New Heights (Lows?) in Philosophy Job Application Requirements


A correspondent who prefers to remain anonymous brought to my attention the job advertisement of California State Sacramento, and sent along the following commentary:

As those on the market all know, the application process can be a hassle. In addition to all the intellectual investment and tedious editing that goes into putting together a decent portfolio, departments often require specific or unique application components from their applicant pool, and experiment with different delivery methods.

Although this is frustrating for the candidate, in most cases we should cut some slack to the departments. They want unique things because they have unique needs and interests and they don’t want to be buried under an avalanche of cookie-cutter applications. Moreover, experimentation in delivery methods is needed because, though there are some better ones already (such as emailing everything as one PDF and Interfolio), they all have drawbacks. For instance, emailing everything as one PDF makes things easy for the candidate, but difficult for chairs and committees. Intefolio is also great overall, but there are some bugs and oddities with file management. There is still room for streamlining and making this arduous process more humane for all involved.

California State Sacramento, however, isn’t one of those many departments merely trying to streamline its process. Instead, the goals appear to be irrational complexity, engineered redundancy, and transferring the costs to the least advantaged.

Here is what the bluntly-worded job ad says, in part:

“Candidates must include the following attachments with the application: 1) A cover letter that addresses the qualifications for the position. The cover letter must include a link to a personal webpage formatted specifically for this application. Place the link to your personal webpage immediately after the salutation of your cover letter. The information on the personal webpage must be arranged in the order shown in the sample at this link https://sites.google.com/…/sacramento-state-university-phil… as follows: – a current curriculum vita; – a statement of scholarly interest; – a sample of professional written work; – a teaching portfolio (including a statement of teaching philosophy, a list of courses taught or developed, and summaries of student evaluations).”

So, the search committee requires that the applicant custom-builds a one-time-use website. This seems wasteful. Most candidates I know already have polished websites. So, the rationale cannot be ensuring that the candidate has the mastery of basic web-design. It is also questionable for privacy reasons. Almost no one wants to make their teaching dossiers or research statements public. Password-protecting the documents or the website will add another layer of needless complexity both for the department and for the applicant. Perhaps more importantly, if all departments did this, a typical candidate would be spending hundreds of hours creating and debugging websites. It is hard to imagine a test of impartiality and fairness under which the requirement might look favorable.

But this is merely the tip of the iceberg. The application also requires the candidate to file an online application through the California State Sacramento HR (for bonus points, the link has been dead for two days by the time of writing this, and HR is unresponsive to email). We, the unfortunate children of the market, know well what hell those online applications typically are, as they require the candidate to manually enter all the information that is readily available in the very first page of their CVs into thirty-something separate boxes.

This online-application requirement would have been forgivable if it weren’t for the fact that California State Sacramento Philosophy Search Committee also decided that the letters of recommendation must be sent to an HR email address, but via Interfolio.

I wasn’t sure how this worked because I had never seen an Interfolio delivery without an Interfolio link before. So, I logged into Interfolio and yes, you can do it. For six US dollars to be paid by you, the applicant, I mean. Notice, Interfolio already provides a confidential letter delivery service for free to the applicant, but for that to work the advertising institution should pay a nominal fee to Interfolio. But why would a state university pay a hundred bucks while they can shift the cost to their applicant pool, which consists mostly of the overworked, underpaid or unemployed?

In total, here is what this job ad requires from the applicant:

1- A one-time-use website exactly matching their format requirements;
2- An online application through the HR website of California State Sacramento;
3- A paid for the Interfolio application.

I do not claim to know all the facts that factored into the decision to concoct this byzantine machination. I also mean no disrespect for the faculty of the department in question. It is possible that the search committee genuinely thought these multiple means of time-consuming and redundant methods were an improvement over the traditional methods, or maybe they just did not think the plan through. However, it is hard to resist the conclusion that California State Sacramento Philosophy Department will not receive many applications this year. Perhaps that was the goal.

And at that, it might be a prudent goal. It is much easier to sift through twenty applications than two hundred. But at what cost? Will the kind of applicants a sensible philosophy department should like to hire even apply? Or will this ad attract only the utterly desperate and the sheepishly compliant? Time will tell.

Let’s remember that some job application requirements may be set by the university (or in public university systems) by the state, and the philosophy department may have little say over them.

head-vise

guest
21 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Matt Drabek
Matt Drabek
5 years ago

I believe this is not the first time this has happened. I don’t recall whether Cal State Sacramento was the university that required this process of its applicants last time, but I’m pretty sure someone did this a few years ago. Maybe there’s data on how it went for them? I seem to recall reading about it, saying “fuck it”, and then not applying. Report

Sad Eyed Philosopher of the Lowlands
Sad Eyed Philosopher of the Lowlands
Reply to  Matt Drabek
5 years ago

This application process seems particularly egregious by any standard, but I wonder whether SCs do things like this to make sure that only interested candidates will apply.Report

former applicant
former applicant
5 years ago

I applied to the Sac State job a few years ago when they did the same thing. At the time, I saw the “build a website especially for us” requirement as a GIFT because I knew it would greatly narrow down the field of applicants. I think it took me an hour or so to put the site together. It made sense to me at the time because narrowing down the field is mostly in their interests too, and it would select for candidates that were particularly excited about their job (like I was). However, I think they should probably stop doing this. The job market is SO bad, many candidates will feel pressure to apply for every possible job, creating a kind of coercive pressure, which seems unfair. So, I don’t think it’s an obscene practice by any means, but given the current climate, I think it’s unreasonable.Report

