Practical Advice for Treating Job Candidates

AHA Professional Division, November 2007

History department searches take many forms. Departmental needs and the local way of balancing teaching, research, and service may shape campus visits in strikingly different ways. Factors outside departmental control—administrative authorization of searches, for example—sometimes determine the timing of advertisements and searches. In some universities, search committee heads have substantial leeway in offering and even in negotiating positions; in others, chairs take responsibility for these tasks. Nonetheless, certain basic principles should govern the ways in which all history departments deal with job candidates.

It is essential to bear in mind that e-mail and the internet have radically transformed the environment within which searches take place. Hiring departments commendably wish to preserve their own privacy and that of applicants. But imperfect information about their decisions now reaches a wide public almost instantaneously. Candidates who have been offered AHA and campus interviews, for example, often—but not always—post that information, anonymously, on the history page of the Academic Careers wiki, which all candidates consult many times a day in the run-up to the AHA. If a hiring department has eliminated a large number of candidates, it is both more professional and kinder to inform them at once than to let them learn their fate from an unofficial, and necessarily incomplete, register.

Notification of Interviews

From the start, departments should pursue transparency at every stage. All candidates should be notified immediately when their applications reach the department that has advertised a position. Some candidates are required to ask their referees to send letters of recommendation individually, rather than as part of a single dossier. Even the promptest referees and the most meticulous office staff occasionally fail to send or misfile these materials. Departments, accordingly, should review all search files when the deadline arrives and inform any candidates whose letters or other documents have not been received, so that they have the chance to complete their dossiers in good time. Hiring institutions should also provide all candidates with a timetable for the search and a list of venues where interviews will be conducted. Candidates need to know from the outset whether a department plans to hold interviews at the AHA annual meeting or another conference, and when the campus interviews will probably take place. One simple way to make this information available to all is to post it on the departmental web page. A second method, which does not exclude the first, is to include the information in the acknowledgments sent when candidates' materials arrive. The head of the search committee, finally, should respond immediately to all queries from candidates, and offer all the information consistent with maintaining confidentiality.

Particularly urgent problems confront many candidates every year in the last weeks of November and the first weeks of December. This is the time when committee members are working their way through dozens of dossiers, a task that demands much time and effort. But hiring departments must bear in mind that most candidates for beginning positions are graduate students, lecturers, or post doctoral fellows. For candidates in these positions, attendance at the AHA annual meeting is often a non-reimbursable expense. Few of them are blessed with surplus cash, and very few indeed would spend such money as they have on a trip to the AHA annual meeting if they had no possibility of being interviewed there. Even those candidates who receive one or more nods, in other words, face substantial expense if they are to take advantage of their potential opportunities.

The timing of the AHA meeting makes the situation worse. Holiday fares are high. Last-minute notification often forces candidates to book tickets at the eleventh hour at high cost or to book in advance and risk receiving no interviews. Similarly, central, low-cost hotel rooms tend to be booked early, forcing job candidates with the fewest financial resources to take more expensive and less convenient rooms. It is the duty of search committees to do their best to spare their potential colleagues unnecessary expense and anxiety, and to make their AHA trips as economical and painless as possible. Hiring departments should notify all job candidates whom they intend to interview at the AHA's annual meeting no later than December 15, and if possible earlier than that. In general, it is helpful for applicants to tell hiring departments if they plan to attend the AHA meeting or other conventions where interviewing takes place; this information can be inserted in letters of application and will help, to some extent, with planning. But many, perhaps most, applicants will not and cannot make convention plans until they know if they have interviews, and hiring departments must take their needs into account in a serious and systematic way.

As a courtesy to all applicants, moreover, departments should notify those whom they are no longer considering for the position in a timely manner. Postings on the Academic Careers wiki by (some) candidates who received interview calls tend to exacerbate tensions and anxieties. There is no reason for departments to delay providing a more correct and formal notification to those who are being turned down.

