can we get a sociology job application site supported?

We have to do something about the job application issue in sociology. Background: My department has been encouraging our students to use Interfolio, but I was shocked last fall to discover that the evolving technology of on-line application systems has created chaos, and that some of our students were paying a great deal of extra money to have their reference letters delivered by Interfolio because nearly all applications now are on-line, but in a hodge-podge of different systems. The result is either extra work or expense for everyone involved. Some professions have consolidated their applications. All math applications go through , powered by AcademicJobsOnLine. All economics jobs go through , using a system created by a team of volunteers.  The Modern Language Association works with Interfolio to provide dossier services and application management services for advertisers, with a maximum fee of $6 for sending a MLA-member dossier to a non-advertising employer.

I’m in touch with the people who run the Economics profession job application site. This is a one-stop site where people applying for economics jobs can put their dossiers up once, letter writers can upload confidential letters to be included with dossiers, and institutions trying to hire economists can download dossiers. It is backed by all the associations that economists join. I asked them what would be involved in cloning the dossier system for sociology. They said the marginal costs would be low. This is a non-profit group of academics that is willing to work with sociology if there are enough of us to get buy-in. The idea would be to go the direction of economics, math, and other fields that have one standardized on-line portal for applications. What do you think? Is this worth working for?

The economic site has a companion backend product that departments can use to process dossiers that costs $500/year. You don’t have to pay this; any recruiter can register with the site for free and just download full dossiers.
When there is official sponsorship, the price of the ad with the professional association includes an employer’s  access to the on-line portal. We have not tested this interface so we don’t know how well it works.

Competing services are the non-profit Academic Jobs OnLine which runs the Math site, and the for-profit Interfolio, which has been adopted by some other groups, including the Modern Language Association, and is trying to become the standard. Interfolio is selling ByCommittee, application review software.  AcademicJobsOnline solicits employers to use it for applications, so it must have some sort of back end, but I have not seen any on-line documentation of it.


(1) Can the service send a dossier to an employer that does not pay for to it? Interfolio, yes, but at $6 a “delivery”. AcademicJobsOnline –no. EconJobMarket — yes, if they are willing to register.

(2) Can the service send a dossier  to an employer that does not register with them? Interfolio – yes, for $6 a delivery.  AcademicJobsOnline–no. EconJobMarket — no

(3) Can the service send reference letter to on-line portals in various proprietary systems? Interfolio, yes for $4 a letter. AcademicJobsOnlime – no. EconJobMarket – no.

(4) Ease of use  and functionality for applicants of the competing options. Please feel free to comment.

(5) Ease of use and functionality for departments who use the backend product of the competing options. Please feel free to comment.

(6) Dealing with woes that I cannot even imagine about HR departments and incompatible systems.

(7) Whether ASA would sign  off.  — ASA leadership? What needs to be done to make this happen?

Since I use a nom de plume and you may not all recognize me, I’m writing this in my current position as chair at the department of sociology at Wisconsin-Madison.

At this point, I think the question is whether we should go the direction of the MLA and try to get everyone into Interfolio, go the direction of Math and try to get everyone into AcademicJobsOnline or whatever else comes with it or MathJobs online,  or see whether we can get something going with the economists.In the ideal scenario, the price of an ad in the ASA’s employment bulletin includes the application-receipt service (including reference letters and writing samples) an automatically files the materials so they can be read and reviewed.



Terms first: Front-end = the place where applicants post their materials. Back-end = how recruiters download applicant materials. Back end service providers are software suites that automate the process of receiving applications; these are the services that generate the automated email requests for letters of reference.

I had a conversation with John Rush who runs EJM. Turns out their site was founded after the AmEconAssoc refused to have anything to do with it and AEA is now trying to get a competitive site going. Like ASA, the AEA views job ads as a revenue source, not as a service to the profession. EJM’s model is to have an uncompensated faculty board of directors who run the site at cost as a service to the profession. They believe that the front-end applicant portal should be controlled by a non-profit entity to avoid monopoly control over the service that saves people time and that the there should be a competitive market in back-end services. They are trying to get back-end service providers to permit interoperability, that is, to cooperate with providing the hooks in their software so that, for example, letters of reference posted at EJM could be automatically sent to another back-end provider. John says that most back-end providers are not interested in cooperating with these efforts. Interfolio does this — if you have letters on Interfolio, you can get an email address from them to use for letters of reference on other sites. The reason they charge $4 for this service (per John) is that “people in India” are actually sending those letters; the process is not automated. This raises the technical question of how hard it is to actually automate that process, which I don’t know the answer to.

