an admin dealing with dozens of searches in the sciences.)

    I wonder if, in some cases, administration/HR mandates that committees do not communicate the results to candidates interpersonally, preferring the sterilized and slow form letter, as approved by Legal (if that letter is ever generated at all -- let alone mailed to the correct address).

    In our modern era, searches can end up with litigation, and this chills the air of communication, naturally. In the eyes of some admins, every single communication to a candidate is a potential grenade that could explode into months or years of legal hassle.

    If this is a factor, I don't pretend it's a sufficient reason to treat people so poorly. I just offer it as one more factor dehumanizing our colleges & universities.

  • I don't think it is responsible for a search chair to assume follow up has occurred. Also, phone declines are more personal and less likely to become a legal problem. It's THREE Calls.

  • DJMH says:

    Especially with email, so they don't have to put up with any hurt responses, it seems the act of one minute to write "Dear X, though we enjoyed your visit, we have made an offer to someone else." If relevant, a line about if Choice 1 declines, X is still in the running.

    I got rejected from many places, but I only think poorly of the ones that rejected me by never getting in contact again.

  • SEW says:

    We always informed people, eventually, but HR wouldn't allow any communication until an offer had been accepted in writing, so the wait can be VERY long. (I think we may have been able to send letters right away to people who did not meet the minimum stated requirements, but I retired a few years ago and my memory is, blessedly, fading).

  • pyrope says:

    Been a while since I was on the job search, but in retrospect I think I accepted it as standard practice that I would never hear anything back after interviews. In fact, I can only think of two places where I did hear back. Not a great reflection of Universities generally as employers! That's why the job search wikis were always so nice to have.

  • gmp says:

    "In the eyes of some admins, every single communication to a candidate is a potential grenade that could explode into months or years of legal hassle."

    What BB says above.
    Every time I was on the search cte, communication was strictly regulated and the college HR and our main department admin were extremely serious about it. No communication until the search is closed, and even then only by the department admin or department chair, and only using only pre-approved language (no reference to anything in regards to how many applicants or whatever).

    However. People not on the search cte could communicate in an unofficial capacity, preferably without a paper trail. So if you know someone in the department who's not on the cte, you could call them up and ask what's going on.

  • Yeah, those wikis kept me sane. I need to find where those ended up. Used to link to them.

  • But once the search is closed, candidates should be told and not left to check the dept website.

  • DJMH says:

    I'm sure there are places where the communications to candidates are treated like potential grenades, but this was clearly not the explanation in my circumstances, because nobody got in touch even once the top candidate had accepted in writing.

    The explanation isn't "oh recruitment is hard," it's "some people would rather be a jerk to a faculty candidate than write an uncomfortable email."

  • KU says:

    Isn't it just a accepted principle of the industrial revolution that people are commodities or products rather than an equal member of society? Hard to find a job description says they have to treat people with 'respect' or worse off, mean it.

    This happens even more at the entry level positions, I think I have had 1/100s of applications with a human response (although with a standard line dehumanizing note) and maybe 1/3 of the rest computerized. Its such a confidence builder for a candidate to have this, unless you don't want to allow confidence in any other human other than the one chosen for the position (Afterall, they could've learned to better themselves! What a tragedy).

  • Physician Scientist says:

    I chaired a search committee for 3 successive searches. It took about 4-6 months to get the applicant pool to the point where we knew where the interview/no interview cut-off was. We then let the no interview group know, and I personally offered to give reasons why by phone or email. Only about 30% took me up on my offer, but it did take alot of time to respond.

    We did keep a few "wait list" candidates for interview, and these people took 9-12 months to notify of the result. There wasn't much I could do about the time frame as we were waiting on the interviewed applicant pool results, but tried to be as expedient as possible.

    We notified everyone we interviewed as quickly as the interview applicant pool established itself....Typically within 2 months post-interview.

    We did get into trouble each year with HR as we technically weren't allowed to notify anyone until the search was complete (meaning someone was hired). I fought this and won all three years, but the timing was still delayed in my mind. Its hard for me to imagine that a search chair wouldn't have the decency to inform the candidates of the results, but it's easy for me to imagine to imagine that the timing might be delayed relative to what the candidates hope due to HR logistics. I still struggle with the fact that we rejected very smart, competent scientists - Its just too many applicants for too few spots coupled with HR logistics.

  • Dave says:

    Sellers market. There are no real consequences if they piss off a few permadocs who may or may not get a job at a lesser institute. There are hundreds of others waiting in line. No biggie.

  • Julian Frost says:

    When I was job-hunting, a lot of adverts had the line "If we haven't contacted you by date X, consider your application unsuccessful." Is it really so hard to tell people that?

  • But we're talking about people with ON CAMPUS interviews. This isn't even the people that didn't make the short list or those who made the short list but were never invited in. The committee had meals with these people and you can't even pick up the fucking phone? Sorry, there's no excuse or philosophical argument here. None. I get that the process can be drawn out for those who don't get an interview, but I refuse to accept that no notification is The Norm.

  • […] a follow on to the conversation from yesterday, I wanted to post the Bio jobs wiki here so that people could keep track of the progress of various […]

  • " There are no real consequences if they piss off a few permadocs who may or may not get a job at a lesser institute."

    Completely disagree. I am at Carnegie Mellon, a pretty good place. I was not made offers from several other schools of similar caliber, and I bet there are lots of other people with similar stories. Inexplicably, some departments never let me know. Some others were even rude. Academics have long memories, and I now have negative feelings associated with these places.

    People need not permadocs to get rejected from TT jobs. Even the very "best" people, deans, and department chairs etc, were likely rejected from somewhere. And I bet they remember any slights handed out along the way.

    IMO, searches have two goals:
    1. Hire a top notch candidate.
    2. Impress the pants off of every candidate that walks through the door. By and large, these candidates are successful people, and good impressions can go a long way.

  • Dave says:

    Academics have long memories, and I now have negative feelings associated with these places

    Like I said, no REAL consequences then.

  • ROStressed says:

    It is definitely not a great thing to leave people hanging and have had that happen myself. Once on the other side (having chaired a search) I had to insist on the notification to get it done, but it was done.

    On the Positive side of notification. I was told that I was a close second in that notification call, but they had chosen to go with some one else. Then months later, I get the call from that department chair indicating that the first choice dropped out and was I still interested. That "close second" in the call was a strong factor in considering the offer, which I eventually took and has worked out great.

  • newbie PI says:

    When I finally had a job offer in hand from a school that I was really excited about, I took great pleasure in emailing all the department/search committee chairs who had strung me along for months to say that I would be accepting a position elsewhere. Strangely, having another offer jolted one school into also offering me a job. The others wished me well, but I don't think I would have otherwise heard from them at all.

  • "Like I said, no REAL consequences then."

    You are naive if you think negative feelings can't and won't translate to something more damaging.

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