Should I send this letter to a search chair at a SLAC?
January 31, 2014 11:29 AM   Subscribe

I am considering rescinding my application for employment at a SLAC - I am fairly certain they have invited candidates to interview since my initial follow-ups, but have been wholly unresponsive to my questions. The goal of this letter is to change their behavior so that they are not rude during future job searches. I think I would have liked this job, but do not want employment there if the search process is indicative of department dynamics. Letter enclosed. If you think I ought to send it, any suggestions for revision are welcome.

Here is the letter.

Dear [search chair at SLAC]
This letter will be the 5th time and last time I reach out to you since our phone interview on December 2Xth, 2013. Admittedly, the thank you card I mailed shortly after our interview did not necessarily warrant a response, but I did expect even an acknowledgement of the follow-up emails on the 0Xth of January and the 2Xth of January, or the phone message I left you on the 2Xth of January. Part of the reason I have applied for employment at [SLAC] is because schools like [SLAC] have made a commitment to the inherent dignity of each person and a commitment to interaction on a personal level. While I understand it is difficult to respond personally when there are 11X applicants for a job, I thought I might deserve a mere response to an email when the applicant pool is down to eight. I would like to rescind my application to join your department. Please consider being more responsive to future job applicants.
cc [other members of search committee]
posted by anonymous to Education (68 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Never burn bridges.
posted by PSB at 11:31 AM on January 31, 2014 [10 favorites]

That will have the result of burning a bunch of bridges and not changing any behavior. You will come across as a crazy person, and they won't pay you any mind. Meanwhile, they might remember your name, and they might mention your name to other people, and anyone involved will never hire you. Regardless of whether or not you're right the only possible outcomes are bad for you.
posted by brainmouse at 11:31 AM on January 31, 2014 [50 favorites]

You've written the letter, now don't send it.

They won't change their behavior, and people with jobs are routinely rude to people looking for jobs.

Just let it die, you're probably out of the running.

Continue to apply for other positions.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:31 AM on January 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

I don't think you should send this. It sounds petty and bitter.
posted by gyusan at 11:31 AM on January 31, 2014 [13 favorites]

I'm not really sure what you would be accomplishing by mailing this, other than burning that bridge.

Now that you've written the letter, I suggest letting it go.

On preview: what everyone else said.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:32 AM on January 31, 2014

Frustrating as it absolutely is not to get even a negative response for this sort of thing, and cathartic as your email definitely would be to send, I would advise against it if you're in academia and plan to continue to be so. Academia is a very small, politicized, and catty world, and I worry that word might get round to other prospective departments about your letter. I'd enjoy the satisfaction of the letter without sending it, and then consider this job application to be a lost cause.
posted by ClaireBear at 11:32 AM on January 31, 2014

You've contacted them five times since the week of Christmas? And you want to send this letter because they haven't responded? Not necessary. Find someplace with a...better fit.
posted by cocoagirl at 11:32 AM on January 31, 2014 [8 favorites]

It's barely been a month. Academic hiring processes can take 6 months easily, even when academic jobs are posted with start dates the day after tomorrow. Sending this letter will accomplish nothing and simply remove your candidacy with extreme prejudice from a job you might like when they get around to making a hiring decision.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:33 AM on January 31, 2014 [12 favorites]

Sounds like you're not a good fit for the position. I would rescind, but not with that letter.
posted by haunted by Leonard Cohen at 11:33 AM on January 31, 2014

Someone sent an email to my boss like that because he didn't feel we paid adequate attention to him following an interview. It did not go over well. Don't do this. People hiring for a position are busy and are not intending to hurt you by not responding.
posted by something something at 11:35 AM on January 31, 2014 [8 favorites]

This is not a good plan. I'm in the faculty search market too, and at this time of year (the busiest hiring season) I considered myself lucky to get even a "no thanks" (yes, from a SLAC) more than a full month after my application. Plus, it's the beginning of the semester most places, so not only are they trying to do their faculty search, they're trying to juggle the start of classes and all that entails. If I were on the search committee, I'd be pretty frustrated if you contacted me five times in a month, particularly this month, no matter how small the applicant pool had gotten. Walk away.
posted by dorque at 11:40 AM on January 31, 2014 [4 favorites]

I would never attach my name to a letter like that in a professional setting, good lord. Maybe if I planned to never work in that field again or intended to change my name.
posted by elizardbits at 11:42 AM on January 31, 2014 [29 favorites]

I do understand your frustration, it is difficult to feel overlooked. However, I would strongly advise not to send this letter. The academic hiring process is a very long process and while a month seems like a long time, it probably is not for a response. Also considering the holiday in December and the beginning of the semester which is tremendously busy for academics. Secondly, you do not want to burn any bridges and sending this letter certainly may. Perhaps one way to look at this letter would be as a way to get out your frustrations and then move on and let it go. Good luck!
posted by lullu73 at 11:44 AM on January 31, 2014

Don't do this. You will not help change the department's behavior as they will dismiss you as a crank. You will, however, damage your reputation with academics in your very field. If your name gets brought up at a conference, the people who have read this letter will have bad things to say about you.

I can't speak to the academic world, but in my experience potential employers are generally pretty bad about communicating with candidates. People are focused on their normal responsibilities and find communication with candidates akward and sometimes downright unpleasant. Employers frequently go silent for periods due to focuses on other issues, consideration of other candidates, or internal political disputes.

Finally, I suspect you've gone a bit overboard with your attempts to communicate with this person. The thank you note was appropriate, but what is so urgent that you've needed to reach out four additional times?
posted by Area Man at 11:44 AM on January 31, 2014

Is this the first job application you've done for an academic job? Or the first one that's gotten this far? This is pretty common. One of the things to remember is that people who are chairs of these search committees are not HR people; they are often not skilled in understanding what/how much communication you should have with candidates. Maybe the committee is meeting today and the chair wanted to be able to give you concrete news.

Also, here's the thing. As you quite accurately note, the Thank You note didn't require a response (would you have sent a Thank You if they thanked you for your Thank You note?). It's totally plausible that the search chair was on vacation on in the early part of January (and/or incredibly busy with the start of the Spring term) and your email slipped through the cracks when (s)he got back. So, (s)he basically hasn't responded to an email/phone call that you sent in the ~past week.

