Not that Kind of Applicant Review: Tales of Your Application in the Clutches of a Search Committee
After careful document preparation and job selection, you have submitted your application. It will likely be at least two months until you hear anything positive (i.e., an invitation to interview). If it is negative, you may never hear back from the search committee. I am still waiting to hear back from Laid Back Research Behemoth and East Coast Research Powerhouse. I mean, I knew I was not the ideal candidate, but how hard is it to batch out a quick email? Especially if my application was in the first cull? But I digress. This is the application process from my experiences as both an applicant and search committee member. Here, n=me.
The highly variable application/interview timeline: The general timeline for an academic application is as follows. After your application is submitted, it will take anywhere from two weeks to four months to hear anything positive. Again, if your application is not one of the top applications, you may never hear back. Less than a third of the search committees I dealt with bothered to send out “thanks, but no thanks” letters. If the committee is interested, they will schedule your first interview, an event curious enough to warrant its own post. After your first interview, you must wait until all other applicants have interviewed and the committee makes a decision on their preferred candidate. If you are said candidate, you should hear back about a second interview in two to four weeks, and the second interview/visit will be scheduled within the next month. You should receive a job offer during the second interview or shortly thereafter.
Why it takes so long: Deciding anything by committee takes time. If you take all the problems of a committee, and add in conference travel, grant season, concern over the research direction of the department, considerable financial investment, and couple it with administrative regulations, you should actually be amazed anyone gets hired.
What happens on the other side: Once a certain number of applications are submitted to the search committee or once a certain date has passed, the committee schedules a meeting. Prior to the meeting, each application is reviewed. The mechanics of this, of course, depend on the number of applicants and the search committee’s preference. Iterations include: everyone reading all applications, each member reading a portion of applications, or multiple members reading applications. These applications may or may not already include the letters of recommendation. In my experience, with smaller applicant numbers, we request letters upfront and read all the applications. At some point, the first cull occurs, and the applicant pool is cut down to a manageable amount, as determined by the committee. Some search committees receive 300 applications per job posting, so a manageable number to discuss might be 25 or 50 applications. Usually, all committee members read and rate the top contenders, and identify their top four to six applicants. These applicants are then invited for an interview. After the interviews, the search committee convenes to rank the candidates. Once the search committee picks their favorite candidate, they invite them for the second interview, at the end of which an offer is usually extended. This process is kept largely quiet to keep other applicants interested, available, and hopeful that they remain the first pick. If the preferred candidate is no longer available or no longer interested, the search committee can either move down their list and invite other candidates, or, in the absence of suitable candidates or consensus, can declare a failed search. Considering how much time, money, and effort was invested into the search, this is the worst outcome for all parties.
What this all means to you: The first step is getting your application out of the applicant pile and into the interview pile. Increase your chances by making your application easy to read. Have a clear CV, a tight cover letter stating how you fit into the department, and a rock solid research plan. Include all requested documents. Make it easy for search committee members to make a decision. And finally, as in manuscript and grant reviews, accept that even if the search committee is wrong to reject your brilliant application and perfect fit, you are still bound by their decision.
Now that you know that there is no defined timeline for your applications, embrace the chaos and keep applying. In my next post, I will talk about first interviews, specifically how to prepare and what to expect. Stay tuned for more tales!
Still have questions? More confused than when you started? Need to vent about the process? Feel free to send some electrons my way in the comments, via Twitter @PipetteProtag, or through traditional electronic mail firstname.lastname@example.org