Sunday, October 6, 2013

Deadlines and the Job Search

UPDATE/CORRECTION:  In the wake of Dr. Crazy's comment and an e-mail from another reader I went back and read the original post and the comments that prompted the post below, and I'm now convinced that I read the intent of those comments wrong; rather than professing option C below, the commenters were saying something closer to A. So this renders a lot of my setup a bit of an unintentional strawman. My apologies, both to my readers, and to the commenters whose points I mischaracterized. However, for all its flaws, this post has already generated some nice discussion in the comments from faculty who have been on search committees, so I encourage job-seekers to overlook the authorial flaws here and focus on the much better  insights in the comments.

The comments thread on a recent post over at Scattered and Random brought up an issue that I had never even considered: that there may be a more than one interpretation of about the job application's deadline. Allow me to illustrate with an example:

Your job advertisement says something along the lines of "Please submit CV, cover letter, and three letters of recommendation by November 15, 2013." You will:
A. Turn these things in on November 15th.
B. Turn these things in as soon as you have them finished to your satisfaction, but no later than November 15th (and a few days earlier if they need to go by mail).
C. Wait until at least November 15th; this is the first day that you may submit your application.
The correct answer, as I've always understood it, is "B." Never "C" -- the deadline is when the position closes, not when it opens. "A" will probably get you considered as well, [1] but not always -- many job ads say something like "completed applications must be received by November 15, 2013," and in those cases your stuff needs to hit the mail a good few days before the deadline so it gets there on time.

So why do some applicants think that "C" is the right answer? I think there are a couple sources for the confusion. First: As you worked your way through grad school, deadlines may have suddenly become very flexible. If you go to one of your professors and tell them "I can have a paper by deadline, but with one more week I could turn in something much better," you'll usually get that week. And let's not even talk about the Great Floating Deadline that is your dissertation. After 4-8 years of this, you likely treat deadlines as a little bit negotiable.

Second, there's the issue of confusing language in the job ads. Here's a sampling of the key sentences, taken from what's on H-Net right now:
  • Completed applications must be received by October 25, 2013.
  • Please send materials by November 1, 2013.
  • Review of completed applications begins November 1, 2013.
  • Completed applications must be received by November 15, 2013
  • Applications must be complete by November 1, 2013 to ensure full consideration.
And, of course, the dreaded "Review of applications will begin on November 15, 2013 and continue until the position is filled."

As you can see, there's a bit of ambiguity in some of those, and likely some programs are going to be more flexible than others in how they treat applications that roll in a week after the deadline. But in a job market like this one, why would you want to risk it? Turning in a complete and polished application package well before the deadline on time [2] says something about your reliability and organization level -- and those are important qualities in any job.

Or so saith the blogger who has only observed the workings of search committees second-hand. What about my more experienced readers? Would you consider an application that came in a week or so past deadline? What about one that had not all but some of the pieces in on time, and the rest came in a bit later? And job applicants: Have you found this confusing? Or do you just assume a straight-up "get it in by X" paradigm?

[1] Back when I was applying for jobs, a lot of ads had "postmark deadlines," which I always thought was delightfully humane, considering that one does not control the speed of the mail.

[2] Amended w/r/t Dr. Crazy's comment. Upon reflection, I doubt that most search committees are going to dive into the pile of applications until the deadline has passed. 


Dr. Crazy said...

Our language clearly states that the date listed is a deadline, so any late applications have to get thrown out to ensure fair hiring practices/ no eeoc issues. That said, getting an application in early doesn't make a bit of difference in my experience to how your application is evaluated.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Crazy, I wondered about that last part. I assumed not (really, when I was sending mine in early it was more a matter of being paranoid about missing the deadline: What if the mailman is attacked by bears?). But I also wondered whether some committees don't start leafing through things as they come. Doubtful, I know.

In any case, I should amend what I said about getting stuff in before deadline to read "meeting deadline." That makes much more sense.

Bardiac said...

In my experience on search committees, we can't read anything after the deadline. And we're always too overwhelmed to start early. At any rate, I don't think it helps or hurts to be early.

Contingent Cassandra said...

This may have changed with the advent of interfolio and similar services, but the part I always hoped was at least a little bit flexible was the receipt of recommendation letters (if required on the first round), since that is out of the candidate's control (at least once (s)he has requested they be sent; of course, there's also the fun of asking people to write or update and get them into whoever is handling the dossier; even in the pre-interfolio days, my grad department provided this service). For the materials I was personally responsible for sending, I always went by B (and several times spent money on overnight mail to assure receipt by a deadline, though I think I did that more often for fellowships than jobs). In the age of electronic application, I'd be inclined to try to upload at least 24 hours before the deadline, in case of outages/server overload, which are the 21st-century equivalent of mailman-eating bears (the latter probably isn't as likely for job applications as for fellowships, unless HR sets a common deadline for a number of searches).