You can withdraw from the search if you like, but I don't think you'll find things different elsewhere. Moreover, it's not even clear that the behavior you describe here is much of an affront. Finally, I don't think that you should take your (potential) future colleagues' HR skills as indicative of what they are likely to be like as colleagues.

So, withdraw if you want, but not with that letter.
posted by Betelgeuse at 11:44 AM on January 31, 2014 [8 favorites]

I've worked at an SLAC and seen the back end of the hiring process in a few departments. Don't send this.

Don't take anything that happens in a search personally. I know this is hard advice because the search process is so wrenching, as a candidate.

But so much can go weirdly in a department's search, and it not be an indication of badness in the department. It's run by someone who may not be well-suited to run a search, but they might still be a good colleague or a good researcher, who knows. Maybe there's been a death in the search chair's family, maybe they've lost their good department secretary, maybe they're just sloppy about correspondence. Many times I've seen searches where there were too many good candidates who different people wanted to bring, there was a conflict and they invited Person B, but they would still consider Person A very favorably for a future position -- and they might talk to their friends at another school about how Person A was so great, we loved them but it just didn't work out this time, but when you guys are doing your next search Person A will be a great catch.

-Academia is small, word gets around.
-Academics are not focused on the etiquette angle of the search. Your letter won't change this. It might make you look bad, it might annoy them, it might be ignored. But no good will come from it.

I'm sorry, I know it sucks. Commiserate privately with your grad school friends, don't say anything bad publicly or to places you're interviewing. Hang in there.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:44 AM on January 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

I would absolutely not send that letter. It will not accomplish your stated goal. They are going to laugh at you and that's a best case scenario.
posted by the latin mouse at 11:45 AM on January 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Without getting into too many details, I once had an interview with a prospective hire who (probably) inadvertently insulted a very competent coworker of mine in front of the coworker. The interviewee then attempted to explain the statement, making the situation even worse. In the course of 30 seconds, the person went from a possible/probable hire to someone I never want to deal with again.

I've mentioned this story to a few people since the incident and I later learned that the same prospective hire was denied employment at a different company at least in part due to the story.

If I received that letter, I'd mention the letter to more people than the story I just told you.
posted by saeculorum at 11:45 AM on January 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

A candidate for a job at my institution was not selected and badmouthed our process on Facebook. Which was too bad, because it'd come down to her and another candidate, and we had another job opening in about a month, and we planned to fast-track her through the process-- we really wanted her. But after that FB post? All her messages go straight to the circular file, and when people ask me if they should hire her, I have to give them the straight story-- she demonstrated exceptionally poor judgment and I feel uncomfortable trusting her with any work after that.

To say: you have no idea what is happening. You might be #2 on the list and they are negotiating with #1, and if #1 walks away today they will call you to start tomorrow. Or the chair could really want you, but be waiting because they know they will leave the school soon and want to headhunt you to be their #1 teacher at new school.
posted by holyrood at 11:46 AM on January 31, 2014 [35 favorites]

People talk in academia, far more than in certain other professions. Joe Department Chair is going to go to conferences and exchange emails with other people with hiring power, and people really do have those "jesus god, I hate searches" conversations. In general, folks are pretty discreet about who applies and how it goes, but you don't want something to slip out in conversation among people at different institutions that would cause you trouble down the road.

Also, you don't know what's going on inside that search. Sure, it could be bad stuff - irresponsibility, feuding, laziness. But it could be that funding for the hire has collapsed. It could be that a key member of the search committee is in the hospital unexpectedly. It could be that there's some big internal decision to be made - say an entirely legitimate debate about whether to prioritize research specialty A or research specialty B given the current candidate pool.

Even if you're a poor fit, you don't know why, either - during the searches that I've observed, people were poor fits for all kinds of reasons that weren't stupid or dodgy, mostly to do with the exact mix of teaching and research that was being sought, sometimes to do with a desire to hire someone with very particular expertise in order to strengthen one aspect of a program.

Searches are horrible, but they're horrible because there is so little funding, IME, not because (most) people are trying to be malevolent or incompetent. What we really need is more funding for schools so that they can run more searches - if people were really able to hire again, this stuff wouldn't happen because there wouldn't be so much pressure on each individual search.

I'm sorry that you're going through such a stressful process and I wish you the best.
posted by Frowner at 11:47 AM on January 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

Another anecdote: I have a young colleague who I consider one of the strongest faculty in our college. This colleague did not initially make the cut when they were interviewing for the position that this person now has. It was only through going back through the applications (after the other candidates flamed out) that the search committee invited this person to campus, almost 5 months after the application was due and ~3.5 months after the interviews started. If this person had sent your letter, there is no way they would be in the position they're in now.

By the way, I think that this colleague in particular points out how bad search committees can be at picking out the right people from written materials. This amazing person almost slipped through the cracks.
posted by Betelgeuse at 11:50 AM on January 31, 2014

If you feel like they're not paying attention to you now, what makes you think a letter like this from you will make them change their search communication process?

As others have said, academia is a small world. Treat all your communications in job searching as if they are going to future co-workers and bosses, because they are.
posted by rtha at 11:55 AM on January 31, 2014

The goal of this letter is to change their behavior so that they are not rude during future job searches.

They're not being rude; they're performing a complex and difficult task in a way that you happen to find insufficient, quite possibly (from the sounds of it) because you've never actually gone through this process before.

Your letter will not change the process. However, you'll almost certainly be saving yourself the bother of ever going through the process again.
posted by scody at 11:58 AM on January 31, 2014 [38 favorites]

I've been on a search committee. A letter like that would probably never reach us, and if it did it would be a source of incredulous mirth and would not enhance your chances of employment with us. Search committees try to give every application individual attention, but rarely give every applicant individual attention. There were jobs I applied for which never got back to me. At all. Some of them might even still have my application on file, for all I know. I received a truly bewildering rejection letter 3 years after I applied from one of them. Put simply: search committees are made up mostly of overworked people, some of whom are administratively flaky, and to the extent they don't care about you as a person, it's not malicious. You are one of what might be many names on a spreadsheet to them, and they really don't have the energy to respect the inherent dignity of every one of them.
posted by jackbishop at 11:58 AM on January 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's barely been a month. Academic hiring processes can take 6 months easily, even when academic jobs are posted with start dates the day after tomorrow.

