Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What do we owe the "inside candidate"?

I was an "inside candidate"* for my current position (though it by no means guaranteed me the job), and it looks  like I'll be serving on a search committee for a tenure-track position to replace what is, currently, a position held by a temporary faculty member. So I've been thinking about what a search committee owes to a colleague serving in a temporary position in their program who has applied for a tenure-track opening. 

I, personally, had a good experience as the "inside candidate". My colleagues were very professional, respectful, and upfront about the hiring process. But, I've heard a number of horror stories from friends. This is an awkward situation, under the best of circumstances.

First, let me say what the search committee does not owe the inside candidate. They don't owe them the job. This means that at any point along the process, the inside candidate may find that they are not in an advantageous position. This may have nothing to do with the relative merits of the inside candidate herself.  The committee may decide, when they meet to write the job advertisement, that the program has a gaping hole in the field of Purple Gerbils, but the temporary person currently teaching in the program specializes in Orange Lettuce. Or, if the committee does decide to hire in Orange Lettuce, they may find that the applicant pool for a tenure-track job is much stronger than it was for a temporary job, and therefore there are people with much more impressive CVs than that of the "inside candidate". (OK, so it's hard not to take that last situation personally, but the committee needs to make the best decision for the long-term needs of the program, to the best of their ability. This isn't a reflection on the candidate's worth as a person or researcher, merely a reflection of what the committee believes is the best fit under current circumstances.)

Similarly, the search committee does not owe their temporary colleague an interview, not even a "practice interview". There's nothing more heartbreaking than a hopeful candidate giving the interview their all, only to find later that they never had a chance at the job.

What does the search committee owe the inside candidate (especially if you aren't going to hire the person)?:

1. Courage. Most horror stories I've heard are the result of search committee members who were too cowardly to look a candidate in the eyes and tell them they hadn't gotten the job. Don't let the candidate hear they haven't been granted an interview by "accidentally" cc-ing them on the e-mail announcing the three finalists. Don't let them discover their interview was unsuccessful by announcing the final hire for the first time at a campus-wide faculty meeting. If you can't face the candidate in person (and, honestly, it might be better not to), then send them a personal e-mail or call them. 

2. Honesty. Tell the candidate exactly where they stand in the search. Don't lead them on, and don't offer them sops (like a "courtesy interview") just because you're too afraid to tell them you don't want to hire them (see #1). Yes, I know there are privacy concerns about discussing a search committee's work, but an inside candidate already has a lot more information than other candidates, just by virtue of being in the department, seeing the posters for the job talks, etc. Be rational and reasonable in what you can tell them. For example, there's no reason not to fess up if a long-list has been made and everyone who is on it has been informed. 

3. Respect. This should go without saying, but it's particularly important not to mock, denigrate, gossip about, or undermine an inside candidate with their colleagues or students. If you have a critique of their job talk that you wouldn't feel comfortable saying to their face, don't say it to a colleague, unless it's a substantive point that should be discussed during a confidential search committee meeting, and nowhere else.

4. An understanding of the job market. The job market sucks. There are far more qualified candidates than there are jobs, so getting a job is a crap shoot. Don't treat an adjunct faculty member as a second-class citizen who is unworthy of a tenure-track job, just because they took an adjunct position. These days, most of us end up with an adjunct position at least once in our careers. Recognize, too, that applying for jobs takes a lot of time and emotional energy. Don't eat that time and energy by leading the candidate to believe they have a shot at the job when they don't, let them focus their efforts on jobs for which they might be a better fit.

So what does the inside candidate owe to the search committee? Professionalism. The horror stories I've heard about inside candidates haven't just come from temporary faculty, they've also come from search committees and tenured faculty members who saw unsuccessful "inside candidates" behave in a completely inappropriate manner. Don't take advantage of your position on campus to demand special treatment or to aggressively lobby for your hire. Don't make everyone feel awkward and uncomfortable by coming to the other candidate's job talks and heckling them. Don't organize student protests if you are not offered the job. Don't try to sabotage the career of the person who was chosen in your place. You're more likely to sabotage your own. 

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*To clarify, by "inside candidate", I mean someone who currently holds a temporary job, but is qualified for a newly opened tenure-track job in the same department. This post doesn't apply to situations where the search committee is clearly targeting a particular individual.

1 comment:

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