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Friday, October 07, 2011

Timing, Courtesy, and the Meat Market

In response to my post earlier this week on the duties of faculty members serving on hiring committees and at the Meat Market, I got an email from a (successful) applicant on last year's job market, urging me to point out that a couple of those duties involve what he or she calls common courtesy, especially with respect to timing.  My correspondent contrasts two different experiences.  One school ended up not hiring him or her; didn't offer a callback, even.  But it was excellent at communicating with him or her, keeping the correspondent apprised on where things were going and why, what was taking so long, and so on.  At the end of it, the correspondent felt good about that school, even if hiring didn't work out.  By contrast, other schools were lackadaisical at best about timing, not keeping him or her informed about where things stood in the process and breaking, without apology, their own promises about when they would tell the candidate whether he or she was being hired, given a calback, and so on.

It's simple but good advice.  The correspondent adds a specific plea, and a broader point about the implications of displaying or failing to display this kind of courtesy and organization:

But at the very least hiring teams could do the following for the 20 or 30 people they actually interview in DC:

·         Be clear about the date on which you plan to let the candidate know

·         Communicate with the candidate on that date, even if it is just to let them know they are on the “B-team” or that the committee is still in discussions (and then set the next date)

·         Show some compassion and understanding. 

 . . . Many of the candidates will eventually make their way into academia.  Your paths will cross.  And they will remember your name.  When I come across the flakey professors (and I have already) who strung me along as a presumed B-teamer, with no notice about when they would contact me, or habitually missed deadlines (that they set) to make a decision, I still get a bitter taste in my mouth.  I try hard to forget, but it is difficult to do so.


So, hiring committees: remember that this is not the last time you will meet this person, if he or she makes it into the legal academy.  Indeed, you may find yourself individually wanting or needing something from this person.  Not everyone can get a job, especially at every given school.  But we can try to keep our promises about timing, apologize and explain when we can't keep those promises or not make them in the first place, and generally treat candidates as we would wish to be treated.  I understand all too well the curse of lack of organization, but we certainly should demand more of ourselves.

Posted by Paul Horwitz on October 7, 2011 at 07:22 AM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink


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2dyrprof, I received the same email. I was like "huh?"

Posted by: VAP | Oct 10, 2011 4:50:36 PM

And on the better late than never front, I just received a rejection email from a top 5 law school regarding my application for an Academic Fellow position. The fellowship started Fall 2010.

Posted by: 2dyrprof | Oct 10, 2011 3:40:25 PM

I think it's prevalent because faculty appointments is a lot like dating. Imagine you're a guy and you go out with a woman, but you just don't find her all that attractive or she annoys you in some way. Either way, you decide you don't want to see her again. Do you tell her? No, you just don't call her. it's a little rude, in that you know you don't want to see here again and she doesn't. But it's a lot easier for you not to call than to force yourself to call her and tell her why you don't want to see her again. And she'll take the hint eventually.

Posted by: Apple A | Oct 9, 2011 10:13:48 PM

Anon, I'm not sure the lack of courtesy is "prevalent." I'm not intimating an opinion here; I just don't know whether that's correct or not. To the extent it is, I am more inclined to attribute it to the usual human failings (and the failings of committees in particular) than to something else. Since it's hardly a one-time occurrence, however, all the more reason for us to be on guard against it.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Oct 9, 2011 9:26:00 PM

Anyone have an idea why the lack of courtesy is so prevalent?

Posted by: anon | Oct 8, 2011 6:29:34 PM

It's even worse on the lateral market. It is not uncommon for professors to have a look-see visit at a school for an entire semester, and then to just never hear from the school they spent a semester visiting.

Posted by: AnonA | Oct 8, 2011 11:25:52 AM

Thanks Paul. In my recent personal experience, I would say about 75% of the schools I interviewed with were below par in basic communication and courtesy, whereas the other 25% did an excellent job. And the level of courtesy was not necessarily related to whether I was offered or not offered a job. So, yes, I do think this is a good reminder for hiring committees. Now that I am on the other side of the fence I do realize how busy it can be, but there are still few good excuses for failing to communicate with those you choose to interview.

Posted by: anon | Oct 7, 2011 10:22:24 PM

Although some of this is a matter of institutional culture, courtesy can vary considerably year to year. I know of others who have had very different experiences with the school mentioned by the commenter above.

In my own experience, I recall at least one school that shall remain nameless that never communicated with me again after what I thought was a fairly successful callback. At the very least, let the handful of people you brought back to campus know when you've made a hiring decision.

Posted by: anon1 | Oct 7, 2011 2:44:47 PM


Thank you for the timely reminder. When I was on the market, Ohio State stood out as an exemplar of open communication and decency. I will always think fondly of Josh Stulberg, the chair of that hiring committee, for the manner in which he handled his responsibilities.

Posted by: 2dyrprof | Oct 7, 2011 10:06:06 AM

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