This. I have lived with several youngish PhDs, all of whom went through at least a couple of absolutely arduous interview processes at colleges and universities - dealing with long and annoying job searches is simply the nature of the beast. Get used to it now or you will probably not succeed in this field.

You might be correct that you deserve a response, but that is beside the point...sending this email will out you as petty and unpleasant, and accomplish nothing for you or future applicants.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 11:59 AM on January 31, 2014

+100 on not burning bridges and allowing for the possibility that they are well-intentioned and even still considering you.

Another point to consider is that some SCs don't think it's appropriate to have more contact with one candidate than any others, so they may not respond to queries out of professionalism (maybe overly cautious, but professional). They also often don't tell ANYONE "no" until they're certain they have an accepted offer.

Also consider whether you've conveyed poor professionalism yourself. What could you have possibly needed to contact them about 5 times in a month? The key is to wait and be patient, however hard that is. At several points in my candidacy for my current TT job, I was sure they'd moved on without me. It takes a long time!
posted by parkerjackson at 11:59 AM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

This sounds exactly like every email I get from students who want to know why I haven't graded their papers yet. It never makes me grade their papers any faster because I am already going as fast as I possibly can.

I want to favorite scody's answer a million times.

posted by chainsofreedom at 12:00 PM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, just a bit about the dynamics - you say "I am fairly certain they have invited candidates to interview since my initial follow-ups, but have been wholly unresponsive to my questions." That is pretty normal.

In a search, they'll narrow down to the list of people they want to phone interview -- say this is 20 people. Then they'll rank those candidates. They'll invite the top three (or so) for campus visits, and see how it goes. In the meantime, nobody else hears anything. Why? Because the hiring committee knows that they might decide, after campus visits, that they don't want any of the top 3 people. Or they might offer the job to each of them, only to be turned down. I've seen searches go through a couple of rounds of this. Then they will work their way down the list.

But they don't want anybody on the list to feel like "well, I was initially wait-listed, so the school must not think well of me". (And for good reason -- the other candidates might be *great*, and maybe three people on the committee loved them, but the other three didn't love them until they met in person, or there was a dean applying pressure for another research area, or whatever. In other words, being #7 on the ranked list isn't any bad judgment on you. But they worry that if they told you "you're #7 on our list", that you'd feel insulted.)

And unfortunately, this whole process does take a looooong time. They'll invite people to campus, and that requires lead time for people to book flights, and then it's 2 days on campus per candidate, and then another week to find a time when the whole committee is able to get together for their meeting on whether to make an offer, then they need a couple days to get approval from the deans, so they make an offer to candidate 1, and then they wait a week or more for that person to decide, and then on to the other candidates. So weeks and weeks go by, and during this time they don't want to say anything offputting to the next round of candidates. So they just clam up. I know, very frustrating. Just detach as much as you can, the ball is in their court.

So, when should you contact them again?

The most typical thing is: *only* if you get an offer (in writing) from another school. Then you'd write and say "I have another offer, but I am still drawn to SLAC and its mission. So before I accept this other offer, I wanted to just contact you to learn whether I am still under consideration."
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:03 PM on January 31, 2014 [13 favorites]

Holy crap, do not send that letter. Here's what will happen if you do:

1. You will never get a job at this institution.
2. You will never get a job at any institution where anyone on the search committee is friendly with anyone at this institution.
3. You will reinforce their perception that their hiring practices are A-OK and dandy, since the only people who object are crazy people with out-of-whack expectations and boundaries.

Also, in the future, don't contact them. I know it's so tempting, but it gets you nowhere. They aren't going to suddenly be reminded by your email that you're one of their top candidates, after all. Hiring always takes a long time, it takes a WAY long time in academia, and if they want to talk to you, you can be sure that they will. It's better for your mental health to just disengage.
posted by KathrynT at 12:10 PM on January 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

First, they aren't even currently being slow in getting back to you. The common timeline (but with many variations) is creating a long shortlist (down to 20, say); first screening interviews at the big annual conference or via phone of the top ten or so; creating a ranked shortlist of people to invite to campus; having on-campus interviews with three or four people; then finally an offer.

Each of those steps involves committee meetings, getting sign-offs from the department chair, dean, provost, and/or president, and a bunch of background logistical stuff (like distributing candidate materials to six committee members, say). All those things take time and most are out of the search chair's hands. And each step can have the added complication of having a first-choice candidate drop out of the process and needing to dip back into the remaining pool to consider additional candidates. All of that takes time, and happens on top of people's actual job duties like teaching.

And second, even if they were being slow, which they aren't, the normal pattern in academic job searches, for whatever reason, is to either never say "sorry, we didn't choose you," or to do so only months from now, long after the selected candidate has signed their contract. Not hearing anything is normal and expected, and isn't going to be affected by a cranky email from you. Don't send it.
posted by Dip Flash at 12:12 PM on January 31, 2014


This letter will be the 5th time and last time I reach out to you since our phone interview on December 2Xth, 2013

What are you contacting them for? The thank-you note was appropriate, but none of the other contacts were. These people were on vacation from December 2Xth until January 1Xth, most likely. If the school is located in the South, they have also been out of the office for the past week due to weather. They started their semester 3 weeks ago, more or less, and are probably on other committees apart from the one which is hiring you. Did you want them to respond to say, "We have not yet met this semester to compare notes." Three times? They are probably annoyed at you already.
posted by chainsofreedom at 12:18 PM on January 31, 2014 [21 favorites]

Speaking as someone not in academia, but who's been involved in hiring in the corporate sector: frankly, this letter makes you sound crazy. If I received this (especially after a TY letter, 2 emails, AND a voicemail in the space of a month that spanned the holidays), I would show it to my colleagues and recommend we strike you from the list.

