academic etiquette now that there’s that wiki

Departments that bring in assistant professor candidates and then make them find out they didn’t get the job from the wiki, rather than notifying them promptly themselves, are the academic-institutional equivalents of people who dump their significant others by leaving a voicemail. These candidates, by and large, spent a lot of time preparing, they made a good faith effort, they had their hopes up, and they deserve to hear the news directly from the department rather than seeing it online or having some frenemy call them and say “Hey, the wiki says Department X has made an offer. Is it you?”

I guess the analogy would be more strictly correct by saying they were the academic-institutional equivalents of people who break up with their significant others by having some anonymous person leave a voicemail. Or maybe separating from your wife by holding a press conference before telling your wife. Still, you get what I mean. Not classy. And, by this point, any department of reasonable esteem and size that is unaware of the existence of a job market wiki should get docked ten points in the rankings for institutional cluelessness.

(I think I wrote something about this on my former blog last year. Whatever, it bears repeating. Perhaps me grousing about it will become an annual tradition.)

Author: jeremy

I am the Ethel and John Lindgren Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

18 thoughts on “academic etiquette now that there’s that wiki”

  1. Agreed! At first I didn’t believe the stories of folks who had interviewed at places and then NEVER AGAIN HEARD FROM THEM. But those stories have piled up to the point where, well, I can’t help but believe the unbelievable. And I think you’re too kind. It’s not just cluelessness. It’s downright nasty.


  2. The problem with this critique is that at least one top department I know of has often taken the approach of making offers without notifying the other interviewees because they have the intention of eventually moving down the list, if necessary. Initially rejected interviewees are kept “on hold,” in a sense, until responses come from the top draft pick(s). Perhaps it would be humane to tell the benched interviewees that they are not a first choice, but that they should “sit tight?” I don’t know… that sounds to me pretty nasty and classless.
    Not to mention wasteful, especially since, at least this year, it seems top departments are vying for a handful of candidates, so keeping some backups seems worth it when considered in light of the cost of consensus on a set of individuals.
    I suspect being in this position is fairly anxiety-producing, but if second-choice candidates understand (and believe) that hearing about others’ successes does not mean they have been “dumped via voicemail,” perhaps it will be less so.


  3. Correction to the post above. I meant to say that it would be *wasteful* to decide to simply reject second-choices at the same time that the first choice(s) are notified.
    Sorry, first post.


  4. I know LOTS of people who are gainfully employed who know or suspect that they had sloppy seconds on that job/fellowship/post-doc. I want the job market to be humane as possible, but the wiki is going to be faster than the real process in all cases. Even when there is no indecision on the successful candidate’s part, the negotiation process may take a week or two before the deal is sealed. And the decision process can add weeks to that as well.

    Perhaps the problem you are trying to solve is not about the department’s actions, but rather about those of the successful candidates. You could propose a norm that successful candidates not put the X on the wiki until they have decided to accept the job, but I think if it were me, I’d want to know if there was an offer out and someone was deciding, as opposed to waiting around and supposing that was happening.


  5. Peelpel: I appreciate your point. Problem is, this kind of reasoning is what the wiki has undermined. A department now has to appreciate that if they make an offer, the candidate is going to be able to find out about one way or another (i.e., from the department themselves vs. the wiki). So then I think it’s much more preferable that the department tell the second-choice candidate that they are waiting on the first choice than for them to find this out indirectly.

    Tina: Given that news of offers on the wiki may come from the candidate, people the candidate has told, or people in the department that has made the offer, it seems hard to imagine putting an effective lid on that information.


  6. Oh, Lord. I understand your (collective) points of view, but you are obviously not thinking about what would be involved in communicating with all of the several hundred applicants –some of whom have no chance and others of whom you are still evaluating or hope to keep on the string while you look at the one person who has seven job interviews and so you got yourself in the queue but you know there is a good chance you won’t get him/her — about where they stand the minute you invite one person. Who, exactly, do you think is going to write all those carefully-nuanced letters or make all those carefully-nuanced phone calls within one four-hour period so nobody’s feelings get hurt when someone makes a post to a wiki?


  7. OW: I’m not talking about the stage of people getting invited to interview. I’m talking about the stage of people having interviewed, and an offer is made to someone. The wiki includes info about both stages. People who interview and don’t get the job should be told by their departments.


  8. OK, I see. Obviously I agree about telling people who’ve interviewed where they stand. I have not looked at the Wiki, but I’ve heard tales of erroneous information being posted on it. So when Superstar Sara gets 7 offers, does she put an X in the “offer” box for all 7? And to everyone, if you want a rapid update about where you stand, how do you feel about getting what are obviously cursory form emails?


  9. I think that departments sending form e-mails telling candidates where they stand is much better than having no information at all. Also, as some people have commented, it is good for the ego to know that you were shortlisted, even if you don’t get an interviewed in the end. At least you know what your general position on the job market is, and whether you should persist on pursuing an academic career.


  10. As one who was on the market last year (and thankfully happily landed somewhere i really wanted to be), and one who followed the wiki/blogs fairly consistently last year – i can only comment on this from my experience.

