Sending Advice Upstream

All the “Advice for Job Seekers/Interviewees” columns that pop up during this ‘waiting for the new joblist’ time of year (actually all year) made me start thinking seriously about my parting shot the other day “write better ads, ask better questions.” A quick Google search, not exactly exhaustive research, revealed that there are many articles in the business world about how to write a good job ad and/or attract good candidates, but in academia the advice is all pointed at the job seeker. As you might have noticed from the last post, I’m a little tired of it all. After some serious consideration, here is what I have to offer, some advice from the other side of the table for everyone currently getting ready to post ads.

Since starting my first full time job in 2010, I’ve remained semi-on the market, applying, here and there to jobs that appealed to me because of location, or type of work. I’ve had several phone interviews and three campus visits, which ranged from stupidly bad (and I’m still bitter about missing my family trip for that crap) to rockstar awesome (and I wish everyone at that campus nothing but the best even though they didn’t pick me). It doesn’t make me a hiring expert, but it does give me some experience. The article “Do This, Not That: 8 Job Posting Tips for Better Candidates” by Mary Lorenz at Career Builder provided good advice, and a nice format, so I think I will use parts of both. To keep this positive I will keep the “Do This” approach, and I will start with the parts of Lorenz’s advice that I think are most applicable to the academic search.

  • Do, as Lorenz says, PROOFREAD.
    Candidates are badgered and terrorized all the time about how one typo in a letter is going to get them pulled from the stack of 300 applications. Please take the time to update your dates. Read through the text of the ad.  Just recently I saw an ad advertising a job for the 2013-2014 academic year. No, it was not an old ad, but the date at the very top in at least 26pt font might fool you into thinking it was.  Lorenz says it best, “If you wouldn’t give a resume with a mistake in it a second look, why should job seekers treat a less-than-perfect job posting any different?”
  • Do List the Salary. (Lorenz)
    Alright, alright before everyone starts yelling, I know that at public universities regulations sometimes forbid the stating the salary. But, if it is at all possible for you to do so, at least give a range. One institution to which I applied did a beautiful job of subtly giving information by clearly stating the position grade, which was then quite easy to search on their website. Academic applications take time to prepare and submit, as well as to read and vet, help make sure everyone’s time is spent wisely.
  • Do Pay Attention to Formatting.
    Again, Lorenz says it best, “The easier the job posting is to read, the more likely a candidate is to read the posting in full and recognize whether or not he or she is truly qualified for the position.” I have seen the whole gamut here: ads broken up into nice clearly defined sections to monstrous paragraphs that took nearly as long to read and parse as it did to get the materials together. Again, I want to appeal to everyone’s busy schedule the clearer the ad, the better the candidate can judge whether or not to apply, which may just make a dent in that 300+ application pile.
  • Do Leave Room for Serendipity. (Here’s where I depart from Lorenz into specifically academic issues)
    Okay, I understand the 300+ pile wears everybody out, but the solution to that is NOT the ridiculously specific job description: “Assistant Professor – 19th Century British who can also teach Women’s Studies, Contemporary American Digital Rhetorics, Post-Colonial Caribbean literature, and the History of Rhetoric.” Really? Really?!?
    Sure, I made this one up, but I don’t think I’ve come close to hyperbole here. If you need a 19th Century British scholar, but have a small school where it might be necessary to teach other courses, just say it. “Assistant Professor – 19th Century British”  _____  School is a small public university where faculty often have the opportunity to teach in their major field and any secondary areas of interest.” I call this leaving room for Serendipity because the hyper-specific ad might deter the candidate who is perfect from applying because he or she has everything except experience with the history of rhetoric. A less specific ad may help you find the candidate you didn’t know was out there.
  • Do Know What You Want.
    Beyond wanting someone to fill that 19th Century British gap in your department, know if you want a researched focused scholar or someone willing to teach. And, here’s the important part: Ask For Materials Accordingly.  Does someone you expect to spend time researching and publishing need to send you an administrative philosophy? Does the person you know is going to be teaching a 5:5 load need to send you a research statement? Look, I know you are thinking, “It’s just a page. What’s the big deal?”  Well, the big deal is that all these little one page statements add up. As a Rhet/Comp person I have been asked in one packet to include a Teaching Philosophy, an Administrative Philosophy, and a Diversity Statement. All of which say versions of the same thing, but all of which took time to determine what they were (Diversity Statement), write, revise, revise, and edit, edit, edit. (See Bullet #1) Know what you want, so you know what to ask for, in the long run it is also going to help you  choose those top candidates from that massive initial pile.
  • Do Be As Communicative and Forthright as Possible.
    Okay, I know this ventures back into HR regulations and lands, but please do what you can. If you start by picking the top 50 off the pile of 300, then there are 250 people you could gently let down in a timely fashion. Last summer I received a rejection letter from a search I did in 2009-10. And, hey, at least I finally got the letter which is better than some of the places I applied to that year.
  • Do Ask Good, Specific Questions.
    I’m going to pick on the diversity question again just to give a nice clear example.  Notice the difference between, “Describe your experience with diversity.” and “The students on our campus are primarily ____, ________, and ______ please describe your experience with these populations.”
    The second question will get you a better answer, and it will tell the candidate something about your institution. Remember, you want the candidate to know about your institution because you want her or him to make an informed decision.
  • Do Remember the Candidate is Also Interviewing You.
    It might feel like a ‘Job Posters’ market right now, but that is no excuse for not putting your best foot forward for candidates. You expect them to perfect their materials, dress well, and behave appropriately, so it is only appropriate for you to do the same.  Everyone I know who has ever been on the market has a phone interview/campus visit horror story.  I won’t repeat them all here.  You know them, so don’t be them.


