Cut-throat altruism in the job market

Imagine you are on the search committee for a department of anthropology conducting a search for an assistant professor. Now, imagine that you discover that a large fraction of the applicants for your job are sharing information with each other about the status of your search.

Sound disconcerting? Maybe destabilizing? Certainly subversive. Well, that's exactly what cultural anthropology job candidates are doing, following leads in fields from sociology to philosophy. They've set up a wiki where they can update the status of ongoing academic searches, all anonymously.

The wiki is very simple: a list of institutions conducting searches, put into simple categories ("Haven't heard from," "Received a letter of rejection from," "Have scheduled on campus interview with").

So, if you've made an offer to a candidate but are still negotiating, and haven't yet notified the rest of the short list (not to mention the rest of your applicants!): Guess what? They may already know.

You may wonder: is it really in a candidate's interest to report on her progress with you?

Certainly it's altruistic. There are a lot of people out there who will never hear back from a search they have applied to -- not even a simple acknowledgment of the application.

It's progressively less and less anonymous as the candidate rises in the applicant pool -- she may first have a conference interview, or find out that letters have been solicited, later she reach the short list or ultimately be made an offer. At some point, sharing information about a search could be off-putting to future colleagues. And it can be surprisingly painful to let people know about the job you almost got, but in the end didn't.

On the other hand, the top candidates may be on several short lists, and may have multiple offers. Letting the rest of the field know about the status of these jobs -- even if they don't know your identity -- may help clear the decks. Despite the esprit de corps of the ABD's, altruism at some level doesn't entirely capture the dynamic.

On a related note, it's amazing how rarely people even bother to Google potential job candidates. It's a different world out there these days, and while an academic job search may be aimed toward inducting a top candidate into a very ancient profession, the rules keep changing all the time...

P.S. If you're in the job-hunting boat, and starting to feel unappreciated -- like, when are they going to call? Why not you? Is there something wrong with your work? Etc., then read this post from New Kid on the Hallway and remember it's not about you.

New Kid's a medieval historian, but the story is much the same: job ads are mostly written by lawyers, job searches rarely go in predictable directions, and search committees rarely know exactly what they are looking for. If you think the ad fits you exactly, that still doesn't mean that they'll see it the same way.

(via Savage Minds)