    At one of the places i interviewed, the department head phoned to tell me that they were extending an offer to someone else. i appreciated the information, however, that offer clearly fell through because a couple of months later they contacted me again to ask if i was still interested in the position. i had already accepted elsewhere by that point, so it was moot. However, that email exchange was a really strange one to have. So in the area of offers, i don’t know what i think is the “best” approach.

    On the other hand – there was another one that i interviewed for that i never heard back from at all. Even after they settled on someone else. To that, i definitely cry foul. I spend days with them on the interview, and i can’t even get an email or a phone call to let me know they are through with their search? In the case of a completed search, i don’t think contacting those interviewed is too much to ask. And to be honest, even in the places i didn’t get an interview, i appreciated even the form letters letting me know the search was completed. The sting of rejection was definitely outweighed by resolving some of the uncertainty in the process.

    Finally, as for general updates on info – i agree with socfreak. It was nice to know where i stood in terms of “long-short lists”, etc. from the departments as their process progressed. The blogs/wiki started in part to alleviate some of these disparities in information between departments and candidates. While they can provide some sense on these things, candidates can only place so much stake in anonymized, potentially 4th hand information. Hearing straight from the horses mouth was much more anxiety alleviating (regardless of whether it was good or bad news). My $0.02.


  11. I think the best practice is to be as transparent as possible when making hiring decisions. When I was on the market a few years ago, I interviewed at regional-state University and upper-tier private college (among a few other places). I was candidate #2 at both schools. The chair at regional-state promptly emailed me after the faculty made their selection to tell me my status, “the faculty, after much deliberation, has decided to make an offer to another candidate. I want you to know that we think you will make a strong colleague and we may contact you in a few weeks should the other candidate decline our offer. From the private college, I heard nothing… until I learned from a friend that someone else had been hired. Should I go back on the market, I will happily apply for a job at regional-state (if they’re hiring, that is). I will not go near upper-tier private.

    Some departments are paranoid about doing what the chair at regional-state did for me. They worry that candidates will pack up their toys and go home if they find out that they’re the second-choice person. I think that’s silly, but what do I know.

    To those of you on the market, know that your behavior influences this to some extent. We’ve had candidates ask for 2 or 3 weeks to “decide” on our offer… when in fact, they were using our offer to leverage a more lucrative offer elsewhere. While that may be “the way the game is played” it jams up other candidates on the shortlist that we could be interviewing or offering jobs. If you have little or no intention of actually going someplace, either don’t apply or decline the invitation to interview. (I’m not saying, don’t apply broadly… or don’t be smart in your negotiating strategy. I’m saying that what you do effects others on the market).


  12. I think it is too much to ask a dept to tell the other candidates where they rank after an offer has been made. No one can trust the wiki for sure. What is unfortunate is the number of schools that never even contact the other interviewees after a candidate has accepted, at least in poli sci. One friend was told by the search chair, “If we make you an offer you should hear from us within two weeks. Otherwise, well, you want hear from us at all.”

    Colorado College, by contrast, sent a letter to all applicants after the job was filled, thanking them for applying and telling them whom they had accepted.


  13. Just to be clear, if we actually interviewed you, I’d expect us to give you personalized and humane feedback about where you stand, and sign on wholeheartedly to criticism about dead silence after an interview. My earlier comments were directed to the “sorry but no thanks” folks who don’t even get asked for their papers. Do you want a form email promptly sent out as soon as we are ready to interview telling you that you did not even make the first cut? And how do we word it if we might come back to you if Sara Superstar does not work out?

    If you make offers that get turned down, it can be six months before the position is really filled and the search is really over.


  14. I have no problem with people who didn’t get interviews finding out from the Wiki. The investment and reason-to-hope involved in sending in an application is just not of the same magnitude as being invited to interview.


  15. Oh my gaaawwwddd. I had no idea. Nor does my department, which is on the wiki as having scheduled interviews.

    so, A) I hang my head in institutional cluelessness. and B) isn’t it possible that other people (candidates, friends) are posting this info on the wiki? I know for a fact none of my colleagues put this info out there.

    BTW — in terms of rejection stories. I once removed my name from consideration after an interview, and then later received a rejection letter. No fair. I broke up with them first.


  16. “Mom”: Presumably it *is* candidates and friends of candidates who post info on the wiki. The issue is more that this information is in fact out there, and so departments shouldn’t get the idea that other candidates aren’t going to find out that they’ve made an offer.

    Incidentally, my strong suspicion is that the wiki much more accurately tracks whether places have interviewed than whether places have made offers. Also, I should say that I am generally enthusiastic about collapsing information asymmetries, and so I personally believe the wiki is a great thing and am all for people spilling what they know to make it as accurate as possible.


  17. I always have sent letters — as specific and informative as possible — to candidates we interviewed but did not select. But there’s no way I could do that faster than the Wiki. I’m also not sure if the Wiki distinguishes between an offer made and an offer accepted. If you’re a candidate and you read on the Wiki that the school made an offer, you might feel offended that they didn’t send you a personal rejection letter. But they may be waiting till the offer is accepted, keeping you in the active pool in case their #1 choice turns them down.


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