Professional Treatment during Interviews at Conferences

It is in the interest of all parties, candidates and departments alike, to treat all candidates in a courteous and professional way. By doing this, departments will enable candidates to put in better performances at interviews. They will also give candidates a favorable impression of their own professionalism and integrity—a factor that can prove decisive if a candidate receives multiple offers.
Hiring departments should provide every candidate whom they are interviewing with all of the necessary logistical information, ideally in a single, uniform document that can be sent to all interviewees. At a minimum, this document should include the following information:

  • Time and date of interview
  • Interview location, including specific hotel and suite number when available prior to check-in
  • Name of search committee head/lead interviewer
  • Names of the other members of the search committee who will be present
  • Contact information so that the candidate can reach the head of the search committee/lead interviewer during the conference (cell phone numbers are especially helpful)
  • Arrival date of the search committee head

In addition, all departments interviewing at the AHA annual meeting, whether or not they have booked their interview site through the AHA's Job Register, should notify the AHA's Job Register of the location of their interviews and of the contact information for the search committee head. The AHA Job Register staff cannot direct candidates to interviews if they do not know the name and coordinates of a contact person and the location where each school is interviewing. Convention interviews, finally, should take place either in the allotted jobs center or in suite living rooms, never in bedrooms. If an interview is held in a suite, the occupants should see to it that no personal items are visible.

Professional Treatment during Campus Interviews

Candidates invited for a campus inerview should also be treated courteously and professionally. Hiring departments should reimburse candidates for all reasonable travel expenses. A candidate should never be asked, for example, to split the cost of a plane ticket with the host university. As some candidates have had no experience with travel expense reimbursement, departments should routinely attach a written statement of university policies on expenses to all formal invitations to campus.

Every candidate should receive, before coming to campus, a precise schedule for his or her entire visit. This should include, at a minimum, the following information:

  • The name, address, and telephone and fax numbers of the hotel or guest house where the department will lodge the candidate, together with maps of the campus and the town or city.
  • A list of all interviews with groups or individuals, with dates, times, places, names, and titles of all concerned, and of dates, times, and places for all public activities, including formal and informal talks and model lectures or classes. The candidate should know for certain whether he or she is expected to deliver a formal lecture, a less formal presentation, or an informal talk.
  • Contact information for the departmental manager or secretary who oversees the practical details of the visit.
  • Contact information for the head of the search committee/lead interviewer.
  • Full information about how to claim reimbursement for travel expenses.

Hiring departments should do their best to make each campus visit as comfortable and informative as it can be. Candidates should be given time each day to relax in private. In particular, candidates should always have time to review their texts in private before they give public presentations. If a candidate plans to use PowerPoint or other audiovisual tools, he or she should be invited to visit the room in which the talk will talk place and meet a representative of the local A-V department to ensure that the technology causes no problems. Departments should tell each candidate explicitly how many candidates will be brought to campus, and when the department plans to reach a decision.

Notification of Job Offers

A separate Professional Division document offers advice on the proper way to make and negotiate an offer (“Guidelines for Job Offers in History,” Perspectives (March 2007); available online at www.historians.org/Perspectives/issues/2007/0703/0703aha5.cfm). Here it is important to emphasize that hiring departments have a duty to treat unsuccessful, as well as successful, candidates fairly and professionally. Those who have been eliminated should be told that immediately. Candidates who are ranked second or third should be informed of their positions on the departmental list and of the deadline by which the successful candidate must make his or her decision.

Departments should keep the names of all candidates confidential during this process. But considerations of confidentiality need not and must not prevent departments from making clear to all involved, as rapidly as possible, exactly where they stand. Here as elsewhere the principle of greatest possible transparency should govern departmental actions during searches.

Departments that hold campus interviews and make offers before the AHA annual meeting should also do their best to make their procedures as transparent as possible. Rejected candidates should be informed of their status as soon as possible. And successful candidates who accept offers before the AHA should withdraw from any searches that will involve AHA interviews.