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08/13/2019

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Chris

This is just one data point, but in our case we don't even get access to any of the files (our administrator collects them all until releasing them through a secure on line set up a day or two after the deadline).

But I don't know how other Universities work.

UK-Based

This is different in different countries. I'm based in the UK, and served on a few hiring panels. In each case we were NOT allowed to look at applications before the deadline. In fact, it was made clear that it would be illegal to do so as it might constitute unfair hiring practices if we did (though I have not confirmed the legal status).

More generally, though, I would urge any and all hiring panel members to NEVER look at applications before the deadline, whether you are able to or not, whatever the legal situation is. The reason is that those applying early are far more likely to be candidates from a privileged background such that they can afford to devote time at the early stages to preparing an application rather than having to prepare it slowly between other commitments (at work or at home).

Put simply, if it is right that there are the biases mentioned in the post (and I think there are), then it just is not fair to set a deadline for a job and then look at applications prior to the deadline. All candidates, irrespective of when they applied (assuming all before the deadline), should be treated the same, with the same amount of time devoted to each.

If that means the process takes longer, or requires more of the panel members time once the deadline has passed, then that should be accepted as part of the process. The job market is already hard enough without adding in more benefits for those that already have an advantage.

Assoc Prof

I agree, Marcus. In fact, if a committee waits until after the deadline has passed and then reads applications in the order they were submitted, some of the same biases you mention will still be in play.

Nicolas

Maybe, maybe, but it's worth flagging that this is terribly wrong. I second UK-based.

Marcus Arvan

Nicolas: maybe, but the kinds of cognitive biases listed in the OP are often subconscious and recalcitrant to reflective correction. So, wrong or not, it may be a reality that job candidates should be aware of.

Trevor Hedberg

This question came up at a postdoc meeting I had last year. While it was interdisciplinary across the humanities, I was struck that there was no consensus. Some thought it might be advantageous to apply early; some thought it wasn't advantageous at all; some even thought it was better to apply later in the process. Those in this last camp essentially appealed to recency bias (though they did not use that term): if you have a standout application that arrives to the committee rather late in the game, that will resonate more strongly with them than the standout files they may have looked out weeks (or months) ago. In most cases, these decisions are made over a long period of time, so there's definitely a chance that committee members will partially forget the strength of a file that they read weeks before the deadline.

For what it's worth, my sense on this whole matter is that it's just a crapshoot and not something that applicants should worry about. The better reason to apply early is so that you don't get overwhelmed by, for instance, trying to submit 10 applications in a 2-day span to beat a cluster of deadlines.

Trevor Hedberg

To clarify (since I realize now that recency bias also has a meaning in economics that is very different from what I said above), what I meant by "recency bias" is the tendency for people to recall things that happened more recently with greater clarity than those that happened further in the past. This is one of the two components of the "Serial-position Effect." The first of these is the primacy effect (which Marcus mentioned in his original post), and the second is the recency effect (which is what I was alluding to). People remember items that are first and last in a sequence the best.

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