After years of competing for temporary postdoc or teaching contracts, working hard to build a robust publication record and broadening our skill sets with leadership activities, it’s impossible for junior academics not to be excited by an advertisement for the ‘dream job’ — a tenure-track university professorship.
Until, of course, we look at the job posting closely enough to realize that the position has already been awarded to someone. It was only advertised to comply with national immigration laws, which in many countries state that a position can be filled by a foreign national only once the opportunity has first been offered to citizens for a certain period. In Canada, for example, in a case of ‘equal competency’, a Canadian should be the preferred applicant. But, for us, ‘equal competency’ is an impossible metric to measure.
We believe that most job postings for tenure-track positions are legitimate, fair, transparent and open to all who are qualified. And so it’s a difficult pill to swallow when you have proof that a job posting is there just to tick a checkbox, with no intention to hire behind it. Every application for such a posting represents a complete waste of time for both interested applicants and the employer — the job has already been filled.
We recognize that the practice of targeting someone for a specific position is common in all walks of life. But at universities, this practice risks discriminating against younger researchers, especially those without connections to high-profile research groups or universities — who might be seen and favoured less by the hiring committee — on top of unfairly wasting all other applicants’ time.
On the basis of our experiences, and from what others in our situation have shared with us, we recommend a few solutions:
1. Advertised job postings should be truly open, even when national regulations require institutions to advertise filled positions. In such cases, either the law should be changed or advertisements should be kept to a limited number of outlets and have a short turnaround wherever possible and legal, so as not to encourage applications.
2. Interested external candidates should reach out to the hiring committee before spending precious time and energy crafting an application, and explicitly ask if the position is truly open.
3. Members of search committees must make an effort not to lead candidates on if the position has already been filled.
These suggestions might seem naive to some, but we must forge a better path to improve hiring ethics and save time for everyone. Don’t we all deserve it?