After a frustrating year on the tenure-track job hunt, my eyes are still on the prize, and I've learned that sheer will might be the most important quality required for this career track.
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I've always heard most TT search committees don't bother contacting applicants with rejections, but that wasn't my experience last year. I received formal rejection letters, by snail- or e-mail, for approximately 75% of the applications that I sent out last year, and all but two of the remaining jobs informed me of the rejection when I requested an update in August. A few of the committees even updated me on the status of my application as it moved through the screening process. So it seems that, at least in my field, search committees are pretty forthcoming about TT applicant status. Undoubtedly, this is good information to have as I move forward with this year's search, for better or worse.
Last week, right on time, I received the first rejection letters for my current TT job search. I've received three so far, out of about 20 jobs for which I've applied. While it's disheartening to receive these rejections, I know this means that the search committees are meeting and triaging, and there's a chance that at least some of the committees have moved my application forward through this first screening. Additionally, the current rejection letters seem to be distinct from last year's, which were mostly vague, only stating that they had decided not to continue to pursue me as a candidate/applicant. This year, the rejection letters are providing a much more detailed account of the search - how many applications were received, how many were selected for further review, etc - as well as a statement of how impressive my application was. I'm not sure what this means. Is my application really that much more impressive this year? Or do the current search committees/chairs just want to make all their applicants "feel good" about their rejection? Did everyone receive this same "feel-good" letter? Or did the committee send out a letter that says "Sorry, but you suck" to those who were in no way competitive for the position?
The TT search remains a black box. Sure, I have networking connections that can give me clues as to how my application fared, but I'll never know the whole story. This is probably what makes the whole process so frustrating. I have no idea what the committees are looking for - sometimes they don't even know. All I can do is make my application as convincing as possible - examine the ad and departmental website thoroughly, talk to people familiar with the department about unspoken aspects of the search, address what they seem to care about most in my cover letter, make my CV and research (and teaching*) statement(s) as strong as possible, and cross my fingers as I send my packet out into cyberspace. It's a total crapshoot, but the only way to get into the game.
*Teaching statements are suddenly becoming a more common requirement this year, at least according to mine and others' experience (total anecdata of course). Still, only about half the jobs to which I applied requested a teaching statement in addition to the research summary.
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Ugh, already? I feel like last year I didn't get them until Feb/March. Interesting that they're breaking down the stats a bit better--like you, my rejections in the past were just a quick "we have decided not to act further on your application."
Agreed, there's a certain level at which you just can't know. I think a lot of it will really have to do with how much of a void you'd be filling in the department, with respect to your research topic and perspective.
Good luck, Dr O! I've got my fingers crossed for you!
Bummer! :-( Rejections always suck. I was always kind of glad that I got rejection letters (because at least I knew). But they were generally form letters, even if they did have a lot of information about the searh. As for teaching statements, we don't specifically ask for one but we do have some teaching requirements. So it can be a bonus to put something about teaching in your cover, apparently. I would not have guessed this but there are some folks that will use your "lack of enthusiasm" about teaching as a demerit. I find this ridiculous--if we care about teaching then ask for a teaching statement But I digress.
The good news: you are still in the running at ~85% of the places you applied!!
Weird! My rejections have ALWAYS stated how many applications they received. Even when other places did not bother to send me a rejection letter at all, it was either "reject with statistics" or no response.
It is pretty early in the season. Usually the rejections continue through April.
msphd: Curiosity about size of applicant pool is understandable.
But in our search committee training, we are specifically told not to reveal the size of the applicant pool. The size of the applicant pool has nothing whatsoever to do with an applicant's qualifications for the job, reasons for rejection, etc.
It depends a lot on who is writing the letter. At some institutions, HR handles the rejections whereas at others it is done by the committee or committee Chair. Usually HR will give you the stats and nothing but the stats or do the "meh, sorry." approach. When the committee handles it, they tend to give a bit more feedback, but might not necessarily give you the stats. I have gotten both the best and worst (two sentences, three spelling mistakes) rejection letters from committee Chairs, so there is huge variability. Hang in there and wait for the ones that aren't rejections.