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I noticed that many ads say "Review of applications will begin on Day X, and continue until the position is filled". I wonder how this kind of search works. Assume the search committee received a certain number of applications on Day X. Usually none of the applications is from a superstar that you definitively want to hire, but let's say between five and ten are good enough for you to hire one of them. What would the search committee do? Would they contact the candidates, arrange interviews and hire the best one there? Or would they still wait for a month or two just to see if a superstar would apply after all?

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    This is a good question. I don't know for sure, but I understand that some institutions have a rule that a search must continue until a hire is actually made. But the committee doesn't really want to keep reading new applications while they're interviewing finalists. So I've understood such ads as saying: "For practical purposes the deadline is Day X. Technically we're required to accept applications after that date but we probably will ignore them, unless you are a superstar." It'd be great if someone with search committee experience could confirm or deny. – Nate Eldredge Mar 11 '14 at 0:59
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    My impression is similar in spirit to Nate Eldredge's but in some ways opposite: some universities have strict rules that forbid any hiring outside of exactly what was promised in the job advertisement. I.e., if you set a deadline of X, then you cannot hire someone who applied on day X+1, and if you specified area Y, then you cannot hire in the related area Z. Even if you have concrete plans, it's advantageous to phrase the job ad vaguely enough to preserve your ability to change your mind. So I interpret "review begins on day X" as "we envision X as a deadline but might make an exception." – Anonymous Mathematician Mar 11 '14 at 1:30
  • It's not unheard of as well for a position to literally go unfilled until next year. I've had to call a University tech support because I applied last year, and couldn't apply this year because I had already applied last year to the exact same posting and they had to reset the system. – Irwin Mar 11 '14 at 19:03
  • This is the Secretary Problem and the search committee just does the math and follows the optimum path. It's science. Right? I mean, that is what they do, right? – davidbak Apr 22 at 1:37
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"Review of applications will begin on Day X, and continue until the position is filled" is also translated as:

We want you to get your application in on time, but if you're totes amazeballs and late we'll overlook it.

The motivation is the same as what was mentioned. If you say that there's a hard deadline for submissions, and then Dr. Awesome Sauce applies a day later and gets hired, you're opening yourself up to a lawsuit from all the Dr. Not-So-Awesomes.

Practically, academic hiring works on a calendar, and universities compete with each other. For example, in computer science it's rare to be making a first offer well into May unless you're at the University of I'm-So-Cool and know that you can afford to be last. And even then it doesn't always work. So practically speaking there's a deadline of sometime in March to make decisions on offers and start wooing your preferred candidates.

This means that you can't realistically process a new application any later than early-mid February (because it takes time to collect references and organize a trip)

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    I could imagine that if the University of I'm-So-Cool makes offers in May, it's not getting all of the top candidates, since all of the top ones would have accepted their offers back in March. No one's going to wait until May in this job climate. +1 for a good outline of the process. – Irwin Mar 11 '14 at 19:01
  • The upshot is, if I can satisfice and get a pretty good app in by the date that "review of applications begins," or I can spend another 2 days polishing the cover letter, which is preferable? And this seems to indicate the former, no? – Philip Aug 29 '17 at 23:43
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    @Philip: Right, if it is at all possible to submit an acceptable application by the "start of review" date you should do so; do not let it go past just to make the application a little better. On the other hand, though, if you don't find out about the job at all until the date has passed, and you think you're a really good fit, there may still be some value in applying. – Nate Eldredge Aug 30 '17 at 13:40

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