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I did a campus interview two weeks ago (US universities, R1, Engineering). I was not the last candidate, so, by considering the last one, the search was closed one week ago. In the last meeting with the department chair, he said the department will select the final candidate next week and it seems they have made some decisions based on the information I have. I received an update this weekend from the department chair indicating that they are working with the dean's office and I should get an update this week. First, I interpreted this email positively in a way that probably I will be their first choice since they should keep all finalists on hold until the first candidate (assuming to be me!) signs the offer, which normally takes time (negotiation, salary, lab space, ...). So, there is no reason to notify me if I am not the first candidate.

Then, I looked at this matter differently and thought maybe they already have offered another candidate and they are indeed waiting to get some approval from the dean for that person (probably the candidate has some requests). Because sometimes dean's office can approve the final candidate after a few days since it should not be a long process. I am not sure which case is more likely. I know that I should be more patient, but it is honestly difficult!

So, my question is about your experience with the hiring process and its timeline.

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    Short piece of anecdotal evidence. When I was chair I would send a letter like the one you received only to someone we would certainly make an offer to if the dean signed off. Apr 12 at 16:18
  • Thank you for the comment and for being so positive. If they already have not offered the position to someone else and are not waiting to finalize the negotiation with the candidate (I believe the dean's office should still be involved with the negotiation as well), then I take this very positively. "I do not think if the chair is rephrasing the story by saying that they are working to get approval from dean" if they already have offered the position to someone else. He could simply say that they are still working on this and will let me know soon (instead of this week).
    – Adam
    Apr 12 at 16:28
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It is most helpful to think of the faculty hiring process as a black box. Decisions get made according to some opaque process of which only a small amount of detail is revealed to you, the candidate. But the bureaucracy of a university, and the dynamics of a job search involving multiple finalist candidates, are complicated, so the reality on the ground can involve a lot more that’s going on than what you are being told. I don’t mean a lot more necessarily bad stuff, or a lot more good stuff - just in general more people and more decisions (some perfunctory and some that are more uncertain) on which the outcome depends. Some of those decisions can be purely logistical or financial in nature (or even political) and quite far removed from the question of whether you are “good enough” to get hired by university X.

The bottom line is, if the department chair is competent then they have likely shared the maximal amount of information they can reasonably share with you at this point without risking misleading you into believing the outcome will be either better or worse than it might end up being. The only thing that’s reasonably certain at this point is that you’re still a viable candidate. For anything else, you’ll have to wait for the black box to do its thing. Good luck!

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    A very nice response! I completely agree with you. The final candidate is not necessarily better than all other candidates. It is a multi-variable problem with so many unwritten elements, not what one has in his/her CV.
    – Adam
    Apr 12 at 19:52
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I think it’s unlikely they would contact you if you’re not one of their top candidates - not necessarily their first choice, but near it for sure. Faculties frequently don’t even have the decency to let interview candidates they will not hire know. That said, it’s also not terribly uncommon for a group wanting to hire someone, and for the dean to say no, maybe because the dean wants to go in a different direction from what you do, maybe because of pressure from other groups, etc. Good luck!

I missed the timeline part: to get administrative approval and the formal offer drafted can take several weeks, in part depending on how large the department you would like to join is. I don’t know if the current pandemic situation impacts it.

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  • Thank you for the response. The chair also asked me whether I have any time constraints (having an offer from somewhere else), which I did not respond to this question exactly since I am doing a campus interview with another university, but it is not an offer yet. I think the source of this question comes back to my email to one of the other faculty in the department and thanking him for his help during my interview and discussing my impression with him that I think I have not been selected since I have not received any email from the chair.
    – Adam
    Apr 12 at 15:03
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    That makes it sound as if the group is interested in you for sure. But what I said about the dean is unfortunately also real and could mess with what the group would like to do. I’m not saying that anything you write indicates that’s the case, but I know of several such situations. You should probably step back for at least a week or two to not appear too interested, which sometimes works against you as well. Here’s hoping it works out! Apr 12 at 15:06
  • My main confusion is actually the timeline because they can be working with the dean to finalize the offer they have already given to the first candidate since they decided last Wednesday and I am not sure if it should take a long time to send out the offer letter (maybe they have sent it on Thursday or Friday - but I am not sure how fast it can be). I have seen offers sent out in 1-2 weeks.
    – Adam
    Apr 12 at 23:54
  • This is what I wanted to know (This can easily take 2-4 weeks, even if the dean turns out to be fully on board ... )
    – Adam
    Apr 13 at 1:39
  • @Adam: You’re not out (obviously), but something might be going on. If I had to guess, some people really want you, others not. It could also mean they are waiting for a reply from someone they extended an offer to. It would be neutral except for the “...because you are waiting on us,” which sounds ominous. But you’re also not out of the running. And it could be something else entirely - you never know. As there is no “pressing need,” I’d probably not officially talk to them, but if you have informal connections, you could reach out to them. Again, fingers crossed! Apr 17 at 1:20

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