I know it's frustrating to not get a response, but keep in mind that hiring people takes time and it's on top of everything else the search committee needs to do day to day. It is also an expensive and nontrivial decision: they want to ensure they have a good fit. For your next application, you may want to rethink the frequency of your communications. While you redacted the exact dates in your letter, it looks like you had a phone screen right before/after Christmas, send a TY letter, then sent emails the 1st week of January and a couple weeks after. And now you're contemplating another letter? This makes you seem very demanding, desperate, and high-maintenance. I wouldn't be surprised if the sheer amount of contact had put you on the "no" list.

Keep applying to other organizations and stay cool during the process. Good luck!
posted by sfkiddo at 12:23 PM on January 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

this letter makes you sound crazy

I really cannot "favorite" this hard enough. It makes you sound crazy and it's poorly written to boot. Do. Not. Send.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 12:28 PM on January 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do not send this letter.
Bad idea.
posted by Flood at 12:28 PM on January 31, 2014

So, you did a phone interview the last week in December, right before the holidays which is always crazy, and you asked for a status update last week.

Some things to think about:

(1) It's not necessarily the case that the search committee has met to decide who to invite.
(2) Even if they have, often on-campus interviews must be vetted by the Dean, which is time consuming.
(3) They don't owe you a response saying 'we've decided to not invite you on-campus'. In particular, they might need/want to go back to the phone interview pool after they've done a couple of on-campus interviews.
(4) Asking about your status a month after the phone interview is ok, I guess, but non-standard behavior. I suppose that it shows you're interested in the job, but it also makes you look naggy. My interpretation of no communication after a phone interview is that they're not interested.
(5) Everyone's still frantically trying to get their act together for the beginning of the semester. Cut the committee some slack.

Sending that letter would be the height of unprofessional. And your whole approach ("oh noes! I've not gotten a call-back from last week! They're evil and I couldn't possibly work there") needs recalibration. You can certainly make sure they will not consider you by continuing to be nudgey. So far, what you've described sounds like total SOP.

FWIW, I've never sent a thank you note after an academic interview, and I personally always kind of rolled my eyes at the ones I've received.

The last time I was on the market (2009), I think I did the phone interview in February, maybe? And an on-campus interview the end of March. Then round-about mid-April I sent a (very polite!) status inquiry and was told "we have forwarded our recommendation to the Dean". A week later, I got the offer (from the Dean, by phone: I think the status update had goosed along the process.) Now, they were slow that year, for various reasons, but academic searches take time.
posted by leahwrenn at 12:29 PM on January 31, 2014

People have pretty much covered why this is a bad idea. I understand that you feel that they have been rude and unresponsive.

Let me tell you my own story. I once applied for The Perfect Job. It was, indeed, tailor-made for me, it had my name written all over it in bright sparkly letters. I sent in my resume, they brought me in (from out of town) for an interview, and I nailed the interview. Interviewer told me that I had knocked his socks off. Sweet! During the interview, he said that he would bring people back for a second round of interviews before making a final decision. After the interview I sent the appropriately worded thank you letter, emphasizing my interest.

Two months go by. Radio silence.

Finally, I just want to know what the heck is going on. So I call up the admin for the guy I'd interviewed with, and tell her that I was going to be town the following week for other things, if perhaps it would be convenient to schedule another interview then, I'd already be in town and it wouldn't cost them anything. (That was a total lie, but I was willing to pay my fare to get another interview.) She took the message and said they'd get back to me.

The guy I interviewed with called me back and offered me the job, right there over the phone.

I start work and realize that, in the two months of radio silence, his life parter of 25 years had passed away, he was a closeted gay man working at a pretty conservative financial institution and couldn't grieve at work, and he was in a bad place. And that's why two months went by.

This process does not revolve around you. You do not know what else is going on, personally or professionally, for the people managing the hiring process. Do not send that letter.
posted by ambrosia at 12:29 PM on January 31, 2014 [15 favorites]

Hiring people is hard - really, really hard. When I'm recruiting for a position it takes hours of my time over a course of several months. Before I hired people I thought I understood the challenges of hiring, but I vastly underestimated it. There's the multiple screenings, the sequence of interviews, the sadness at turning down likable, qualified candidates in favor of those who are a slightly better fit. Finding the best fit for a position is probably one of the hardest jobs a manager does.

It's okay to be emotional about your job search. Having been on the hiring side has greatly reduced the level of emotional energy I into interviewing for new gigs. There's simply too many moving parts and sometimes things go to wonky. It's not a rejection of my worth as a person.

If I received that letter, I'd delete you from my applicant pool because it shows a lack of understanding of the complexities of the professional world. That is a volatile response to a non-event.

I'd also have HR add it to your recruitment file, because that's something the next hiring manager needs to see.
posted by 26.2 at 12:29 PM on January 31, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'm on a search committee right now (shuttling an impressive candidate around all today), and I suspect that search committees often don't want to tell you that they're leaving you in the limbo-like position of being an alternate. That means that they don't want to invite you in the first tier of interviews, but they also don't want to send you a rejection letter because its possible that either the first finalists will be duds, or get jobs elsewhere, leading the committee to go to the next candidates on the list. I know that it's really frustrating, but it could be that the committee member couldn't find a way to respond without revealing this to you.
posted by umbú at 12:32 PM on January 31, 2014

One time I got a message from an academic job search committee in which they explicitly said, "We have other candidates that we're more interested in, but we haven't taken you out of the running entirely!" That was worse than no response. Four months later I got a form letter informing me that I hadn't gotten the job.

