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The following is an extension of the question Job applications reviewed "until the position is filled" (i.e. soft deadline): What does that really mean?.

In most US job announcements of faculty openings (of any rank) in computer science I've seen no hard deadlines for applications and no hard subdiscipline designations. (In Europe, this is different: the deadlines and the subdiciplines are typically hard restictions.) Most of the time, we see sentences such as

The search will focus on candidates in the areas X1, X2, and X3. However, outstanding candidates in all research areas will be considered.

and

Preference will be given to applications submitted before Date Y, but we will continue accepting applications until the positions are filled.

Wee see such phrases way too often and may consider them boilerplate in the meantime.

  1. Does the search team actually sometimes look at applications outside of the mentioned areas (X1, X2, and X3) and at the applications submitted after the deadline? Or are the above phrases introduced for some other reasons (legal, politics, ...), and the search team never looks at anything beyond the mentioned subdisciplines or anything past the deadline?

  2. Has anyone already been hired despite being outside of areas X1-X3 or beyond the date Y?

  3. In practical terms, if the applicant is a normal scientist but has missed the deadline, how long after that he/she should apply?

  4. In practical terms, if the applicant is a normal scientist, is on time, but the subdiscipline is slightly off, should he/she still apply?

  5. In practical terms, if the applicant is a normal scientist but the subdiscipline is slightly off and the deadline has passed, how long after that he/she should apply?

(An aside: Assume that the applicant cannot get this information directly by asking, e.g., due to the absense of contact data, and that the applicants network, including that of the supporting advisors if there are any, does not cover the location.)

This question seeks answers from folks who have participated in search committees, have supervised their work, or have received feedback as applicants. If it is the case for you, say so.

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    Only the search committee could answer your question. That being said, if I was interested in that position, I would apply. – Richard Erickson Dec 22 '17 at 21:11
  • @RichardErickson When I asked a search committee some question, it often resulted in no answer or in a very late answer... – Leon Meier Dec 22 '17 at 21:13
  • This is an area where networking can stand you in good stead. A feeler sent out to someone you know in that department can be helpful, to find out how far afield they'd be willing to go, and how far along they are in the process. – aparente001 Dec 22 '17 at 21:53
  • @aparente001 Sure. I'll add a sentence on that. – Leon Meier Dec 22 '17 at 22:09
  • If the applicant's network doesn't cover this location, well, if you have chutzpah you could try this: the advisor, or a senior colleague of the advisor, calls someone high up at the place where the candidate is applying, to have an informal chat. The person making the call could say that he has two or three excellent students who are job-hunting, and he'd like to get more information about the spot they're trying to fill, to figure out which student would be a good match. If they are already too far along in the process to make an application worthwhile, the dean will probably say so. – aparente001 Dec 22 '17 at 22:16
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As to the research area, whether they really mean that any research area will be considered is impossible to know from the ad. Sometimes the search committee really is open to a broad range of areas; other times, there is really so strong a preference for one particular area that people from outside area have essentially no chance. I have served on search committees of both types; although the relevant verbiage in the ad was the same in either case, in one case, a majority of the committee was committed to hiring somebody from a very narrow area.

As to the deadline statement, I think that is pretty much always meant seriously. The statements is there so that the committee does not have any possible obligation to not consider applications that are not completed until after the deadline. There's no practical reason for the committee not to consider applications that come in a little late, and in my experience, slightly late applications have always been given full consideration.

By "slightly late," I mean a couple weeks. Actual review of the applications by the committee typically doesn't start until that long after the due date. (That's particularly true if the due date is early, falling during the winter break or earlier.) The latest application that I can recall getting full consideration was completed about a month late, but at that point things are probably getting dicey. And (just like in graduate admissions) committee members are likely to be more flexible about the dates of recommendation letters than the package put together by the job applicant.

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    By "slightly late," I mean a couple weeks. — Having chaired an “all areas / preferred if by [date]” hiring committe in CS, I have to strongly disagree. I have seen successful applications submitted three months after the soft deadline in the ad. The only way to know if your application will still be considered after the deadline has passed is to ask. (And I have never seen any committee member look at the dates on the letters.) – JeffE Dec 23 '17 at 3:38
  • @Deduplicator - I took Buzz to mean: There's no practical reason for the committee to disregard applications that come in a little late, – aparente001 Dec 24 '17 at 4:40
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It makes sense to approach this question by thinking of the job ad as a contract. The department is making certain promises about the way the search will be conducted. For both legal and ethical reasons, you should interpret those promises in the most literal way possible: every word that is included matters and is included for a reason, and every word that is not included is also not included for a reason. Your prospects of being able to second-guess some sort of hidden meaning behind those words are therefore not very good: if the department wanted to let you know its precise intentions, it would have already done so by including that information in the job ad. None of us reading the ad from the outside can know any more than you do.

