Hi folks, I've had a few interviews this year but not emerged as any school's top choice. I am just wondering if it appropriate to ask someone on the search committee about the weakness in my application or interview that led to another candidate being picked following the interview process? Do people do this? Is there a best way to ask this? Hoping to figure out how to best improve my application before next year! Thanks in advance for any thoughts!
Date: 22 Feb 2012 17:00
Number of posts: 6
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It's natural that you would like to know this information. I can tell you, though, that such a question would likely be met with awkwardness and a vague answer (e.g., "you're very qualified; it's just a matter of fit", aka "it's not you, it's me.") Search committee members are also likely to feel nervous about answering that question bluntly or in great detail, out of fear of saying something that could place them in any sort of liability.
My advice would be for the question to come not from you but from your advisor, especially if your advisor is buddies with anybody in the department in question. And to phrase it not as "Why didn't Dev get the job?" but "What could Dev do to increase his/her chances in this hiring environment?"
I've been on searches where candidates asked this question of us. Ultimately it turned out not to be very useful for the candidate because the answer was generally along the lines of "you are very well qualified and we would've been happy to make you an offer, but Candidate X was just better."
I personally think you might get better feedback if you do another practice job talk, and make an effort to get more faculty at your current institution to attend and offer constructive criticism. You can even ask some folks to role-play a typical 30-min personal interview to see if you're saying or doing anything in the personal meetings that might be perceived negatively.
It's a tough market. I know it's hard not to take rejections personally, but the truth is that there aren't enough jobs for all the great candidates out there, and it sucks. :(
People do this. It's probably a good idea even though it can be tough to receive the criticism. Various options for doing this are (a) have a mentor you know who knows someone there ask if there was anything in particular that was a concern, (b) ask someone you know there or someone you connected with there if there was a concern or anything you could have done better, (c) ask the search committee chair if he/she can provide you with any feedback. A and C are probably your best options but some people are in a decent position to choose B.
Either way, I'd frame it as you said- that you hope to improve your application for next year or to better understand how to evaluate your first with various institutions.
Be forewarned- the feedback can be tough to receive!
I think it's easier for your advisor to ask this information, or someone who knows someone at the schools. Otherwise I'm not sure the information will be that useful.
It could be that the answer is that you were the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th choice on paper going into the interviews, and the interview didn't change that, even if you did a fantastic job. So asking this question wouldn't really give you new information, because the SC might say, "publish more" or "have better teaching evals" or whatever. Or maybe it is a matter of fit, in which case there is nothing you can do about it.
If you actually performed poorly on your interview either by rubbing people the wrong way or having a bad job talk or something, most SC members who don't really know you well won't want to just state that point blank to you. But maybe they could say it in a diplomatic fashion to your advisor, especially if s/he knows someone there.
I hope you do get an offer!
I asked this question of the SC Chair one time. In response to the rejection email, I thanked her for letting me know so quickly and asked if there was any way she could advise me on where I went wrong for the sake of future interviews; I also added that if that was not kosher to do, then I completely understand. She said she should probably not tell me, but she went on to tell me exactly where I had gone wrong and who there (which group of researchers) my work did not speak to. It was painful (and maddening!) to hear. The information was invaluable for me for a whole host of reasons, though. I say it can't hurt to ask, but do so in a way that gives the person an out in case they don't think it's appropriate to discuss it.
Yes I've asked in the past too, and gotten some really valuable information doing so. Not that you always get a useful response, in fact you often don't (if you get a response at all), but the few times you do can be really helpful. Of course some times there's nothing you can do with the information, it's more a function of the audience than you, but other times I was able to take the advice and markedly strengthen my CV/interview style as a result. The worst that can happen is that you annoy the chair and they don't respond, but then they've already decided not to offer you the job so you're no worse off!