I am on a search committee yet again; this time we are evaluating applications for an assistant dean’s job. So far there are 79 applications for the position. I started reviewing them today. In a week or so I will get together with the other members of the search committee and share my matrix sheet which will be an evaluation of the candidate based on his/her resume and cover letter.
Today while I was reading them it struck me exactly how random the process is. Much of what is considered when making a decision of who to retain in the pool and who to drop out is objective. The person’s degrees, major, experience, years in the field, etc., are all considered, but much of it is subjective as well.Sometimes people just take a liking to an applicant’s letter or resume for no obvious reason. With almost 80 applications I can promise you some of the members of the search committee will probably not read all of the resumes. Of course, one does not read the resumes of those who have only 3 years of experience when 6 are required, or those who have never worked in the field, but are simply desperately looking for a job, any job or those who do not hold the required degree. But, some of the search committee members, unless this search is very different from any other I have been on, will simply skim a few of them, declare those their favorites and away we go.
How much can you learn from the printed word anyway? Remember experts have speculated that virtually everyone lies on his/her resume. Sometimes they are minor exaggerations, sometimes they are truly fairy tales. Unless the candidate gets to the reference and background check stage there is no checking for veracity. So, we will have to narrow the 79 down to probably around 20 for serious consideration. What criteria will we use? A combination of qualifications, gut instinct and pure whimsy.
I have been on search committees before that when the process got to the stage of cutting the pack down to a manageable number one person was kept in the pool because she lived on a street with the same name as the street one of the committee members house was on when they grew up. Different city, different state, but same street name. That meant she made the cut. She was not eventually hired, but she made it further than some equally qualified applicants simply because of an accident, a coincidence. I know that people have been eliminated for equally capricious reasons in other searches. One woman was dropped from consideration after an interview because the people interviewing her decided her voice was too loud. She was not yelling or anything, she simply had a strong voice, which seemed to scare them.
Most of the time the members of the search committee truly want to hire the best person. After a few meetings, however, it becomes obvious that unless someone has a true favorite most of the people on the committee simply want to be finished with the task. They do not give a rat’s behind about who is hired. Put another way, there are usually at lest four to five people who would do a fine job, so what difference does it make which of them gets hired?
I have been to six job interviews myself in the past 8 years. All six times I made the finalist list. Three times I was offered the job ( Hofstra University, University of North Carolina and Hollins University) , three times I was not ( Miami of Ohio, Colgate and Virginia Tech). The reasons given when I inquired why not were all over the board. At one institution it was because I was “too honest!” Yes, they said that! At another I was told that I was the favorite of many, but that there was some concern that I would not be a good fit…whatever that means. I never took it personally. I knew I was lucky to get to the finalist stage and that the eventual hiring would probably have more to do with the perceptions of the people hiring than anything I said, did or anything on my resume/vita.I was sure in at least one case that I was not hired because I had a discussion with some students who were interviewing me when they made a comment I considered inaccurate about a diversity issue. But, I figured, if they do not want to engage in a discussion about something that is not a fact, but an opinion, then they did not need me there anyway.
I am fascinated by how some people get their jobs, keep their jobs and do their jobs. But, it all boils down to this; given that you all have the same or similar qualifications it is a matter of who they like, period. And who they like has a lot to do with the culture of the institution. Maybe they like them quiet, reserved, maybe they like them lively and spirited, maybe they like them slim, maybe they like them young, maybe they like them white. Unless you are an exemplary example of excellence in your field, you might get hired, you might not.
Even if you are excellent the group doing the hiring has to be comfortable with your level of excellence. Perhaps you are too excellent. I have a colleague that has a JD, an MBA and a PhD. She is working in a job that a person with a high school education could easily do. She is too good, too smart, too scary. Nobody accuses her of being difficult, arrogant, disagreeable, nothing. She is simply intimidating because she is too good, too educated and she makes the people at her college uneasy. True, she is not at a Tier 1 institution, but that seems to make the situation even worse. Her institution could surely use a good person in the office of finance.
So, I guess the point of this post is that if you have a job that matches your talents and you like consider yourself lucky, but understand you may have gotten it for a capricious reason that had nothing to do with your skill set. If you have been turned down for a job, fired or simply cannot seem to get any notice, then realize that it might not be you, it might be the fault of the name of the street you were raised on! 🙂