To put what I said above into practice, let’s see what the ad actually said and what we can read into it:

outstanding candidates in all research areas will be considered

Well, it means exactly what it says: the department will consider all outstanding candidates. If you apply and your area is not exactly what they said, and if you are outstanding, they will at least consider you. There are obvious advantages to the department leaving such options open for itself. For example, if a Turing Prize winner or some other famous computer scientist applies and they are not in the desired areas, the department may still prefer to hire them.

What if a normal computer scientist applies? Well, normal people can still be outstanding. We can’t say if you should apply, and can’t give any insight about what the department considers outstanding or why they inserted that language into the job ad. But it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with legalities or politics - it could simply make good sense as a recruiting strategy.

Preference will be given to applications submitted before Date Y, but we will continue accepting applications until the positions are filled.

Again, this means exactly what it says: the department will continue to accept applications. If the reincarnation of Alan Turing applied three months after date Y and the position is unfilled, you can rest assured that there is a good chance they will be hired. And as for a normal, non-famous person, again none of us can say what your chances are if you apply two weeks, or one month, or three months, after the deadline. It depends how attractive you look compared to other candidates currently being considered.

As others have said, from a practical point of view the best thing is to apply and hope for the best. Good luck!

  • Thanks Dan. My fear was that the phrases as above looked way too boilerplate to me. (Similar to "women/veterans/... are preferred".) You have cleared these fears. Still, if you compare it to Europe, you get zero days behind the deadline there by default. As for "...none of us can say...", this is not quite right: people on search committees can speak about their experiences. – Leon Meier Dec 22 '17 at 22:40
  • @LeonMeier I’m not sure I understand the distinction you’re making between boilerplate and non-boilerplate language. My answer applies to anything that’s written in a job ad, whether boilerplate or not, including the example in your comment. – Dan Romik Dec 22 '17 at 22:44
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    That's not quite true. The world is full of biases, and adding a boilerplate para about preferring minorities does not increase their chances: more than simply adding text to the job ad is needed (and sometimes done). So, as for the minorities para, not all institutions really stick to their promise. My question is about the para about deadlines and subdisciplines, which also seems boilerplate enough to me. – Leon Meier Dec 22 '17 at 22:48
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    @LeonMeier I never said that institutions always mean what they say, and I agree with you that’s not the case. My claim is more subtle: it’s that as a job candidate you gain no advantage by considering the possibility that they may not mean what they say. Take everything at face value is my advice, at least for the purpose of deciding on your actions. And I stand behind “none of us can say”. FWIW, I never served on a search committee but oversaw several searches as a department chair where I was in charge of writing job ads (among other things) and worked closely with the search committee. – Dan Romik Dec 22 '17 at 23:04
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    I think the way to think of it is that these statements exist so that applicants who don't fit the obvious stereotype of a candidate should not be discouraged from trying. You might have some disinguishing feature that makes up for the fact that you've worked outside the particular research area. – Barmar Dec 23 '17 at 0:00
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I'm a department chair (in physics, not CS) and have been involved in multiple searches. The job market is very competitive (for you, the applicant), but second-tier schools are ALSO very interested in getting the best people we can get. We absolutely prefer the areas we listed in the job advert, but we would be fools to reject an application from someone outstanding, and we leave you to define that; we'll know it when we see it. (Also, discipline boundaries are fluid. You might not be in area X1, but you might make a case in your application letter that X4 (your area) is very similar to X1. Smart search committees know that they can get too focused and that what they really need might NOT be what they asked for)

As far as being late goes, I agree with the other answers. The search committee often takes a couple weeks to have a meeting, and if you are under a month late and you ARE in a desired area, then we definitely want to see your app, because we may have gotten a lot of speculative apps from folks who are NOT in the prescribed area. So yes, it feels tough to you, but search committees also worry. A ''failed search'' (where you didn't find an applicant who fits, or your top choices turned you down) is a nightmare for a department.

Finally, as far as "chutzpah" goes ... we expect it in our applicants. Definitely don't be too chicken to call up and ask, even if it's a cold call. Harvard/Stanford/Berkeley can turn up their noses at you, but smaller schools will take your call. It can't hurt you to try to get more info. That's good advice for ANY job-hunting situation.

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