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Lately I have noticed few job advertisement (that range from PhD to Assistant Prof. positions) for which the deadlines for application was literally a couple of days after the job posting.

As a matter of fact, just today (2nd November) I get one announcement with application deadline 4th November.

This is obviously extremely short notice for people, although technically there is nothing wrong with this practice. The fact that they will thus get (knowingly) much less applications than they would get if the deadline was further in the future, makes me think that they have a candidate and they do not want "too much competition", but that is just my arbitrary interpretation.

My natural questions are:

  1. Have you ever noticed something like that in your field?
  2. How would you react if you are a potential candidate? Would that raise your eyebrow and is it a red-flag?
  3. Is there anything that could be done to restrict these practices at a more centralized level?

Thank you.

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  • where/whom did you get the announcement from?
    – EarlGrey
    Nov 2, 2022 at 12:44
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    @EarlGrey There are particular mailing lists I am subscribed. When someone posts a job, we receive an email. There are also aggregators.
    – PsySp
    Nov 2, 2022 at 12:48
  • Is this a problem in France? I don't think it is allowed in US.
    – Buffy
    Nov 2, 2022 at 12:49
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    So you are not referring to the job/position opening on the site of the university, but to somoene forwarding the openings to mailing lists or aggregators collecting them?
    – EarlGrey
    Nov 2, 2022 at 12:50
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    @paulgarrett Sure, but you might miss it because it didn't happen to check your mailbox or advertisement board for a couple of days.
    – PsySp
    Nov 4, 2022 at 10:49

5 Answers 5

39

If the posting is also extremely specific, I might suspect that it's meant for some bureaucratic purpose rather than a bona fide attempt to hire someone new. I once got very excited over a job that perfectly matched my background and interests. I later realized why: it was my current job and immigration rules forced HR to post an ad in order to renew my visa.

On the other hand, I also seen legit postings with very short durations. These are occasionally just...odd administrative decisions (welcome to academia!), but they are also sometimes extensions of a previous advertisement or search. It may be that they want to receive a larger pool of applicants before screening begins, or it may be that they intended to post the job for 45 days, but the site only shows ads for a month at a time. The date sometimes even resets whenever the ad itself is edited, even if it's just a typo fix.

If you know someone in the department, you can often informally enquire whether it's a real job or "saved" for someone. The hiring manager may not be permitted to flat-out refuse to hire someone else, but you could ask whether they're "expanding the group" and read between the lines. For some jobs, the ad might even be both. At the time I saw "my" ad, we would have been thrilled to hire me and someone like me and we had the money to do so. This is very unlikely for tenure-track jobs, but is a real possibility for North American postdocs, which are often hired opportunistically.

I also realized--far too late--that you aren't meant to begin writing faculty applications in response to a job ad. Instead, it is generally expected that you have prewritten material that can be adapted to each specific position. This is the only real way you can map out a coherent 5-year plan in a few weeks!

I agree that this can be very frustrating, but I also doubt that it's possible to completely eliminate it. It's mostly an interaction of rules meant for "interchangeable jobs" with huge potential applicant pools (e.g., cashier) with academia's extremely specific positions (how many people know about the response properties of PIT neurons?). In many cases, it's not even under the organization's control if it's required for immigration (etc).

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    It's possible that they already know who they are going to hire, but advertising the position is required anyway, either by employment law or their HR rules. Then they have a few pro forma interviews with applicants and hire the person they've decided to hire. I was once the person who was going to be hired. The supervisor called me and told me to apply, and the interview consisted of telling me that I was going to be hired for the job.
    – Wastrel
    Nov 3, 2022 at 14:19
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A trivial and benign explanation is that the time you see an advertisement is not necesserily the same as the time of publication. Lots of positions are advertised through mailing lists, and to avoid filling all mailboxes all positions are collected over a period of time and sent at a fixed schedule. So there could easily be a month difference between the time you get it in your mail box and the time of publication. If that is the case, then I would not think much about this.

I have also seen "tricks" like these used in cases where a department wanted to offer a dual career or tenure track position, but for organizational, budgetairy, or legal reasons could not. In that case, a "reserved" position still needed to be posted. If you think that that is going on, I would not waste my time applying for that position.

As to a solution: give the departments the opportunity and budget security to be able to offer tenure track and dual career positions, so they don't have to use these tricks. More easily said than done, though.

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    Another possible reason for such tricks may be of course that someone in the Department wants to hire their spouse / lover / friend / relative / buddy / student of their buddy / etc. So the successful candidate is pre-determined and the advertisement is just smoke and mirrors to create an appearance of a fair and due process. Nov 2, 2022 at 13:56
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    @DmitrySavostyanov posssible, but in the universities I worked at not that likely. These processes still go through many layers, and you would need cooperation of many people. If one of them does not cooperate, you would end up in really big trouble. It depends on whether the reason given for these tricks are viewed as legitimate. Nov 2, 2022 at 14:16
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The most obvious explanation is that the time when you got the announcement is not the time when the job was actually posted. The position may have been open for a while (and announced in forums you didn't see) but the person who posted the announcement you saw did so only a couple of weeks later realizing that the deadline is approaching -- I certainly have been at fault for this.

A separate explanation may be that the search committee wrote the announcement, set the deadline based on when they need to make a decision, gave it to the HR department for approval, and then ... waited.

In the end, I firmly believe in Hanlon's razor that says "never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." There is almost always an explanation that does not need to resort to nefarious people playing games.

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  • I think I've also seen that when an employer wants to update an ad, sometimes the posted date gets changed to the date it was updated.
    – Kimball
    Nov 3, 2022 at 23:54
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I think its a fairly common appraoch, to advertise a job with very specific requirements for a very short period if you already have someone in mind for the position. Here, the minimum you would be allowed to advertise for is 2 weeks I think. However, I wouldn't expect to see these on mailing lists etc. Certainly when I've seen this happen, the position would be advertised only on the university website, not promoted, and probably over an awkward time (like Christmas, or Easter in countries that shut down for those periods).

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I'm not in academia, but many of my friends are, and this is what they've told me about how the game works in the US.

Universities are often obligated to publicly advertise the available positions. However, they already have someone in mind for the position. In the old days, they would "publicly" post the position in an out-of-the-way place (say, a bulletin board on the third floor). They still may do this, but now they also post online with very narrow application windows.

It's just a way to game the rules so the organization can hire its person of choice while meeting outside requirements.

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    Yeah, profile tuning can happen, e.g. for positions other than professors: We query a pool of x candidates with a profile matching our already identified candidate, as law requires (and harvest their ideas as state of the art), and found Mr/Mrs Black Swan elect. This requires e.g., a PI just too important (by grants, nation wide projects, impact of previous publications etc) to the school in question and a board of colleagues "if you let me do my research, I let you yours because I already have enough plates in the stove to be member of an additional ethics committee" / weakened ombudsman.
    – Buttonwood
    Nov 3, 2022 at 21:56

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