Thursday, August 16, 2007

Ask the Administrator: Following Up on an Application

A new correspondent writes:

I'm in need of some advice regarding a CC job that I applied for. I'm currently a mid-level administrator at a small liberal arts college (SC), trying to solve the 2-body problem with my fiance. After 5+ years of trying, we've determined that we can't move him to my town due to lack of job opportunities in his field (it's a pretty small town), so we're looking elsewhere.

He got an interview in Large City. I"ve applied for a job very similar to what I do here at SC at a CC in LC. The application was submitted to the HR department at the CC and not to the department itself. The CC has an online application process where you can check the status of your application, for the past month it's said only "Search in progress." Is there any way I can know the approximate status of the search? Would it be appropriate to contact the department at LCCC to see what the status of the search is? I'm just a bit nervous as it's taking so long, and my fiance already has his interview set.

Or could it be a problem that I've applied to a CC from a SC? If so, how can I make this argument? I've worked in CCs before and I miss that kind of student that I had then, and I have a strong commitment to working with CCs.

First, an aside: I loathe, loathe, loathe online application systems. I really can't say enough bad about them. They're founded on a big fat honkin' lie – that they're “paperless” -- and they force individual applications into preconceived categories which they often don't fit. (In fact, everybody at every stage simply prints out the information, rendering the “paperless” aspect moot.) For example, they usually require listing each previous job in reverse order, including the dates and responsibilities for each. What if you've held multiple, progressive positions at the same place (which is a good thing)? Your guess is as good as mine.

Were it up to me, which it isn't, we'd consign both online application systems and letters of reference to the dustbin of history. Hell, I'd even do away with “Standard Applications.” (Do I care where you went to high school? Hint: No.) Just post a list of questions that must be answered in the cover letter and/or vita and be done with it. I mean, sheesh.

Now that that's out of the way...

If it has only been a month, I'm not at all surprised that the website isn't telling you much. Between waiting for the advertised deadline (which not every college does, btw, even though it strikes me as courting a lawsuit), assembling the committee, agreeing on how to evaluate, taking time to distribute and read and rank, having the internal committee arguments, settling on candidates, and arranging the logistics of interviews, the mills can grind painfully slowly.

From the college's perspective, you don't want to turn away candidates until you're absolutely sure you don't need them. Even if they've started interviewing, they're unlikely to dismiss the 'backup' candidates until the interviews are over, if then. Even if the committee has a clear first choice, it would be ill-advised to turn the other plausible applicants away until the offer has been made and accepted. Given time for bargaining, and time for the candidate to think it over before responding, this can take a while. If the top one or two choices turn it down, it can go even longer.

So the short answer to the question about updates is that I wouldn't expect to get any good information for a while.

If you simply must ask, go ahead, but be both tactful and infrequent. Making yourself a pest is a losing strategy – at my previous college, I saw one candidate nearly pester herself out of a job.

I'd be less concerned about the shift from a liberal arts college to a community college. From what I've seen, moving down the hierarchy is much easier than moving up. That isn't universally true – some cc admin ads specify a need for cc experience, or for experience in a collective bargaining environment – but it's a pretty good rule of thumb. Of course, any given school could go any given way. Should you reach the interview stage, be sure to say something positive to address the issue, just in case.

Good luck! That two-body problem is a nasty one.

Wise and worldly readers – your thoughts?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at ccdean (at) myway (dot) com.