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Should Search Committees Give Feedback?

I was a teenager when I had my first frustrating post-interview interaction. I had interviewed for a summer job at a company that described itself as an “engineering firm.” That description can mean many things, but this was the kind of engineering firm that mainly does land surveys for road construction and real-estate transactions. I liked the idea of spending the summer outside doing real work and getting sunburned. The interview went fine and I aced their simple math test. I thought I was a shoe-in.

Weeks passed and no one contacted me. I called the office weekly for updates. They were evasive. After the fourth or fifth phone call I became indignant: If they wouldn’t hire someone as smart as me, surely they owed me an explanation.  Obviously they didn’t think so.


It wasn’t the last time I had that
experience: craving feedback after a hiring decision went against me. I
had the same experience after interviews for a couple of faculty posts — sought feedback, got none.

An essay
in the On Hiring section of today’s Chronicle of Higher Education, by
Allison M. Vaillancourt,  asks whether things should be different —
whether search committees for academic jobs provide feedback to candidates who don’t get the offer.

It’s a short essay; there’s not a lot of advice there, and Vaillancourt really never answers the question. But two things
make it worth reading. First, Vaillancourt describes the advice she long
gave to people who had asked her whether they should provide feedback, before a recent experience altered her perspective:
Don’t tell losing candidates why they lost, she advised. Tell them
why the winning candidate won. That would have worked for me: It accentuates positives, but it also would have told me what I needed to do to succeed in future interviews.

The second thing that makes it worth reading is the anecdote Vaillancourt tells at the end, about a recent case when she did get feedback. I’ll let you read that yourself.