Susan said...

As CC says, electronic applications change things. Our deadline is drop dead, because the system closes at the deadline. It's run by our Academic Personnel office, we don't control it, unless we decide to extend the deadline. I did learn that if an application has been started, we can add additional material to it after the deadline. And we're forgiving on letters, because our system is such a nightmare.

I have been known to begin skimming through applications before they are all in (What's the pool like?) but serious reading only begins after the deadline.

Brian W. Ogilvie said...

In our searches, if an applicant doesn't have his or her materials in on time, we don't consider the application, unless there are extenuating circumstances (e.g., something was lost in the mail, which does happen, especially with international applications).

We are more flexible about recommendations, since those are out of the applicant's hands, and we don't want to penalize an applicant for working with a flake. My procedure when running a search is to ask our administrative assistant to notify the applicant that we have not yet received the recommendation from Professor X that was mentioned in the cover letter. (BTW, I do recommend that the last paragraph of the cover letter state what else is enclosed and what should arrive under separate cover, such as recommendations.)

I've never started reviewing applications before the deadline. It doesn't seem fair, though if a lot of applications were rolling in, I might do a first review to exclude applicants who are not minimally qualified according to our EOD criteria--i.e. they don't meet the published job description. I chaired a search in medieval Europe with a specialty in History of Christianity once, and had to exclude applicants whose training and research interests were not, in fact, in History of Christianity. But we didn't have so many applications that I needed to start that review early.

clio's disciple said...

I would aim to ensure receipt of my application by the deadline. I would not go to extra lengths to turn it in early; in part because I was usually applying for several positions, customizing each letter, and, obviously, prioritizing the earlier deadlines. In the short-term searches my dept. did more recently, we got a lot of applications in close to the deadline, though I don't think we accepted late ones.

susan said...

Our HR office told us that we had to say "review of applications will begin on X date and continue until position is filled," as part of the effort to cultivate as broad a pool of qualified applicants as possible--a different approach to the fair hiring approach than at some other schools, clearly.

In practice this meant that everything that came in right around the deadline got considered, and things that came in between the review-begins-date and the first committee meeting got considered. And after that, everything got considered but those applications had to meet a higher bar--were they as good as the ones that had already advanced to whatever next round we were in? And realistically speaking, new apps that came in after we'd requested writing samples really got a "we'll keep your app on file in case we need to revisit the pool" sort of reply.

Janice said...

As with many others, if the application isn't received by a stated deadline, it's usually inadmissible. Fortunately, we have been moving to searches that are a bit more open. That should never, ever encourage someone to putter and delay, as we don't know that you're lurking out there.

If it helps nervous applicants, an incomplete application can still make the cut if the only part wanting is a letter of reference or two. We will hunt down references if at all possible.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

I think Susan1's summation is sort of what I'd assumed. A curious faculty member might go in and start browsing the files, but since a lot of files are going to show up in the few days around the deadline itself (including a day or two afterwards, if you're waiting for letters of rec), applicants generally shouldn't have to worry that they need to get their materials in in advance of the deadline. I always tried to do so, but that's owing more to my anxious disposition.

And Susan2, your clarification of that phrase helps a lot. My own institution uses something similar, and I always wondered why. It seemed equivalent to saying, "oh, get it in whenever," when in reality a decision will be made at a certain point.

And everybody who's said that they won't hold late letters of ref against the candidate: I'm sure that a lot of applicants just breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Susan said...

Notorious, letter writers are also heaving a sigh of relief at that. Believe me, there are times I say, phew! I really can take an extra week!

Rose said...

Our committees start reviewing completed applications when they are complete, even if the deadline has not passed. For the committees I have been on, there seems to be no advantage in submitting early. But the massive number of applications requires that we start reviewing them as they become complete.

Dr. Crazy said...

For what it's worth, we don't ask for letters until we've made the first cut. All we ask for is letter and cv for the first round. If you can't get that in by the deadline, you really can't manage our workload :)

Anonymous said...

I wish more departments did this! It's really unfair to ask for more for the first round when sending those letters costs money and all the tailored supplemental materials take so much time.

Anonymous said...

Although more and more schools are (thankfully) moving to electronic applications, I want to reiterate my appreciation departments stating (and using) postmark deadlines for mailed applications.

Also, I wish more departments were like Dr. Crazy's and only asked for a letter and CV on the first round. It's expensive to send letters (via Interfolio) and if they're not absolutely necessary to cull the pool, please don't require them (a list of references seems perfectly reasonable). Ditto on not needing an arbitrary paged writing sample, extensive teaching documentation, transcripts, and whatnot (all of which I have but take money or time to customize for every school, especially variously paged "chapters.")