Can I Call the Department? (And Introducing New Members of the Team)

Today’s post is a two-parter; in part one, I  tell you about all the ways that The Professor Is In is growing and expanding in Fall 2012.  In part two, I answer a burning reader question.

Part I:  The Professor Is In is Growing!

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve added two new members to the Professor Is In team. The first is Kellee Weinhold, former university professor in the fields of journalism, communication, and literary non-fiction, professional writing coach and consultant, and owner of the Eugene, Oregon writing studio Stir (and incidentally, my partner).

This is Kellee.

In addition to having twelve years of experience in the university setting, and enormous savvy about the ways of university hiring and politics, Kellee is a fierce proponent of self-expression in all forms and the sworn enemy of wimpy speech.  Kellee will be taking over Interview Bootcamps from this month. With the addition of Kellee to the team we are going to be able to increase the available private Interview Bootcamp slots through the interview season.

The second new member to join the team is Petra Schenk.   Petra is Dr. Karen’s office assistant, and has been doing yeoman’s work to handle the huge influx of new clients who came to us in Fall 2012.  She responds to emails, schedules, and also shares the editing of client documents with Dr. Karen.  Petra also works as the writing specialist for TRIO Student Support Services at the University of Oregon.  Petra was a nontraditional student, coming from a low-income and first-generation household. After transferring to UO from Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon, she completed her BA in linguistics in 2001. With an interest in documenting endangered languages and with the assistance of the UO TRiO McNair Scholar’s Program, she went on to complete an MA and PhD in Linguistics from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2008.

This is Petra

During her time as a graduate student, Petra cultivated a parallel career track as a student advisor and mentor, focusing on nontraditional college students. When not in the office, Petra enjoys reading, running, cooking, and especially hiking with her amazing daughter.

Both Kellee and Petra are fierce proponents of the message and the methods of The Professor Is In, and allies in the effort to get you ready for the market.  With their addition, we can expand our work and help more people get the assistance they need to confront the challenges of an academic career.

Part II:  Can I Call the Department?

Today I answer a question that I’ve received from readers with some frequency over the past several weeks.

“Can I call the department to check on the status of my application?”

You can, but there is little point in doing so.  It’s truly a “don’t call us, we’ll call you situation,” with the caveat that in today’s uncivil times, they rarely bother to call (or write) to tell you when you have not made the cut.  It’s all too common these days to hear nothing but deafening silence….all the way up to and beyond the completion of the search.

But to return to the question of “can I call?”  My strong advice to all readers is, do not call.  Please remember that all jobs in this day and age routinely get between 200 and 900 applications.   Consider the welfare of the poor secretary who would have to field those calls.

And again, to return to my main point—if they want you, they will call.   For most of you, for the vast, vast majority of jobs to which you applied, the call will not come. Sorry.

I remember the first year I was on the market (all the way back in 1995—supposedly halcyon days but actually an already brutal time in the anthropology job market), I literally thought that my local post office (this was the era of mailed paper applications) was experiencing some sort of malfunction because I had received not a single response from the 25 or so jobs to which I applied that first Fall.  Surely, there had to be some mistake??!!

There was no mistake.  I was sending out painfully bad application materials (having received no training whatsoever for the job market as I describe on this page of the website), I had a second-tier Ph.D. from the University of Hawai’i, and I was confronting competition from graduates of the top programs of the land.

The memory of that deafening silence, my painful confusion, my growing humiliation, my desperate calls to departments, my slowly dawning comprehension of my true chances on the market, my panic about money, my realization of the scandalous neglect of my professors….all these things are as fresh in my mind today as they were that Fall of 1995.  They are the things that catalyzed me to start this business, and that keep me working to find new ways to tell job seekers the truth about just how hard it is, and what you need to know to improve your chances.

But that’s me.  You’re just wondering about the status of your applications.

Approximately one month after you submit the application, if your conference is imminent and you are wondering if you’ll be invited to an interview, ok, sure, you can, if you must, write a single email to the department secretary (not the search chair) to inquire.  It won’t harm your chances.  That’s the extent of it, and frankly, I say again: don’t bother.  There is no mystery here.  There is no confusion or delay or problem with the search.  What there is, is the fact that you probably have not been short-listed. It’s painful and shocking and devastating, and no amount of reading my blog or others’ warnings will prepare you for the dismay, humiliation, and panic.

As those of you who have attended my webinars know, I urge readers and clients to do what they can to retain their dignity in an inhuman system that doles out humiliation by the bucketloads.  It is my opinion that calling departments to ask about the status of your application is an exercise in humiliation.  I recommend that you stand on the dignity that you have, do the best work you can to improve your record and your application materials, and be ready for the call when and if it comes.

