Our books

Become a Fan

« Reader query: being competitive for teaching jobs coming from a prestigious program | Main | The Secret Lives of Search Committees - Part 2: Job Fit »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


People I know have gotten interviews for jobs that they are clearly not a good fit for, at least given the description. They were just mass applying. They go to the interview, not remembering every job they've applied to, only to learn that they are a bad fit. They are then told they didn't get the job, because they were a bad fit. What I don't understand is why interview people who are a bad fit to begin with? Do search committees read CVs and cover letters? Or are they only selecting based on name recognition or something like prestige.


Maybe I should wait until Marcus' next post on fit, but since "namelessone" raised this issue, let me say this. Fit will mean different things to different faculty members, and it least in the cases I'm familiar with, faculty often disagree about what they're looking for. So the ad may say "open," but different members of the department might have certain areas that are preferred. Sometimes the formulation of the ad is constrained by admin.

So, lots of features of "fit" may not appear in the ad. During the hiring discussion, some may argue that we need someone to teach business ethics, others may argue that it is better to add to our strength in early modern, etc. Both of these may be true even if the ad is primarily for someone who works in Medieval. Since, as Marcus mentions, there are typically a number of excellent candidates that meet the ad (or close to it), these other features can affect who makes the final list or who gets an offer.

Sometimes one faculty member will argue that X is better than Y because X has more or (seemingly better) teaching experience. But another faculty will argue Y is better than X because Y could teach a course in philosophy of art, which we don't currently have, but would like to.

Sometimes "fit" is a matter of how well a candidates research intersects with other members of the department. All the finalists are outstanding in some general area (say, ethics), but some of the candidates draw more on psychology and that's related to work my colleagues do in phil mind. Others draw on Aristotle and that connects better with the folks who do ancient etc. etc. (All these are hypothetical examples).

SO: one reason people who are ultimately viewed as a "bad fit" are interviewed is that all this has to be negotiated and discussed and ultimately voted on by the department. IT may not be clear that someone was a bad fit in this sense until the vote for the short list or final offer. The problem, as Marcus says, is that there is typically a glut of excellent candidates. So these other factors - which are really just different preferences different faculty have - must be taken into account.

Sometimes, of course, everyone (or nearly everyone) agrees on who the best candidate is. But that could be because everyone agrees they're the best overall fit.

Of course, you could try another method of selecting the finalist(s), like flipping a coin or using a randomizing device once you've settled on a final list. But, as you might imagine, faculty are reluctant to do this - they'd rather hire the person for the Medieval job whose work seems more interesting to them, etc.

None of this is intended to justify the method here; my point is just to explain what happens in many cases.


'One reason people who are ultimately viewed as a "bad fit" are interviewed is that all this has to be negotiated and discussed and ultimately voted on by the department. IT may not be clear that someone was a bad fit in this sense until the vote for the short list or final offer. '

So, should we not take job ads very seriously when applying? Sure the ad says they want someone who does metaphysics, but who knows really. It won't really be decided until the committee gets together and votes. Anything could happen! Hence, this is why people I know get interviews for jobs they clearly aren't a fit for, given the description.

I understand that this disorganization probably exists in departments. From my time in academia, everything seemed very chaotic and disorganized. However, from the standpoint of my friends, who are still applying, it seems like they're having their time wasted when they are rejected based on details obvious on the CV. It also causes them to think something nefarious is going on because... well, those are the options: incompetence or malfeasance.

Anyway, you can wait for the next post to engage. It's just been a curiosity on my mind. Friend keeps getting interviews for jobs that they are a bad fit for, obvious on the CV, and then rejected after interview based on details obvious on the CV. We've talked about what's going on. But it's very frustrating for my friends, as these interviews take up all their time.


I have a topic that I'd like to see covered: to what extent do search committees really adjust accomplishments and (e.g. teaching) experience to career stage? I ask because of my own experiences of the market this year. Here’s my situation: a few publications (some in top 10, others in top 20 journals), Leiter-ranked R1, great teaching evaluations and a decent (though not overwhelming) amount of teaching experience, went on the market the same time I began a post doc. Not unhappy with the outcome; I did well. But what I found most interesting was the feedback I received (through various channels) from places where I *wasn’t* first choice. I was told time and time again that an important deciding factor was comparative seniority/experience. I often lost out to people who’d been visiting assistant professors or postdocs or assistant professors for 1-3 years already—people who, largely owing to a 1-3 year head start, had slightly more or slightly more impressive publications than me, or slightly more teaching experience than me. This made me suspect that these universities were just favouring a sure thing (someone who has *already* demonstrated that they can get x number of publications, teach y amount of courses a semester) over a slight risk (someone who has demonstrated potential, but less hands-on experience). But then, these prospective employers consistently emphasised how ‘incredibly impressive’ my CV, etc. was *for my career stage*. A related point that a friend has often made to me concerns time spent completing a PhD. I understand that institutional norms play some role in this. But one point that this friend put to me (one with which I’m inclined to agree) is that it can sometimes seem slightly unfair not to take it into account. Suppose Dr. X has one publication and took 9 years to do her PhD, and that Dr. Y has two publications of comparable quality and took 6 years to do her PhD. If all else is equal, I’m inclined to think that Dr. Y is the more impressive candidate! Do search committees ever take this into account—how long a candidate took to do his or her PhD and what he or she accomplished in that time span?

Only one search

I've only been on one search committee so far but I was shocked by how random the process was at my school. Undoubtedly this is due to the idiosyncrasies of the other members, but what struck me was just how different were the criteria people used. Some members explicitly refused to discuss and agree upon the criteria we should apply, citing it as both a waste of time and an attempt at silence dissenting points of view (this is before we saw the applications!). Once we started going through applications I was surprised to find how selective some people were in which materials they took seriously, probably half the committee did not look at all the materials in the application.

I don't know how typical my experience is, but I would like to hear more on this. I came away somewhat relieved as a future job candidate. If this is indicative of how random the process can be, then there is no information in a rejection that should make you doubt your professional worth.

"So, should we not take job ads very seriously when applying?"

I think that is right. I often found it very unclear what an ad wanted, and how I should present myself for the job. From my, limited, experience I would say that committees indeed do not know what they want.

Trust the Process

In my experience, it varies by school. The very fancy places tend to assume that if you've been out for a while, that's evidence you aren't fancy enough. But other places, especially mid-range teaching and research places, will favor someone with more experience. Adjustments will be made, but in many cases I think you'd have to be massively outperforming more experienced candidates (ratio-wise) to get interviews and jobs over them. And this seems rational to me. I was a post-doc for several years. By the end, I was far more experienced, a better teacher, more mature, more skilled at navigating the profession in many ways (publishing, admin, networking, getting grants, offering advice to colleagues), better prepared to step right in and do the job. So were my friends. (And I often heard exactly what you've heard regarding my CV and the field of candidates, even though I outperformed most of those who got jobs I applied to along the way, both absolutely and in terms of career stage.) It stinks real bad, but in a market that's as backed up as the philosophy one, newer PhDs have to compete against people who have been out for many years accumulating experience.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Subscribe to the Cocoon

Job-market reporting thread

Current Job-Market Discussion Thread

Philosophers in Industry Directory


Subscribe to the Cocoon