2 Commentsto Sending Advice Upstream

  1. Alan says:

    I actually had a very humane job-search experience, so I am basing most of my suggestions on things I’ve observed. I may be on my first TT search committee this year, so I’m keeping all of this in mind.

    Piggybacking on #4, I’d strongly recommend that if you request something in an ad, you should know what it means. For example, digital humanities and digital rhetoric are two different things, but I’ve seen ads that conflate them. That unproductively puffs up the application pile.

    For #5, I’d suggest not requiring recommendation letters for first-round applications. Carve off the top candidates and request at that point—less hassle for everyone, and less money outlay for the candidate.

    For #6, and this may be my own quirk, but I really appreciated places where the search committee did the communication, not HR. I get that we’re all cogs in the wheel to some extent, but rejections from the committee felt a bit less faceless. Hell, the committee doesn’t actually have to do anything–just change the From: line and some of the verbiage.

    On a related note, when you bring someone to campus, you have made a connection with them. Not informing them that someone else was hired (seriously—I had a friend learn he didn’t get the job via the frakking job wiki) or sending a bloodless form letter is rude.

    One thing I’d suggest adding is that, if your school is doing MLA interviews—especially for a rhet/comp, linguistics, or English ed position—don’t assume that the candidate will be going anyway. Plane tickets in December and January are pricey, and because of the glutted market, many applicants may wait to buy. That means you will need to shift your timelines forward to give people enough time to plan.

    That said, the MLA interview needs to die. Skype, Google Hangouts, and any number of other videoconferencing tools make it possible to have very productive long-distance interviews. Money is saved all around.

    Oh, and when you bring people to campus, it’s an exhausting day. Remember to schedule in pee time, water breaks, checking the cell breaks, alone time, or whatever else. And crack the whip with your admin folks—I did experience a higher-up blathering on and knocking me off-schedule, and it was kind of irritating when people snarked at/near me about staying on schedule. Not my fault dude felt like orating.

  2. Brandy says:

    As usual, you are right about it all. I think I’ve had all these thoughts at some point or other, just not as I was posting last night. After one campus visit, I had to actually contact the school to hear that I hadn’t gotten the job, and at another I also ended up off schedule because the people dropping me off/picking me up for the next meeting hadn’t coordinated the hand off.

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