I’m interviewing this spring to find my next gig after this postdoc, which is a convenient way for me to excuse my lack of posting. Applying for jobs is in a way a job in itself, with attendant time sinks and things popping up, etc. One thing that struck me is the sheer inefficiency of the process. This is my third time applying, and I think I sent in about 60 applications (most of which I had no chance for, in retrospect) for academic and research lab positions. Most of my comments here relate to the academic market.
Different places want different things. Some schools don’t want a cover letter. Some do. Some want you to email the application as a single PDF. Some want you to fill out half the information on your CV into a web form and then also submit your CV. Some schools want a combined two-page research and teaching statement, and some want them separately (or with page requirements for each). Some don’t want any teaching statement. Some schools want letters sent directly, some will email a link to your recommenders, some want hardcopy letters, and some will request letters only from a few applicants. Some want 3 letters, some 5, and some up to 8. Some places have a common interface like AJO. Many schools use the same software package (like RAPS at Columbia).
The bewildering variety of formats makes it hard for applicants to keep their recommenders (who are busy people) informed. I sent my recommenders endless emails with lists of which schools wanted what, which schools they should have heard from, and which schools will only contact them if I made the first cut (in which case, could they let me know for my own records?). What if your application somewhere is rejected because they sent an automated email to your letter writers without informing you and it was eaten by their spam filter? This would hardly be fair, but I imagine that it does happen. I’m not sure what is to be done, but it seems like moving to a common format like the AMS Coversheet may not be a bad move, or using some kind of letter warehousing service.
Another related factor which contributes to inefficiency and psychological distress is the lack of feedback regarding the status of one’s application. I got a rejection letter from last year’s job search in October of this year. Did they really made the decision only then, or were they just flushing their buffer? I’d prefer a form rejection letter early to the ambiguity even from the place that wants a “mixed-signal circuit” expert but welcomes “excellent candidates in all areas.” Just getting an email saying “sorry, you’re not a good fit” can help refocus the applicant’s attention on those openings which are still “open.” It’s a buyers market — there are 300 applicants for each open position, so perhaps departments don’t have time to send all of those letters. But emails are cheap!
There’s no real way to make the application process less time-consuming, but I think it can be made less confusing and less draining. The question is how, and what is the incentive for employers?