Anyway, EJM would be interested in working with a group of sociologists on morphing their software into a sociology site. This would involve first getting a sociology board of directors and coming up with the start-up costs.  As I see it, there are three possible platforms to work with. EJM, Interfolio, and AcademicJobsOnline (which began as and then branched out). It seems logical if we are going to pursue this also to talk to AJO and Interfolio.

The organizational questions are: (1) is there a critical mass of sociologists willing to do work to make this happen? (2) would this effort be with the cooperation of the ASA infrastructure or in opposition to them? (3) should part of ASA’s mission be facilitating job-finding by sociologists (and perhaps subsidizing employment ads) or should employment ads be viewed primarily as a way to gain revenue for other things the ASA does?

My next step will be an email to specific people at the ASA office and also Council members.

And a Third Update: I’ve been in communication with people at ASA. Yes, as Tina said, they HAVE been working on this issue and have been investigating possible vendors for a general solution.  Negotiations are confidential. No solution is in the works in the immediate future, but they are hopeful they may have something in place in time for the 2015 hiring season. I am grateful to know that somebody else is carrying this ball and hope our association can come up with a solution that benefits everyone.


Author: olderwoman

I'm a sociology professor but not only a sociology professor. I keep my name out of this blog because I don't want my name associated with it in a Google search. Although I never write anything in a public forum like a blog that I'd be ashamed to have associated with my name (and you shouldn't either), it is illegal for me to use my position as a public employee to advance my religious or political views, and the pseudonym helps to preserve the distinction between my public and private identities. The pseudonym also helps to protect the people I may write about in describing public or semi-public events I've been involved with. You can read about my academic work on my academic blog --Pam Oliver

32 thoughts on “can we get a sociology job application site supported?”

  1. Amen!

    And, as much as it pains me to say that we should work with economists on anything (j/k), I think that working with the economists makes a ton of sense.

    In fact, I think that we can learn a lot about the job market from the economists; their system is so much more efficient and I believe fair than ours is. Although there is perhaps more clustering at the top schools, the rules of the game are much clearer than the sociology market and it tends not to get stuck waiting for a few hires to work out.

    The online application process is an excellent place to start and think that it should be done.

    OW, I have no specific thoughts on any of the items that you raise about specific products because I have never used any of them (I think that I might have been the last cohort to slip in before these came into wide-spread use).

    But, as for the ASA, I think that we should definitely get the ASA to sign off on this. It is, after all, a membership-directed body.


  2. To stress: It would be especially helpful to hear from hiring committees who have worked with either Interfolio or AcademicJobsOnline.

    Also: a point made by a commenter on my FB post is that greater efficiency/ease of application for the applicant increases the number of applications that committees have to read/triage.


    1. I do think that this could lead to one of the downfalls of this system (not unrelated to my comment below). The more applications that someone has to weed through, the more they rely on the more simple/obvious status indicators, especially those that the system makes readily available. We do this a lot anyhow, but it would likely be exacerbated by a more automated, centralized system.


      1. I took the system to be more of a collating service gathering all of the required documents that search committees already require into a single place. Although the design should be sensitive to the indicators that are put on, for example, cover sheets, I didn’t think that the system would do much besides organize job materials by candidate.

        If that is what it does, we will receive more applications, but it would be wise to think about what applications we would receive that we do not already. My hypothesis would be that applicants would be one of three types. First, applicants that are clearly not qualified for a position (e.g., someone studying world systems theory applying for a job specializing in phenomenology). Second, applicants that are qualified but don’t have the mentorship and/or informal knowledge about how to apply for jobs. Third, applicants whose letter-writers don’t get all of their letters to the correct place at the correct time. The last two groups *might* outweigh the very real concern that Jessica raises (and, she would obviously know far more than me given that she studies this).


  3. What do you think? Is this worth working for?

    Of course it’s worth working for! This is the kind of thing that everyone could get behind. It would save faculty, students, and staff a tremendous amount of time and money, while sparing a forest of trees, I’m sure.

