Tips for job applicants: we ranked into categories, not into a line

Even the most collegial people can get stubborn if they feel they are not being respected sufficiently, or if they feel they are being ignored. This is a dynamic that serves no useful purpose on a search committee, so I try to structure things to minimize this issue.

One way of doing this is to have committee members rank candidates into categories and not into a single file line. Don’t have a top person until it is necessary so you don’t endow that person with special charm. After all, it was very hard to pick the top person, so why fall in love with the rank? It is human nature to do this. So it is much better to simply decide whether the people fall in some top category.

In this search, we began with choosing the top ten percent. This reduced the pool significantly to a size where every member of the search committee looked at every person. Those that had already looked, took another more careful look. Now we’ll put everyone into one of four categories and average the scores so people will have a rank individually that is not the result of any one of us ranking them individually.

After a long meeting, we will reduce this list further to a long short list which we will open to additional people. We then revisit any files we wish over the next month. We read papers. We study the applicants much more carefully for something we might have missed. We take in feedback from other people in the department. We take this much time because this is the most important thing we do. Then we’ll have another meeting to choose a list to invite, which we’ll present for comment to the department.

At every step of the process, I remind people that we are hiring for the long term. We are hiring for the whole department, though the search is specifically in evolution. I also remind people of our commitment to diversity, to inclusiveness. We need to take care that we don’t blind ourselves to excellence by short-sighted narrowness of field, or inadvertent biases. The only thing I can’t do is turn this into the 10 positions I wish we had.

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About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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2 Responses to Tips for job applicants: we ranked into categories, not into a line

  1. Pingback: Friday links: an accidental scientific activist, unkillable birds, the stats of “marginally significant” stats, and more | Dynamic Ecology

  2. Pingback: Useful links related to tenure track job searches in ecology | Dynamic Ecology

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