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I applied to several tenure track positions this season. For some of them, I received an e-mail letting me know that I was no longer considered. That's cool and expected, since most of them were in US/Canada and I don't have any official experience working in neither...

My real question is: In some of those, they said that there were impressed by my resume/background/publications or something similar, always followed by a ", but". Are they being polite saying that? How much should I trust this kind of information?

(I could really use this kind of feedback to direct my search. It is not trivial to not over/underestimate yourself...)

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Yes, in the U.S. the style is not to say anything negative, even while not giving a job offer. Thus, yes, you should not trust the specific "being nice" words, whatever they are. That is, it is not necessarily the case that the committee is "impressed" by your file, etc. Such remarks are just the meaningless sweetener before the negative operational message. It is very hard to know or learn what the committee really thought, that is, for example, how close you were to the short list, or how close to the top of the short list. – paul garrett Mar 15 at 0:10
    
Yes, they are probably just being polite. Even if they were genuinely impressed, there is no real way to know. Also, keep in mind that "impressed by your resume" with no other details could mean "impressed by how little it qualifies you for the job". On the other hand, for many searches there are many truly impressive applications, but still some are better than others. – Oswald Veblen Mar 15 at 0:41
    
@paulgarrett Can you please turn your comment into an answer so that I can vote it up? – jakebeal Mar 15 at 0:42
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@OswaldVeblen "Your resume was certainly...memorable." – user37208 Mar 15 at 1:03
    
Sometimes they won't give you a definitive no just in case the people they bring on campus bomb. Restarting from existing applications is much easier than getting approval for a new search. But if you tell someone they're no longer being considered, then can't really go back to them later. – guifa Mar 15 at 7:25
up vote 16 down vote accepted

This sounds like a standard US rejection - they may be sending this exact same text to all other candidates that were rejected. I do not believe you can learn anything from it and it does not reflect on you specifically in any way.

You can, however, try to get feedback, but it can be quite difficult - you must realize that the chances of getting good sincere feedback are not high. It is probably best to try getting this from someone with whom you felt there was a good connection or that this person was relatively open. Probably this person would prefer to do this over phone rather than by mail. You may also want to look at this question.

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I understand that real feedback would be, in general, completely unreasonable. People might avoid giving it for legal fears even....But it is funny that so far I get either an overly polite, meaningless, answer or no answer at all. If I'm honest, I'm not sure which one is worse... Well, no answer is worse... Either way, they could as well say just "thanks for the interest but we won't be pursuing you in this process". Short, to the point, and totally true... – Fábio Dias Mar 15 at 3:13

Are they being polite saying that? How much should I trust this kind of information?

Yes, in general the goal of the email is to inform you of the search results in a way that is polite and avoids any not strictly necessary emotional distress, confrontation, antagonism, and (this being the U.S.) risk of litigation. Sadly, this comes at the cost of depriving you of meaningful feedback that would actually be helpful to you. Thus the statements in the email may be completely true, or completely false, or somewhere in between... there is just no way of knowing.

Note that your problem is a common one for job applicants both within academia and outside it, especially in the U.S. where the job application process is especially fraught with potential legal consequences, and where the culture strongly favors euphemistic face-saving politeness over blunt truth-telling (at least compared to some countries I'm familiar with, though other countries are even worse in this regard). See here and here for some related discussions on Workplace.SE.

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I was guessing this was litigation-motivated... Weirdly, I would expect researchers to be more familiar with rejections... But, even when you consider the fear of getting sued, this kind of statements make no sense. If you fear litigation over what you said, saying less, but enough, wouldn't be better? It would be interesting to see a checkbox on the application saying "I won't sue, don't BS me" :) (yes, dream on, I'm aware) – Fábio Dias Mar 15 at 5:02
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@FábioDias researchers are very familiar with rejections, but that is not the point. This mostly just has to do with a very strongly ingrained U.S. cultural trait of not wanting to offend, and an inflated use of superlatives and exaggerations, so that even a statement like "I was impressed with your qualifications" can be perceived as offensive by not being positive enough (you see this issue a lot in the context of letters of recommendation). The fear of litigation only makes this worse, but probably is not such a major factor. – Dan Romik Mar 15 at 5:54
    
Second, I think part of your frustration stems from a premise that employers owe you feedback as a kind of moral imperative. It may be helpful to accept that when an employer looks at you for a job, the only transaction that takes place is that you either get selected or not. At least in a U.S. context, the employer simply does not consider providing feedback to the candidate a part of the process - they have enough problems to deal with without taking on this extra burden. It is somewhat analogous to expecting a girl to explain why she's not interested in dating you. It's asking for too much. – Dan Romik Mar 15 at 6:02
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I'd say a better analogy is a needy shopkeeper asking you why you're not buying his inventory. There could be a thousand reasons why you're not buying what he's selling and many of your reasons may have nothing to do with the shopkeeper himself or his wares. It could just be that you saw a better item five minutes earlier or that you're having budget troubles. That being said, you do know that if you're too honest in your feedback with that shopkeeper, that person will think of your objections as the beginning of a tentative negotiation. – Stephan Branczyk Mar 15 at 9:35
    
@danromik I might not have been clear enough then. I don't expect any feedback. Realistically, I don't expect any manifestation at all, but I do appreciate when I get any information. I just don't see the point in providing unnecessary, meaningless, information. – Fábio Dias Mar 15 at 12:26

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