Job searches are terrible, academic job searches are the worst, adjust your expectations and do not send the letter.
posted by mskyle at 1:02 PM on January 31, 2014

This letter, but even more so the fact that you called FIVE times after your phone interview, makes you sound petulant and demanding and, as others have mentioned, like you are completely ignorant of how the academic search process works. Academia, even more so than most jobs, is very much of the "don't call us, we'll call you" school of thought. If you haven't heard from a search committee after your phone interview or on campus interview, it means you did not get the job. No answer or follow up IS the answer. You will probably receive a letter after the complete hiring process is finished and another candidate has been offered and accepted the job, but not before then. Everyone understands that's the way it goes. So absolutely do not send a letter like this. It will only make it excessively clear that you don't understand the process and shouldn't be considered for any future positions. (Which, actually, you've probably already blow your chance for by becoming "that guy that called us FIVE TIMES over the holidays.")
posted by MsMolly at 1:07 PM on January 31, 2014

No, do not send this, and additionally, realize that you are not entitled to the treatment you think you are during a job search. Being petulant is not the way to gain the upper hand.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 1:08 PM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just chiming in to say that in any college or university, most departments kind of have an unwritten understanding that everything takes longer around the beginning of the semester because there is so much going on. Give them some more time, and no more emailing them, my friend.
posted by Think_Long at 1:17 PM on January 31, 2014

If you want to be an academic, it would be good for you to learn more about academic culture. Have you read any of the Ms. Mentor columns at the Chronicle of Higher Education? People being slow to reply or nonresponsive is part of how things work. You think your thesis advisor should give you feedback on your dissertation after a day or two; it might take months. You submit a grant application and it takes 6 months to a year to get an answer. I have colleagues who don't reply to email - I mean literally they do not ever reply to an email message they receive. (They do send email, so I'm not sure what's behind the blanket no reply.)

In job searches in particular, we're constantly being reminded to treat all candidates in the same way. Imagine there are 200 applicants for the job you applied for. There's no way a search chair has the time to reply to weekly (!) messages from all those candidates. So that could mean no one gets any replies.

I had a student who got upset when I didn't reply right away to his email - the email he sent a week before a major deadline I had to meet, a deadline I had already told him would limit my availability. His response to my non-reply was to keep sending more email. It was incredibly irritating and rude.

In the context of academic culture, the search committee is not being rude. You are being rude. If not having people reply to you on your preferred schedule is a problem for you, this line of work may not be for you.
posted by medusa at 1:28 PM on January 31, 2014 [4 favorites]

Good lord, don't send a letter like that to anybody!

You interviewed a month ago, and have been hassling them on a weekly basis ever since. Here's a reality check for you: it is extremely COMMON for companies to never, ever respond to applicants.... you send in your resume and you hope they get back to you, period. Oh sure, it'd be nice if they at least told you 'thanks but no thanks', but places that do that are few and far between.

This letter..... this letter. All it'll do is *guarantee* they never hire you, not now and not ten years from now. PLEASE shred it and forget it!
posted by easily confused at 1:33 PM on January 31, 2014

Oh man. If you want to ever work, then don't send that letter. If you want to write to someone, write to your academic department and ask for professionalization seminars that teach you what to expect on the market and how to navigate the difficulties of our profession and hiring.
posted by mrfuga0 at 1:54 PM on January 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think we can safely flag this question as 'resolved'!

In a past life, I served on 10 or so academic hiring committees. We had applicants who, like you, contacted us very frequently during the process. I was strongly disinclined from considering their applications any further. If I had received a letter such as the one you might have thought about sending, I would have loved it though. I'd probably keep it in a special directory and it would have made it's way into the shortlist of ridiculous recruiting horror stories. Of course, there would be no way the sender would get the job.

This is not just about academia by the way. I'm involved in recruiting for MegaGiantCorp these days, and even in industry/business, the one thing that consistently rubs everyone the wrong way is any whiff of entitlement or badgering. However, in academia, the stakes are a little higher: generally, the thinking is that you are hiring a colleague who will be around for decades and who you will be dealing with on committees and suchlike for the rest of your career.

Be agreeable. Make people want you as a colleague.

(On the other hand, just writing that letter and then burning / deleting it may be quite therapeutic. Being on the applicant end of any job search, but especially an academic one, can be a horrible experience that in some cases lasts for years lost in purgatory of post-docs and sessional positions. I don't envy you, and wish you the best of luck!)
posted by bumpkin at 2:00 PM on January 31, 2014

The fact that you posted this anonymously suggests that you understand that it is not a good idea to have your name associated with this letter. But I wonder if it is helpful to point out the inherent powerlessness that people can sometimes feel in job searches. You try to be responsive, you put your best foot forward, writing a CV, cover letter, statement of teaching philosophy, get references together, spending time and money they you might not have in abundance. To have that effort, eagerness, even, met with silence can feel totally disempowering.

So your letter could be a way of reclaiming agency. But here's the thing. There is no way rescinding your candidacy has any meaning to them until you get a job offer. Your letter, or request to be more professional is coming at a time you have no leverage over them.

Better to keep your name in the running and decide if you are ever on the other side of the table, to do better than was Done to you. Don't focus on improving other's behavior, focus on refining your own. That is where true agency lies.
posted by anitanita at 2:26 PM on January 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

Your letter makes it sound as if this was the first job you've ever interviewed for, it's that crazy and entitled-sounding. Do. Not. Send.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:08 PM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Fuck NO.

This is the kind of letter that Miss Manners holds up as examples under "Letters That Should Never Be Sent".

And it's *business* - and you'd be *putting it in writing*. Quite possibly to get passed around and mocked by the department's extended professional network.

I mean if you want to have a really, really hard time getting a job for quite a while into the future, by all means send the letter.

Otherwise, fuck NO.
posted by tel3path at 3:13 PM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

As you may have caught on to now, the answer is no. Do not send.

But there are two underlying problems you have that hopefully you can face and correct. The first is that you do not seem to be aware of the standard professional norms in academia, and the second is that you do not seem to be aware that you are not aware. The former makes you look clueless to search committees and will likely eliminate you from candidacy just because committees don't want to have to teach people how to be colleagues. The latter makes you look oblivious and will definitely eliminate you from candidacy because committees don't want someone who is unteachable. They already think you are clueless - don't kill the deal by crossing over into oblivious.

