Wednesday, October 20, 2010

too much information

I'm on the job market again, albeit in a fairly small way. I'm only applying for jobs I'd really like, so it's a rather limited pool. This is the first time I've been on the job market after having been on a search committee myself. Some practices that I thought were bizarre or idiotic in the past are now more understandable, or at least I've realized that they are often state- or university-mandated idiocies.

My number one frustration is the amount of up-front information some universities request. I'm resigned to sending letters of recommendation up-front, although I hate to ask for them, and the AAA has a statement in opposition on their webpage. Up-front letters of recommendation are common in many disciplines, and common enough in ours, that I'm not too frustrated when I see them requested. Similarly, it seems reasonable to ask for a short teaching portfolio, including student evaluations and a statement of philosophy. What drives me nuts are schools that want letters, syllabi, writing samples, transcripts (official!), and/or a complete work-up of your astrological profile before they even make the first cut.

I'm sure different search committees work differently and follow different rules, but I can't imagine any committee reading all of that material. Surely it is better to read through a fairly succinct application from everyone, and then determine which dozen or so applicants are strong enough that you're willing to wade through their extra verbage?

Unfortunately, I was on a search committee that required an obscene amount of material up-front. When I objected, I was told that requesting letters up front would "speed up the process." But we didn't want the process sped up! We were searching for a temporary position quite early in the job market cycle. Making an early decision would open up the possibility of our choice backing out because they'd received a tenure-track position. I was also told that senior members of the committee had previously found items like syllabi and transcripts to be "really useful" in making a determination. I can't imagine why, at least not before the first cut.

Problematically, we significantly decreased the number of people willing to apply for our job, even though the job market was so bad. This was a temporary, one-year position at a low-prestige school in the middle of nowhere, and we were asking for more material than the vast majority of tenure-track job postings.

The job market sucks. Until we can institute some logical plan to match people with jobs, could we at least minimize the pain by standardizing the application materials?


  1. No kidding! I hope all the places I've applied to that requested "copies of published work" up front enjoy every page of the 92-page sample I sent them. Sigh. If I thought I had a decent chance at a job I'd be happy to send these things, but on the first round it's painful for both applicants and employers!

  2. Agreed. Part of the problem is that we never know when we have "a decent chance at a job", because the search committee is such a black box to the job candidates. I've sent in applications to jobs that fit me perfectly, and not gotten the slightest interest. I've sent in applications that I thought were complete long-shots, and been given the darn job! It's impossible to know, so we end up applying for everything, and sending out a lot of unnecessary documentation. As for the writing samples, I'd love to tell them "Look it up. They're on JSTOR." At least in the last couple of years, a lot of the schools have gone for electronic submissions, so I can send a PDF and not kill a tree.