    Although I realize that Sociology (and the ASA) is often behind the times and generally unorganized, I wonder if there is something about sociology that has been hesitant to go this way because of the sociological perspective. By this I mean that sociologists might like to believe that there’s a delicate balance between candidate, potential colleagues, department, and institution, and that hiring is an incredibly personalized process in that way, and the personal touch is ostensibly lost through a process like this one. I’m not saying that I necessarily endorse this view, but I do think it is more than being antiquated that has kept the ASA and discipline from moving in this direction earlier.


  4. Thanks for taking the initiative on this! As a letter-writer, former chair, and hiring committee chair, I think this would make a lot of sense and could save a ton of person-hours. I’m not sure whether or how it would address all our problems, but developing some “best practices” seems wise. Many grad departments want to “help” their on-the-market students, but it is currently hard to do so centrally (e.g., even an experienced staff person may be unable to answer the job-specific questions needed to upload letters). I can’t speak for the experiences of recent applicants, but they could probably write another dissertation chapter in the time it takes to manage their elaborate “application spreadsheets.”


  5. Update: Just got off the phone with the Interfolio rep. They offer their ByCommittee product to individual departments on a trial basis for free in the hopes of gaining paid enterprise-wide accounts. Applications TO such jobs are free to the applicant. Obviously, Interfolio’s goal is to capture the whole market in the application business.

    Somebody has to pay at least for the overhead in running whatever system is adopted. Interfolio’s current revenue comes from applicants. (They established their business with undergrads applying to law school.) Any model has to involve somebody paying somebody for the time/effort in running the system.

    The EconJobs and MathJobs and AcademicJobsOnline models involved volunteers setting up the system and are free to applicants but make money through being ad portals and selling services to employers.


    1. A third possibility is that the cost falls to the professional organization. If this is enough of a public good, we could essentially tax all members of the discipline to have a more efficient job market process.

      That said, I am hesitant to have ASA try anything involving technology given the problems with the consistent problems with their website.


  6. A couple of update comments. (1) I emailed ASA earlier this week about this. No reply. I’m not really surprised, but am disappointed. I used the institutional emails available on line. I suppose what I really need to do is dig through my records to find their personal emails to see if that helps. (2) The “too many applications” is a REAL problem. If submitting an app is too easy and free, applicants submit to everything and search committees are, as Jessica said, reduced to using stereotyped heuristics to make the first cut. I think asking applicants to write something individually-tailored for each specific job is, however, a better way to reduce this problem than schemes that involve applicants spending money.


    1. Here’s my ASA address book:

      Sally T. Hillsman
      Roberta Spalter-Roth
      Michael Murphy
      Margaret Vitullo

      Dr. Vitullo might be the right person as she runs, “Academic and Professional Affairs.”


      1. WordPress thought I was a spammer and clean up the email addresses. Maybe this will work:

        Hillsman at
        spalter-roth at
        Murphy at
        vitullo at


  7. o.w.: A simpler solution is a small fee for each app. Maybe $5. Not enough to discourage a modest amount of apps, but enough to prevent people from just “checking all boxes.” The funds would go back to the site for upkeep. So a person applying, for say, 50 jobs pays $250. Not trivial, but probably in the ball park of what it would have cost in the days of paper mail (about $3-$5 for postage).


    1. Yeah, if it’s a moral principle that every applicant deserves some consideration, then it would probably be fatal for getting people to sign up to have zero marginal cost of applying. Whether that’s money or time (having them writing an individualized statement for each job) is a different matter.

      I could see sociologists thinking that making applicants spend time instead of money is the way to go, given that sociologists often worry about the onerousness of very small amounts of money but have no compunction about wasting gobs of people’s time.


    1. I just posted here for the first time in forever, but why not do updates as new posts? It’s not like we are crowded for posts, and you’ll be more likely to keep an issue that’s important to you live in the minds of Our Remaining Readers.


  8. I am sorry that I am coming late to this conversation. I was all tied up in the Canadian Sociology meetings this week. I am disappointed that the ASA hasn’t written you back, OW, because we learned at the last ASA Council meeting that Karen Edwards, who is the Publications person at the ASA, has been working with Interfolio to become more integrated with the ASA Job Bank.

    I am racking my very tired brain trying to remember the details, but I am coming up with very little. However, Karen can fill us in, and probably can use some of your input as this integration is new.