The standard professional norms in tenure-track academia are different than in other industries and in other jobs in academic institutions. You seem to know about thank you letters - that is a nice habit - but it's (in my experience) less a decision maker in search committees than elsewhere and it's really not significant whether they be email or snail mail. So that is actually not an important norm. However, you have absolutely the wrong idea about follow up calls and that one is important. In industry they are tolerated or even encouraged, but in academic searches they are not. There are good reasons for this, as others have itemized above, and if you need more elaboration you can always AskMe again. Assuming you have not been calling with significant information to support your candidacy, your follow-up calls to the search committee have not been welcome and are making their jobs more difficult. They may have put you low on their return-calls list or they may be actively avoiding you, but for most search committee members that I know, as nice and decent human beings as they are, this would be a really awkward phone call to take because there is so little that they can or should say to you. The norm is against calling because academic professionals should know that putting search committees in awkward situations is rude. You didn't know this because you don't know the norms very well.

So, my full answer to you (as an academic, former academic job searcher, and former industry job holder and searcher) is to BURN your letter, turn away from your assumptions about the process and start learning about the professional norms of academia. You need to know something next time, Jon Snow.
posted by dness2 at 4:03 PM on January 31, 2014 [6 favorites]

The people who are harshly telling you this letter makes you sound crazy are either not academics or they're so far removed from job hunting that they forget how crazy-making the process is. Everybody's sad and crazy right now. It is seriously, seriously not your fault.

If you're in a field like mine (thank G. I'm not on the job market this year, but my friends are) it's not like you uploaded a resume online and then emailed five times to check up on it, like a crazy person. You probably handed over dozens of single-spaced pages of work, all specifically crafted to meet this job's requirements. Then you turned in another set of pages after you got a request for more materials. Then, you maybe had a phone interview. Then, you probably flew halfway across the country, on your own non-existent dime, to sit through an hour-long interview that you prepared for like it was another set of qualifying exams. And then you started working your ass off to prepare for the hour-long job talk you'd have to give, if you got invited to a campus visit. And then maybe you sent some more materials. And then some more.

This process took almost six months. It took up all the time you had outside of teaching. None of the work you did to prepare for it is useful, except in the endless grind of applying for more jobs you will not get. And since this may well have been the the only job you interviewed for, your failure to make it through the next round means that you will be living on poverty wages, with no benefits, for at least another year, so you can go through the whole goddamned thing again.

And they can't even answer your f'ing emails.

You can't send your letter. I'm sure you know that by now. But if it helps, I'm on your side. "Consider the poor overburdened members of the search committee.." Yeah, no, sorry. You can't send the letter, but please don't waste a single second feeling guilty about it. There are a lot of things the people on the other side of this process could do to make it less of a crushing burden for their applicants, and they're choosing not to do so, whatever excuses they make. This is a system-wide problem. Academia is in the midst of eating its young. It's not your fault you're getting chewed up.

I guess all I'm saying is, I'm on your side. This process sucks. I wish you could fix it with a letter. You can't, but it would be great if you could. If you ever decide you do want to say fuck it and burn all your bridges down, send me a Memail and I'll help you craft one that will scorch the eyebrows off their faces. But until then, hold off. Breathe. Meditate. Take up kickboxing. Whatever it takes.

Also, are you reading the Wiki? Your "fairly certain" makes it sound like you're reading the Wiki. Stop it. Right now. Seriously. It's bad for your soul.

Good luck.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 4:30 PM on January 31, 2014 [10 favorites]

One of the things to remember is that people who are chairs of these search committees are not HR people; they are often not skilled in understanding what/how much communication you should have with candidates.

When I've served on search committees, we never had any contact with candidates except for the interviews. All questions, interview offers, and job offers/rejections went through HR. So if you have a problem with the members of the search committee, these people might not be the ones who are supposed, or even allowed to communicate with you.
posted by bibliowench at 4:31 PM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ok, to be more clear, yes I am in academia and yes I remember how crazy-making the job-hunting process is. The scars are still visible.

But if you want to join the profession you have to know the professional norms, and knowing them may actually make the process easier to stomache. If you understand what silence means (or doesn't mean) it may be easier not to take it personally. It's still brutal, no question about it, but knowing that you aren't one of the clueless or oblivious ones will at least help you hold your head up higher, because then you will be doing it right. Letting your frustration cross over to bitterness or anger does not improve things.
posted by dness2 at 5:11 PM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I work in an academic unit. We are currently in the middle of recruitment season. One very well suited applicant was not invited for an interview because of a story related to the recruitment committee by a colleague at another institution. The candidate had made a fuss about something petty at her home institution, and it got around (as things do), and she now has the reputation of being difficult to get along with.

Although she was more than sufficiently qualified for our position, her application was passed over. There were others equally qualified who do not bring with them the public possibility of incollegiality. They got interviews. She did not.

Feel better having written the letter and having gotten it off your chest, but do NOT send it.
posted by mudpuppie at 5:31 PM on January 31, 2014

In addition to what everyone else said, I am concerned that you do not have, or are not talking to, your mentor(s).

I say this because the overwhelming response from those of us in academia (myself included) is the same: you should not send this letter; you shouldn't nag as much as you have; the timescale you're describing is par for the course anyhow; &c. I would be extremely surprised to learn that your mentors think you should have had a response by now, or that repeatedly contacting the committee was advisable....

It's never bad to Ask Metafilter, but even so: you need to talk with mentors who know you, your work, your goals, and your field. Having mentors at ANY stage of your career (and esp. as jr faculty) is an enormous strength, not a sign of weakness. Seek them out wherever you can! They needn't be limited to (or even include) your doctoral advisor; they can be other profs, collaborators, even a peer who is several years ahead of you... basically anyone who knows the academic culture of your field and whom you can trust to give you thoughtful, constructive, and sound advice. And don't be shy with them! Ask them for honest critical feedback. Listen to their stories. Share with them the ups, downs, and unknowns of your work. And as you do, you'll not only learn from their experience (including insights about which depts have truly bad internal dynamics), you will have cultivated relationships that tie you to the community rather than putting you at odds with it.
posted by Westringia F. at 10:38 PM on January 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

You need to adjust your expectations - for now and for the future.

You are the one who needs the job; they don't need you - they don't care who they hire as long as the person fits into their team. They have a string of applicants, some of which may be even more suited to their position than you are.

