the internet ate my reference letter

I am currently on the job market, which I am sure everyone is aware is a trying process. There is no need to go into the depths of what the process does to one’s mental health, not to mention the mental health of loved ones around the candidate. However, given how trying this process already is, I get really frustrated when pieces of it are needlessly frustrating. And, it seems, almost all of these revolve around technology, which was supposed to make things easier last time I checked.

To begin with, there is the problem that our professional association has a website that was designed with everyone except the end-user in mind. Add to that, said association won’t post positions offered by non-member departments (unless they pay the exorbitant fee). Then, if a department is an institutional member of the association, then departments can only leave postings up for a specified period of time. For some postings, the maximum period allowed ends before the date the date that departments will start reviewing applications!.

To be fair, the ASA is not the only organization that cannot handle the internets. Many schools started using online application systems, likely imposed by their administrations who are sold software products by companies who tell them how great this will make their search process, streamline and centralize everything, and how many admins they can lay off to save money. Top-level administrators and accountants, understandably, like this idea. Yet, the end result is that there now at least five different flavors of applications: mail everything, e-mail everything, load everything onto a central job clearinghouse, upload documents for an individual department, and upload everything except recommendation letters. I am applying to a lot of positions this year because let’s face it, this is the first of three years where there approximates anything like a healthy market. This means that there are three years worth of candidates all vying for one year’s worth of jobs. Not only do I need to ask my letter-writers to write me letters for the dozens of jobs that I am applying for, I have to give them detailed instructions on how to deliver said letters, which varies by school and, even within the same school, by department. Now, I have a very good relationship with my advisors; however, it is quite possible after this experience, I will not.

My biggest frustration, however, is the fact that the software companies who sold the COO and HR departments at various institutions on their software must never have tested it in a situation in which people actually apply for jobs. Every letter-writer is, I assume, sent a unique URL from which to upload their letter. This makes perfect sense, the unique URL makes the matching between the reference and the application instantaneous and not prone to typos, etc. But here’s the rub: if a letter-writer happened to lose that e-mail, or her/his e-mail client filtered it to the junk folder, or they got confused (because when asked for a letter, some of the software programs don’t tell you which job you are writing a letter for! no, I’m not kidding), I have no way of resending that unique URL to my letter-writer when a letter has not arrived!

I would guess that these kinks get worked out in the next five years or so; but, in the meantime it is extremely frustrating. In part, it is because figuring these things out is what I imagine should be a central focus of an organization like ASA. If there were a common, well-designed application for departments to post positions, candidates to apply, and administrative assistants and search chairs to manage the search, it would be a net benefit to everyone. In it’s place this hodgepodge of systems drains everyone’s time and mental resources, which makes an already stressful situation more stressful than it has to be.

I apologize for the rant.  Now, if you will excuse me, I need to go apply for some more jobs…

2 thoughts on “the internet ate my reference letter”

  1. I just sent letters for one applicant to a half dozen places, some large some small. I did it the old-fashioned way — e-mail — and it worked just fine. I got a polite acknowledgment right away. I’ve also done the URL thing. In terms of convenience, the URL might have been very slightly easier for me, but I preferred e-mail because dealing with an actual human being would be better in case something went wrong.

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  2. I am glad you made this rant because, as a letter-writer not an applicant, I have experienced the same frustrations. One of my grad students is on the market and as I work my way through her list of addresses a little part of my soul dies every time I see something like “http://jobs.universityofsomplace.edu/applicants/4928”

    Inevitably, the URL takes you to the listing for the job itself and has a form for the applicant but no place for the letters. In theory, once the applicant submits the application e-mails get sent to the references requesting letters. There are several problems with this:

    I can’t send the letters in before the applicant does the application, meaning that letter-writing stretches out all fall rather than something I can get over with in one afternoon
    I don’t get the emails, either because my spam filter eats them or because the CMS software is worthless. (yes, i’m talking about you academicjobs.columbia.edu
    I have to go through the learning curve and/or registration process with each CMS

    In comparison, I don’t have any of these problems with snail mail. What I do have is a few dollars in postage and letterhead — which is worth a lot less to me than my time and frustration.

    So, here’s my humble suggestion to all schools running searches.
    Step 1, type “rm -r /public_html/academicjobs”.
    Step 2, publish your snail mail address.
    Step 3, hire a work study undergrad to sort mail for a few hours.

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