June 22, 2022

About three years back, I had posted some tips for job applicants on my old blog, which I am reposting here for convenience.

After having been on search committees yet again, I am compelled to write up some additional thoughts. The tips in the earlier post are still valid. This time, I may be a bit more pointed and direct about just a few items.

interview etiquette - thank you notes

I know that no one really gets consistent instructions about interview etiquette anymore. Thank you notes after an interview are not an enormous factor in the process, and some candidates may find it a bit forced to write them after a brief interaction. But I am here to say this: if you want the job, write a thank you note. A quick and short e-mail will do. You don’t have to compose witty ripostes to every member of the search committee: a single note to the committee chair serves the function.

Why does this matter? The most important factor is that someone who does not write a note may look like they have lost interest in the position after the interview. Certainly, they will be disadvantaged in comparison to someone who expresses effusive interest. Of course the thank you note is also an opportunity to demonstrate politesse, collegiality, and the “soft skills” that are so prized. Although it won’t kill your chances not to do it, just write the thank you. It will only help you.

Once you have mastered this basic step, you can work your way towards more elegant and thoughtful expression. Some people are really good at thank you notes.

interview process

It is understandable that the candidate would like to know where they stand, as much as possible, at every step along the way. However, contacting the search committee or hiring institution HR is not likely to yield any useful information. Why is that? Let’s work through a decision tree.

If you have not been contacted for any interview after some reasonable amount of time (perhaps the position had a “review by” date in the posting), it means that you are not in the group of finalists. You will likely receive a rejection more quickly if you did not meet the minimum qualifications. You may receive a somewhat later rejection if a sufficient pool of potential finalists has been identified (that did not include you). If you have not received a rejection, it is actually good news in that your candidacy is still being held in reserve in case others don’t work out. If you ask for a premature answer, you may provoke a “no”.

If you have been called for a screening interview, it means that you are one of a limited number of finalists that met the qualifications and impressed the search committee, and have a shot at the position. If you had a screening interview, and weren’t called back for a more extensive interview, it means that you weren’t among those selected to advance. However, if you haven’t been rejected, it means that the hiring of a finalist has not been completed. If it is necessary to go back to the pool again, you may be one of the first called back. Just like in the previous paragraph, asking for a definitive answer may turn your “probably no, but maybe yes” into a “no” if you need certainty.

If you did advance to a full interview, but didn’t hear back after some time, the situation is very similar to that described above. It is fine to gently inquire about the search, but the most likely situation is that one of the other finalists was selected to get the first offer. Here patience is advised. At the final stage of search, it is not at all unlikely that the favored candidate might be entertaining other offers, might have other personal circumstances impacting their decision, or simply might be unimpressed by what the hiring institution has to offer after the longer encounter. If the hiring insitution offers, then gets declined by the first candidate, it is likely that one of the other finalists may get an offer. So don’t burn any bridges at this stage.

If you have another legitimate job offer, it is fine to let the hiring institution know that if you didn’t get a decision by a certain date, you would take the other offer. This is unlikely to change anything, but might in some cases encourage the hiring institution to speed up its decision-making just a tad.

The bottom line is that anyone who has not received an outright rejection notice still has some shot at the position, but if you have waited long and not advanced far in the interview process, it is less likely.

Because no one can discuss the reasons for selecting a specific individual, you won’t get much information from an inquiry, but what I’ve described above is probably what is happening behind the scenes. So much is about the individual match between candidate and institution that it is best not to worry about what one could have done better to secure the position, with the exception of what I am going to talk about next.


My advice in this section may seem simple and obvious, but judging by the behavior of applicants, apparently it is not. The applicant should address all of the requirements for the position, preferably in the cover letter. Leaving something to the CV requires attention and interpretation on the part of the search committee, and is not advised.

Everything listed under Required is a requirement for the position. There are no exceptions or passes for this. I don’t know how else to explain it.

In particular, if one of the requirements is a demonstrated commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, this is also a requirement. The cover letter should contain something about what the candidate has done relating to DEI. This means at least one sentence. Meeting the requirements for the position is necessary and important.

My only explanation for the repeated omission of DEI discussion in applicants' materials is that the deeply entrenched and pervasive racism of American culture blinds people to what is in front of them. There appears to be some kind of compartmentalization that allows people to not view the DEI component as a “real” requirement, and so people omit it, when they never fail to “forget” to mention their academic degrees or prior library experience, among other things. We are so used to turning a blind eye to DEI issues, or only discussing them in a limited, separate time allocated for the purpose, that many applicants subconsciously dismiss the DEI component as an integral part of a complete application.

Let’s please fix this so that we don’t have to throw so many applications in the trash!

/[end of rant]/

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