A thank-you-for-the-interview card was correct. A follow-up two weeks later is acceptable. Beyond that, you wait to hear from them. If you hear nothing within another two weeks, you move on. If, by chance, this position is under a government grant or government funding it may not even begin for another few months, so they may be in no particular hurry to put a name to the position. In that case, you may hear from them in six months; if you're already employed somewhere else, they'll just move on to the next person. If not, you're in, if you want to be.

It's hard to take, I know, but there are still protocols we have to put up with, especially when there are so few jobs for so many applicants, many of whom are qualified or over-qualified.

Good luck to you - I'm sure you'll do just fine once you learn how to jump through the hoops.
posted by aryma at 11:08 PM on January 31, 2014

I am an academic. I know how crazy making the job hunting process can get.

The answer is still: fuck NO.
posted by tel3path at 5:22 AM on February 1, 2014

And another thing: living well is the best revenge.

You wanna stick it to a dept that you feel is jerking you around? Don't withdraw your application. Use the campus interview (if you do get it) for practice. Use the offer (if you get one) as leverage for negotiating with other places should you be fortunate enough to have multiple offers. Use the experience to showcase your work, to learn (it can be a wonderful opportunity to hear fresh perspectives from others in your field), and to meet new people (I made new collaborators and new friends amongst the people who were on the search ctte's when I was interviewing, both at schools I rejected and those which rejected me!)....

In the worst case, you'll have gained a bit more exposure to & comfort with the academic job search process. In the best, you may find that the department is really a good fit for you after all. And if you do, you'll be in a position to REALLY change the thing that rankled you when you were a candidate -- from the inside, as a member of your dept's search committee.
posted by Westringia F. at 6:38 AM on February 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mod note: This is a followup from the asker.
Thanks for all your feedback. I think this question can be marked resolved. To clarify, this is with reference to a job search that began in October and in which the search chair reached out to me via both the telephone and by email to arrange a phone interview with the search committee in December. They informed me of their timeline during the interview for on-campus visits (January-February). Things had gone well enough that I believed I was in a “dialogue” phase of the process (the search pool was down to 8 candidates). Every interaction with the search chair ended with her telling me “please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.” I see now that this is merely a hollow statement. This may be normal in academia, but it is still rude. Again, my question was not “can I send this letter without pissing anyone off?”, but rather “how can I change their behavior”? I think it is well-answered that I cannot change any behavior given the current power-dynamics. If you are chair of a search committee and don’t want to be contacted, please consider some variation of “Don’t call us, we’ll call you”. Otherwise, I would think that it would be part of your job to communicate with candidates (at least when the pool is down to a manageable level). Thanks again.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:56 AM on February 1, 2014

Campus visits in Jan/Feb really means "we hope to start the campus visits before March." I know it is agonizing from your position, but I think you are assuming a much more expedited timeline than often exists. They phone interviewed the eight or so semi-finalists in late December. Then it's the break, so nothing happens until possibly as late as the week of January 21. The committee meets, agrees on a ranked list (the top four or so, plus agreement on which candidates are unacceptable and are now out of consideration totally). That list goes up one to three levels of review (to faculty leadership, administrative review, and/or to the dean) and comes back, possibly with changes that require a search committee meeting and response followed by another level of review (such as the dean vetoing the committee's favorite candidate or a need to respond to diversity initiatives), with each of those steps usually taking a few days and longer if anyone is sick or traveling. (And depending on the school, communication about campus visits may come from the search chair or from administrative staff, so in that case you can add another day or two because it's a single overworked admin handling communications for every search on campus.)

In other words, as of today it is possible that the final list of invitations to the campus visits isn't actually finalized yet. But even if it is, there isn't anything that can be said to someone who isn't on it other than "the search is proceeding and we'll keep you informed."

Meaning: you aren't in a "dialogue" phase, you are in a wait-and-see-if-you-are-a-finalist phase. If you get the campus visit, that becomes more of a dialogue. There are perhaps more polite ways for them to handle it than not answering questions at all, but it's normal and it can be the smartest approach to just wait until things are settled to respond.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:34 AM on February 1, 2014

“please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.” I see now that this is merely a hollow statement. This may be normal in academia, but it is still rude.

"Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions" does not mean "pester me on a near-weekly basis, including through the holidays, to ask if you've got the job." Again, you're the one being rude, not the chair who failed to mean a ritual social utterance in an absolutely literal fashion, and the fact that you're oblivious to this doesn't change it.

If you ever want to get a job in academia -- and I have a lot of family and friends in academia (and I was considering a career in it, way back when), so I totally sympathize with how crazy the process is -- you have got to adjust your attitude and expectations. What you are encountering is par for the course. That doesn't mean it isn't frustrating or difficult or maddening, because it is. But you have two choices: 1) you can learn to cope better with your frustration, or 2) you can continue to demand that the entire academic hiring system as it exists in the 21st century should change. Which do you think you have a better chance of accomplishing?
posted by scody at 10:24 AM on February 1, 2014

Oh, gee. I was about to get all excited because I, too, applied at SLAC a few years ago!! I have all these friends there, maybe I can put you in touch with them and they can help you out! How awesome to talk to a colleague in such a small field!

...turns out you're using a different use of that acronym. Recalculating...

As pretty much everyone has told you, you will not accomplish your stated objective: "The goal of this letter is to change their behavior so that they are not rude during future job searches." It will only make you look bad, and may hurt your future chances at institutions and in ways you have no possible way of predicting right now.

If you'd prefer to be "right," whatever that means to you, or to make some dramatic point, I suppose you can continue as you see fit. If you'd prefer to be hired, there's a lot of good advice upthread. You don't have to give up your ideals to get a job. You don't have to, and shouldn't, tolerate "rude" treatment, either. But you might have to give up the idea that the only explanation for your perception of their behavior is that they are being rude and they obviously have something against you in particular, unless you want to make them correct.

There are overtones of "Don't these people know who I am?!" in the post and the follow-up. You probably don't mean to convey this. Perhaps you could give them the benefit of the doubt that there are multiple (even polite) explanations for how they may come across to you, as we have for you.
posted by spelunkingplato at 11:05 AM on February 1, 2014

I think it is well-answered that I cannot change any behavior given the current power-dynamics.