  9. I spoke with a friend about this the other day. He said that from a hiring perspective, the system was an absolute dream. It was super easy to use and made an overwhelming amount of information much easier to manage. One cool feature he talked about was the use of signals, where each applicant is given a small, finite number of signals they can send to a department to let the hiring committee know that they are particularly interested in that position. He said that it is particularly telling when someone uses these precious resources on his department and much more effective than when letters are sent individually and someone could tailor every letter they send.

    He did say that the system allowed sorting on any number of attributes and that his department had a tendency to favor grads from the top 30 and toss out the others unless there was a compelling reason not to. However, they also occasionally sort based on area of expertise and various demographics.

    His description and this sorting capability reminded me of the software that we use to process grad applications. I think the system – and those using it – can put too much emphasis on objective (and sortable) measures. In contrast, without such software for hiring, my experience has been that everyone has a file and even if someone only looks at the first page of the letter or CV, every first page is looked at. I wonder if this would change if everything was sortable before being downloaded. Of course, maybe that wouldn’t change the outcomes much at all given how adept at (or susceptible to) sorting humans are.


  10. On costs: I suspect that my university, which recently developed (read: paid massive $$ for) an on-line application system, would balk at paying a fee to Interfolio or some other third party for essentially the same service. From an institutional buy-in perspective, it’d be better if the costs were born by the applicant.

    Re Jessica’s point. I’ve certainly noticed with grad admissions that on-line applications have greatly increased sorting and filtering on GRE and TOEFL scores. Sorting job applicants by PhD program or number of publications seems more crass, but the less conscientious members of the search committee are already sorting on these attributes, it may have no net effect on the hiring process (but be more efficient).


  11. I’ve now been in communication with people at ASA. Yes, as Tina said, they HAVE been working on this issue and have been investigating possible vendors for a general solution. Negotiations are confidential. No solution is in the works in the immediate future, but they are hopeful they may have something in place in time for the 2015 hiring season. I am grateful to know that somebody else is carrying this ball and hope our association can come up with a solution that benefits everyone. I hope everyone interested in this issue will stay in touch with ASA.


    1. I will admit that I don’t really get how a non-profit and a for-profit that both make a lot of money off the sociology job market are going to come together for a solution that reduces their revenues on behalf of sociology graduate students, but that’s great if they are willing to do that. I guess if there was a centralized portfolio, Interfolio could still make the same profits by reducing the costs involved in handling idiosyncratic submission methods. Is that the idea?


      1. What the ASA people told me was very hedged with language about not wanting to say anything about who they were working with or what the parameters would be. As I’m not on Council and have no official standing, I did not feel it was my place to cross-examine them. So I actually have no idea what the idea is as it is being played out in practice.


    2. A solution that circumvents anyone currently making money off the market would probably result in a better solution, but that’s just kibbitzing since there’s no way I can take this on. It’s an important issue you are raising, and one that could have such large benefits for sociology if a better system came to pass.


  12. Hi, I’m the lead developer for and,
    and I happened to see this blog. As far as I know the ASA hasn’t
    contacted us yet. In the last 12 months there were 40 depts using
    academicjobsonline for searches in sociology, and 1065 applicants in
    sociology. We offer the eDelivery service which lets applicants send
    their application packages (anything in their portfolio, including the
    reference letters) to employers, and the service is totally free for
    both the employers and the applicants. We only require employers to
    register first in order to make sure the packages/letters won’t end up
    in any wrong hands. Our full service website has an integrated backend
    for depts to work with the application data, such as reviewing the
    applications and making ratings and comments or sending rejection
    letters, without the need to install anything locally. All data can
    also be downloaded automatically to their local systems in XML, Excel
    or PDF formats if needed. Please email us at support at if we can help.


    1. So, if departments organized and signed on to use this service, it would solve the problem, because then applicants would have something they can use for free?


    2. Sorry for the slow response. You wrote while I was traveling. You may wish to contact the people at ASA directly to offer them a deal. I’ll send you the information by email. I have spent a lot of time looking at both MathJobs and Academic Jobs Online. If I’d kept on this project, I was going to contact you. However, I’ll give you the feedback that your online presence is very sparse from a marketing point of view. I watched the demo video of the employer-side product and found it impossible to figure out whether it would meet our needs as most of the video stressed the ability to produce EEO reports, which is not my primary concern, and provided almost no information about the tools for applicant processing workflow. Also, the employer price described on line is $500, a steep entry point for one department. And I’ve heard from some job applicants that the AJO web site is not very user friendly.


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