Phoenix, son of Amyntor
Phoenix, son of Amyntor
5 years ago

I wonder if the Byzantine requirements of the ad were created by HR rather than the department? I have yet to work in an environment (business or academia) where HR was competent.Report

Brian Weatherson
Reply to  Phoenix, son of Amyntor
5 years ago

I would be stunned if this is not HR’s fault. If it does turn out that this was something imposed on the philosophy department by HR – and I think that’s by far the most likely explanation – I think some of the comments in this thread have been quite unfair to our colleagues at Cal State Sacramento. If it is HR’s fault, they are victims of this absurdity too.Report

former applicant
former applicant
Reply to  Brian Weatherson
5 years ago

Brian, I can’t speak to the circumstances this year. But two years ago, when the same requirements were in play, it was not imposed by HR but came from the department itself. The chair explained that the creation of a website was primarily for the purpose of demonstrating that candidates had mastery of the technology, a skill that was relevant for the positionReport

Phoenix, son of Amyntor
Phoenix, son of Amyntor
Reply to  former applicant
5 years ago

Thank you for the clarification, former applicant. I am doubly glad, therefore, that Daily Nous has called attention to these kinds of job ads.Report

Dale Miller
Reply to  Phoenix, son of Amyntor
5 years ago

I looked at a few faculty job ads on the Cal State Sacremento HR page. Ads from History and English did not include the requirement that applicants create a job-specific webpage (or have any webpage, for that matter), so it seems unlikely that the requirement comes either from HR or from the college.
https://cmsweb.csus.edu/psp/HSACPRD/EMPLOYEE/HRMS/c/HRS_HRAM.HRS_CE.GBL?FolderPath=PORTAL_ROOT_OBJECT.HC_HRS_CE_GBL2&IsFolder=false&IgnoreParamTempl=FolderPath%252cIsFolderReport

Been there done that
Been there done that
5 years ago

I also applied for this job a couple of years ago. Making the website took about half an hour. The website can be made unsearchable easily enough using Google’s free site creator. They probably want to attract the kind of people who know these things. As for the HR form, which was not required last time, that always annoys me so much, but that is forced by HR. As for the Interfolio cost, which also was not required last time, that is also annoying. I remember applying for a few different jobs at Harvard and having to pay for each letter for each job! I can see that Sac State might want to avoid the $2,000 Interfolio fee (I think it’s about that much), but Harvard?!Report

Matt Drabek
Matt Drabek
Reply to  Been there done that
5 years ago

Yeah, this is a helpful comment. I definitely had the same thought – if they were interested in someone doing digital humanities work or someone who’s particularly tech-savvy (or just tech-savvy in an above average way for philosophy PhDs), this would be an interesting way to sort it out.Report

Tom
Tom
5 years ago

There was also this gem from Santa Monica College:

`All travel costs related to an initial interview will be borne by the candidate. Only ½ of the airfare cost to the Superintendent/President’s interview will be borne by the college.’

Report

Avi Z.
Avi Z.
Reply to  Tom
5 years ago

The very fact that SMC is offering a tenure track position with full benefits rather than hiring adjuncts to cover the courses is evidence that something is working well there. Unionized faculty? Yes, I think so.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Avi Z.
5 years ago

Yes, I think this may simply reflect the realities of what two-year community colleges can afford.Report

Dale Miller
Reply to  Tom
5 years ago

I wonder if they are actually requiring people to travel for initial interviews or if that’s just boilerplate. Report

Avi Z.
Avi Z.
Reply to  Dale Miller
5 years ago

Back in the 80s I had an initial phone interview at a different Los Angeles area CC. The chair wrote in a letter apologetically that I would have to make the phone call to them at a set time, as he wasn’t allowed to make long distance calls. They have a slim budget for interviews, I’m sure, even though unionization means that salaries are very competitive. Report

coulhloc
coulhloc
5 years ago

I think most application requirements in Philosophy (not to mention the one under discussion here) are ridiculous. I am a faculty member in Philosophy, and I’ll note that the History Department down the hall at my research university requires only a Cover Letter and a CV in the initial application. That’s all. They still manage to hire excellent people from good schools. I think it would be worth seeing what the requirements are in English and History programs and how we compare, since our requirements are way too involved in my view.Report

coulhloc
coulhloc
Reply to  coulhloc
5 years ago

Correction: three letters of reference also required. (But this is still less than everything req’d for Philosophy jobs.) Report

Merely Possible Philosopher
Merely Possible Philosopher
5 years ago

I think the most egregious thing about this is the web design in their sample page. Ew.Report

Pendaran Roberts
Pendaran Roberts
5 years ago

I really wonder how many applicants they’ll get? How desperate are people? They’re desperate. But this isn’t the only job…

Anyway, it’s not my AOS, but even if it were, I wouldn’t apply. I also don’t apply to places that require snail mail applications.

The way I see it is if you don’t have normal, up-to-date application standards, you don’t have a real job to offer anyway.

Also, I have some self-respect still. Report

Shane Epting
5 years ago

I applied, really didn’t think that the requirements were that bad. Instead of creating a website from scratch, I followed their format through uploading a “webpage” on my Academia profile with hyperlinks to other documents. Took five minutes tops. They might see this as lazy, but I’d prefer to think of it as innovative. Report