You cannot change this not because of the power dynamics, but because this is the hiring culture of academia. It crawls at a snail's pace.

If you are chair of a search committee and don’t want to be contacted, please consider some variation of “Don’t call us, we’ll call you”.

For your own sanity, you need to either apply to no further academic posts and focus instead on industry, or get a trusted friend or paid academic job search advisor to school you in how this works.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:09 AM on February 1, 2014

The search chair absolutely meant it when she said "please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions;" that wasn't a hollow pro-forma courtesy. What it was, however, was an offer to provide information, not reassurance. Did you have concrete, answerable questions for the committee? What were they?

The only things to do after a skype interview are to work on the non-school-specific aspects of your job talk, catch up on all the stuff that got back-burnered during your job search, and wait. The only question I can imagine is "for how long?" but you had already been told that campus visits would be scheduled for Jan/Feb. It was not even February when you wrote this AskMe, well within their stated "this is when you might hear about campus visits" timeframe. If your emails/calls requested specific information---not simply updates or reassurance---then perhaps she did drop the ball. But what did you need to know so urgently?

Also, this is a very serious misapprehension:

> Things had gone well enough that I believed I was in a “dialogue” phase of the process (the search pool was down to 8 candidates).

This is such a severe misunderstanding that again I feel compelled to ask: are you talking with mentors? If they reinforced this impression for you, you need to find better (or more honest) counsel! But I suspect that the reality is simply that you're not getting much-needed basic guidance. Perhaps you need to work harder to identify good career advisors (not all profs/depts are good at it), or perhaps you need to get over whatever insecurity/pride/&c is stopping you from seeking their help, but fumbling in the dark & relying on AnonyMes is not a replacement.
posted by Westringia F. at 12:22 PM on February 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Mod note: From the OP:
Y'all are getting a little twisted about my persistence with the search chair. Betelgeuse gets the timeline right. One email at the beginning of January (coinciding with the start of their academic year, and school has been in session since) and then another followup email two weeks later, followed by a phone message in case my emails were not being received. I can't actually interview in March due to the due date of my wife's pregnancy, so I was communicating that to the search committee in the message. Just wanted to get confirmation that they knew my schedule had been restricted. But glad to know that you thought I was just asking for an update on their progress!

Second, I was quoting from the school's mission statement with the some of the awkward phrasing/idealism in my letter. I don't think it is all that particularly well written either, but I have an inordinate fondness for snark. Please don't worry about my idealism, I am fairly certain it's been knocked down by the academic hiring grind (not my first year on the market, but not a whole lot of experience post-phone interview stage).

I also included the bit about the search chair's message to contact her, as some folks had thought that I was perhaps sending an email to the wrong person.

Finally, sincerely sorry about the "don't you know who I am?" tone in my letter/update. I'll work on it. This letter is not really indicative of how I normally communicate professionally, but I kind of reached the end of my rope yesterday with the whole job search thing and let something minor get under my skin. Again, I get that the culture of academia/business is to be slow, but the culture sucks and if there are enough senior academics reading this, then they can do something about it. The problem does not have to wait until I get through the doors. Again, sincere thanks for all the feedback.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 12:24 PM on February 1, 2014

I definitely get how maddening and stressful it all is, even more so with a new baby on the way. Congrats! FWIW, though, I don't think you need to panic about it yet. They probably got your message, but even if not, there's plenty of February left. And if they're excited about your candidacy, they'll find a way to work around your schedule (it won't be the search chair who does the scheduling anyway; it'll be the dept sec'y). Just hang in there, keep working on other things, and deal with the issue if & when it arises.
posted by Westringia F. at 1:05 PM on February 1, 2014

Since you mentioned that you're unfamiliar with the post phone interview phase, here's how it works. (My bona fides: I'm not faculty, but an academic librarian and our search process is very similar. I had four on campus interviews in the last year.)

After the phone interview, just assume you will not make it to the next stage. If you DO get an on-campus interview you'll have plenty of time to put together your job talk before the on campus interview. The committee will ONLY contact those chosen for an on-campus interview. If you are one of the ones not selected, you will hear nothing until months later when the selected candidate has been offered the job, negotiated, and hired. Why? Because on the off chance that all of their first-round picks fail/take a job elsewhere/etc. they still want to be able to call up people from the phone interview stage without restarting the whole search process. It almost never happens, but it's why they never give you a definite no until someone's signed on the dotted line. The only way to keep from making yourself crazy is to do your best in the phone interview and then move on as if nothing will come of it. Your own perception of how well you did has almost no correlation to how the committee thinks you did. (Speaking from plentiful experience.)
posted by MsMolly at 7:55 PM on February 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Two added comments, that I did not see mentioned above. The process of hiring in academia involves winnowing the pool down through several steps. This can be slow for many, many reasons, some of which are mentioned above. One of the reasons that academic job searches take forever to let candidates know they are out of the running for the position is that until they have someone signed to a contract, there is no advantage for the unit to close the books on the search. Until they have the position filled, they may always have need to go back and elevate someone to a higher pool. I have seen it happen multiple times. If the first person turns down the job offer, they may want to extend the offer to another interviewee. If the interviewees are not impressive or turn down offers to visit, they may extend an invitation to visit to someone in the broader pool, etc. Lots of things can and do happen during the job search and units try and stay flexible by never cutting anyone loose until it is all over.

I have seen several searches in which the applications for the job were the early fall but most applicants were not told until the next summer "Thanks for applying, but...." because that is how long the process took to unfold.

Secondly, here is a piece of advice I received from my mentor: During the interview process never mistake the friendliness and use of phrases like "when you start here" as indications that you are the favored candidate. Good search committees will be friendly with everyone because they want to make a good impression on the candidate they ultimately make the offer to. It is just the reality of the process. Many inexperienced candidates will mis-read this friendliness and be disappointed when they don't receive an offer.

And as others said, do not send this letter. It does absolutely nothing to benefit you and may hurt you.
posted by Tallguy at 7:46 AM on February 3, 2014

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