Random supporting detail for New Kid’s thoughtful post arguing the job search “is not about you.”
I wasn’t on the search committee, but we were invited to review the files of the candidates on the conference shortlist and offer opinions. I skimmed through them all, noticed we were overrepresented in a certain subfield, and decided I wasn’t really that interested in that subfield. I sent an email to my chair—“hey, these six people looked interesting, and by the way, really, I don’t want that one subfield at all.” He replied, “I’m not super fond of the subfield, except for this one person.” I wrote, “oh, I thought that same person sounded really intriguing, but I was making a stand against the subfield and so left that person off my list on principle.”
Now, in this case my voice really had no power—at that point in the process, it wasn’t going to affect a decision. The interview performance sorted out our bring-to-campus list, not random preferences from people not on the committee. But that was the type of decision I was making. That person turned out to be our eventual hire (whom I’m entirely happy with, and who connects with my work in some very neat ways)—someone could easily tell her, “oh yeah, Dance didn’t think you were that great out of the conference shortlist.” Technically, it’d be true—but also totally irrelevant to anything having to do with whether I supported her hire and how I react to her coming to the department.
By the way, that subfield was overrepresented because one of the committee members worked in the subfield and had circulated the announcement on subfield-specific email lists, etc, so we got a lot of quality applications in it, so the shortlist was practically half from that subfield.
This was my first introduction to the huge difference that the committee makes. If you want a job to go a certain way, it’s all about who’s on the committee.