Reading job market forums it is clear that one of the most frustrating aspects of the job market is the waiting. Even successful candidates must submit applications and then wait, receive requests for more materials and then wait, participate in telephone interviews and then wait, participate in campus interviews and then wait. In the early stages of the job market I found that being a forgetful applicant worked for me, by which I mean that I paid no attention to the status of a school on the Wiki after I had applied. In the later stages, after phone interviews and especially after campus interviews, this approach is much more difficult. The waiting, and the reasons for the waiting, are part of the mystery of the job market. A recent article at The Chronicle gives some insight into the other side of the waiting game and indicates that candidates often are not the only ones who feel like they are blowing in the wind waiting for answers.
As the author states:
It is difficult for folks who are external to the inner workings of searches to understand just how complicated things are in the final stages of a search. Let’s say a committee has decided to invite two candidates to campus and the position is greenlighted for both interviews. The calendaring person must then poll to see when everyone in the department will be in town and match those dates with the dates when the candidates are also available.
Throw out days that just don’t work for anyone (large events or even local festivals that make logistics more difficult), and everyone is essentially fighting over the 24 to 28 days that are reasonably available. Now, heaven forbid that the latest Snowzilla storm or wave of the Porcupine Flu strikes and forces rearrangements of dates. Or that Candidate 1 for the position receives an offer elsewhere and pulls out of the search, requiring the committee to drop to Candidate 3, who must now visit campus two or three weeks after the other candidate, whose visit was already scheduled and who must then wait for the conclusion of the department’s deliberations.
A commenter shares the frustration from the department’s standpoint:
More maddening for me, as one who has chaired several searches, is the “after the interview” wait. We on the committee have done the hard work above of finding the times, making travel arrangements, booking the times with the dean’s and provost’s office, sending out announcements, on and on. . .only to find the paperwork stuck on someone’s office, most frequently the office of Social Equity, who needs to approve the search was compliant with appropriate rules. Once it clears, then the offer can be made (which can only come from the provost, who is not in the same hurry that you are on the committee). Then a negotiation begins with the candidate, which can take weeks (as ours just did the last month or so). All this goes on without the search committee in the loop, so we are also twisting in the wind. (We know that the other candidates out there are frustrated but we cannot communicate with them, since the search is not officially closed.)
I think that all of these factors lead to the sorts of fuzzy dates that frustrate candidates. When a committee says they will be deciding which candidates to invite to campus “soon,” that could be a day or it could be a week (or more). The challenges that departments and administrators face also lead to false hope or dejection via wiki updates. I wrote off a school that I had been particularly interested in after seeing that they had scheduled phone interviews on the wiki. A few weeks later I received a call for a phone interview at the same school and was invited for a campus visit within hours of the phone interview.
Although I haven’t yet been on the other side of the hiring process, I suspect that another factor in these vague dates is that departments want candidates to think that they are the first choice even if they are not. When I interviewed for my current job I was told that bureaucratic holdups may delay the job offer such that it could take place in a few days or a few weeks. After being hired I learned that this statement was made so that if the job was offered to somebody else and that person declined, it could be offered to me and I would be none the wiser about the previous offer. Thankfully, I received the job offer within a few days. While I negotiated my contract, however, the other finalists (and even the department, since I negotiated with the provost) were likely left blowing in the wind.