Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Back Through the Academic, Bureaucratic Looking Glass.

Normally, when the term "job search" crops up in my life, I am the one doing the searching for a job. Now, for the first time in my entire career, I am among the anointed who will be evaluating other poor souls in their own quest for employment. This being a state institution, there are committees and meetings and forms and all sorts of other bureaucracy to go through in this "job search" process. Me being me, I am attempting to use my own past understanding of being the applicant to make sense of my role in this "job search" process both for the committee and the applicant.

The first issue to appear, of course, is the power games being played between two of the higher level members of the committee. Some might call this a "pissing contest." These two members are already interacting with barely concealed contempt for one another over both the meeting time and agenda. Already, they each are amassing evidence to prove that the other is in the wrong.

The second issue has arisen from the paper work required in the search, all of which, on the surface is perfectly reasonable. The job announcement was posted, the applications came in, and the committee members reviewed the applications according to a printed list of criteria "for elimination" created by the Human Resources department. Theoretically, the announcement matches the duties of the job (and the person currently holding the position actually told the person writing the announcement exactly what she does at her job). Theoretically, the cover letters and resumes of the applicants directly respond to the information in the announcement. Theoretically, the list of criteria from Human Resources matches the announcement.

Now, if an outsider were to look at the documents relating to each of these three steps and at the job actually being done by the current employee, they would be surprised to know that they all pertain to the same position. The job is essentially an office manager and administrative assistant job in publishing. The announcement makes the position seem like it is an advanced research position. The selection criteria address the needs of a search for a faculty position. In other words, we seem to be asking for a researcher to fill an administrative position according to faculty qualifications.

To make matters more confusing, only three of the eight people involved in this committee will actually work with or, indeed, have anything whatsoever at all to do with this new person once the new person has been hired. Of the ten people with whom I met on my own interview, I have since seen none but those with whom I now work. So, most of the people involved in this selection process are not picking a new colleague and know nothing about the work being done in the position.

Of course, now that I think about it, their disinterest might help them in their selection process because they are operating with less of this contradictory information. Then, again, the benefits of disinterest may be offset by the probability that these disinterested members find the work on this particular committee a waste of their time.

Thus, we enter Wonderland. We have two high level committee members using the search to score points off of one another. We have five committee members with no investment in the outcome. We have a job ad that does not exactly fit the position that it advertises, and a set of criteria that address neither the specifications of the job ad nor the job itself.

At least, so far, the other committee members seem aware of the problems between those other, contentious two, and know how to work around them. Also, even the disinterested committee members seem to want the best candidate in spite of their own lack of investment in the process, and the pool of applicants is very strong.


Anonymous said...

I nearly always involve people from my office not in the same group as an applicant, just to get an outside view. In the end, I think we all defer to whoever is going to directly supervise, but input is worth getting.

Are either of the pissing contenders in charge of the process? If not, can someone arrange things so that the pissers have to reveal their preferences independant of knowing what the other prefers? It's be awful (but not outside the realm of human experience) if Pisser A went against Candidate X because Pisser B had decided she was the best fit for the job.


Clio Bluestocking said...

Actually, the more I think about it, the happier I am that the outside people are on this committee. First, we get to meet people outside of our own little office suite, which is always good. Second, being uninvested in the process, they can cast a more objective eye upon the proceedings. They may not know exactly what the job is, or what we do on our project (yet, anyway), but they aren't beholden to Pisser A the way that two others of us are.

The pissing contest probably won't extend to A supporting or opposing a candidate just to get back at B, or vice versa (god, I HOPE it doesn't!). Pisser A is the supervisor of the new person (and my supervisor, as well). Pisser B is everyone's supervisor, but he is really only nominally on the committee and does, as you say, defer to the committee on their recommendation unless there is some clear, egregious error. The outside members help to keep Pisser A honest and Pisser B from losing his cool.

Unfortunatly, Pisser A has been known to make egregious errors in the interviewing process, just because he can; and Pisser B has threatened to restart the whole search because of it.

The biggest problem overall will probably be in the discrpency between the actual job and the advertised job. A PhD with years of supervisory experience who thinks he/she is applying for a big research job will not take too kindly to finding him/herself in a secretarial position that requires skills not listed in the announcement. That part is, actually, quite heartbreaking and spooky (and will probably be my next word on the subject!).

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