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I'm applying for tenure-track jobs in the US and I wanted to know about the American etiquette concerning contacting the search committee before submitting an application. In the UK, where I am based, it seems to be encouraged for job-seekers to contact the department ahead of submitting an application to ask about the advertised post (and get your name recognised) — but I have heard in some circles (still with limited US experience) that Americans don't do this.

Should I get in touch with the individuals (presumably the chair of the search committee) named in the job advert? Would it be appropriate to ask why the position has become available/what specifically they are looking for and what else should I be asking - or would this be considered a faux pas?

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    Do not do this. If an applicant were to contact me, I would not respond. Instead, contact faculty in your research area in the department who might be interested in your work and in hiring you. Sep 11, 2023 at 20:30
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    @MoisheKohan, that's an answer, not just a comment.
    – Buffy
    Sep 11, 2023 at 20:46
  • Generally, that contact info is presented to give you a contact point regarding the status of your application or to provide any necessary updates or such. Sep 11, 2023 at 22:19
  • That's a "don't overthink it" situation. Ultimately, you will be evaluated based on your track record and application materials, and that's where you should invest your time. Sep 13, 2023 at 12:16

2 Answers 2

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Should I get in touch with the individuals (presumably the chair of the search committee) named in the job advert?

You may. That is why they are named in the advertisement.

Would it be appropriate to ask why the position has become available

No. Ask them for information that is actually useful. Positions can be available because someone left (common), because they need more people (rarely), or because some dean told them to advertise a position they cannot afford to fill (more common than it should be, and they will never tell you that). If someone's leaving, that could be delicate information you'd best not get involved in.

what specifically they are looking for

If you are 100% certain that information is not in the job ad, in the university's strategic plan, or on the department website, then yes, you should definitely ask.

If you can ask a question that:

  1. There is no other way to get the answer.
  2. It's not rude.
  3. Will help you decide you don't want to work there.

Then I strongly recommend asking. Finding out you don't want to work there before filling out the paperwork is a massive time saver.

If they do not like getting polite questions by email, then they are probably not good people to work with.

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    I think this answer contains the correct elements, but the beginning really ignores the full context in the question to the extent that it's misleading. Should you send an email to ask about a posting and "to get your name recognized"? An emphatic "no"-- emails to the committee should really be reserved for genuinely non-routine questions, the default should be to try to avoid sending one if possible. Everything from "If you are 100% certain..." to the end seems to capture this idea cleanly.
    – user176372
    Sep 12, 2023 at 20:07
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I work in a research-oriented top-50 (actually, less) math department in the US. I have served on hiring committees (both postdoctoral and regular) in the past.

Do not contact search committees this way. If an applicant were to contact me (as a member of a search committee), I would not respond (but would be annoyed). Instead, contact faculty in your research area in the department who might be interested in your work and in hiring you. Simply inform them about your research interests and that you are applying for a job in their department. If they are interested in your application, they will contact the search committee, which will improve your chances.

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    "Do not contact search committees" ... "contact faculty in your research area in the department" Usually those are the same people. Sep 11, 2023 at 23:57
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    @AnonymousPhysicist Let's put it this way: Out of I think 40 places I applied last season, maybe 4 max had members of the search committee that were the faculty most aligned with my research. The place that hired me was not amongst them.
    – user176372
    Sep 12, 2023 at 0:19
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    @AnonymousPhysicist: Typically, these are not the same people (at least, in math departments, at least in my 30+ years of experience as a faculty member and as a job applicant). Sep 12, 2023 at 0:36

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