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Can I Call the Department? (And Introducing New Members of the Team) — 15 Comments

  1. Congrats on the expansion, Dr. Karen! That’s exciting news. I’m also thrilled your partner has experience in journalism (which is my Ph.D. field). I look forward to great perspectives these two will bring to TPII!

  2. Hi Dr. Karen,

    Your post was quite timely for me… I’m suffering from a dilemma (which I internally know the answer to — don’t inquire), but can you offer your insight into this particular scenario?

    My partner and I are doing the joint-search (fortunately in different departments). I was particularly hopeful when the search chair of the one school that actually had two independent positions in our respective departments asked me for more materials (evidence of teaching effectiveness) after I submitted my initial application (cover letter & CV) in October. Mind you, this was a full month before the Nov 1deadline (I needed to get my job docs off my desk b/c of my other existing job obligations — currently in my 4th year of a TT position).

    As chance would have it, my partner did secure a campus interview (at beg of Dec) in his respective area at this school. Unfortunately, I recently learned from my discipline’s wiki job board (where people post anonymously when offered phone/campus interviews, rejections, etc.), that they (1) started requesting other materials from other candidates and (2) were conducting phone interviews — of which I did not receive 🙁

    I know that the stars aligning in this way are always slim, but I’m bummed about this. I know my materials are very competitive (again, thanks to you and your site). Compared to my lone interview after graduate school, I’ve completed 6 phone interviews which have materialized into 2 campus visits. Part of me is struggling with the “rejection” from the one school where our dual-career problem could have been solved, esp. because I perceive myself as a good fit. The other part of me is wondering if my application got “misplaced” (wishful thinking, I know).

    Ultimately, and your post confirms, that I should NOT inquire… but is there a way to proceed on my partner’s end? … Presuming things go well during his interiew in Decemeber… is it appropriate for him to mention that I applied to the other department? I’m just worried about lost opportunities (e.g., I know the department to which I applied has 3 positions open (1 in my subfield).

    Any advice is helpful! Again, congrats on the staff expansions…

  3. How about contacting (email/phone) the department administrator to find out if snail mail letters of reference from recommenders made it? Is that okay or considered bothersome?

  4. Silence is much more painful than a rejection. Rejection is unambiguous and final; silence still contains possibilities and (gah!) hope. This I’ve learned from my applications to graduate programs last year. In the scenarios where a professor has been genuinely interested in meeting, interviewing or accepting me, I don’t think I’ve had to wait more than a few days for him to reply to my emails. More than a week between emails? It was about to fall through.

    I think if I’d learned to accept the “>1 week delay in replying to emails = not interested” rule earlier I’d done a lot less delaying/holding off, put in more applications *before* the professors filled up spaces…and had a far happier time of it in early 2012.

  5. What about contacting a department BEFORE an application, so as to learn more about the position? In what circumstances might this be appropriate?

    • NEVER. What if even 10% of the applicants did that? The secretary/search chair would be fielding 20-100 such emails. Just apply for the damned job (in the parlance of the Chronicle of Higher Ed online job market forum)

      • Sometimes the job posting says “Contact Dr. Abc with questions.” I think in that case, it’s perfectly reasonable. I came across a job posting on a Department website in February which had this “contact” information along with the statement, “We will begin reviewing applications in September (last year) and the position will remain open until filled.” I contacted the individual in the posting (who happened to be the search chair) … “I see from your Dept Website that you have a new Named Program, and from this Job Posting, looks like you’re looking for experts in that area. Is the search from last year still ongoing?” I got a very candid response: “we interviewed a few candidates but none fit xyz criteria; we’re renewing the search next August, I invite you to apply.” Now I have some good information and the search chair, should she feel inclined, has several months to google me or see my name in conference abstracts that might look familiar.

  6. How about contact the department to update a new award or postdoc fellowship?
    I just got a postdoc fellowship from an outstanding institution which is one of the most important research institutions in my field. The application for the postdoc was competitive, and I won a special fellowship which accounts only one tenth of the total postdoc fellows. How can I update this new situation, and how it can help my job application? Thanks for your helpful information.

    • Oh yes, of course you can contact the department to submit an updated CV with important new information. The information just has to meet the standard of “important”–a major grant, a major publication, etc.

  7. In the case of the job being in a geographically isolated area that is difficult to get to would it hurt if I sent an email to let the search committee chair know I’ll be in town. No expectations attached but just a note saying just to let you know I’ll be in town around these dates.

    I’ve heard mixed opinions on this.

  8. What about the call/e-mail after the interview? I had a job interview two weeks ago, during which I was told the results will be known within a week. I know the silence probably means they have a better candidate and are probably currently negotiating the details with them,
    but I am wondering whether to check when the results will be known? How much into the negotiation would they go before they let the other interviewees know they did not get the job?
    And thank you a lot for this website and your services, this is an amazing resource!

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